Ted Thornton
History of the Middle East Database
Civil War in Iraq
Origins of Key Geographical Terms


History by Region or State


History by Time Period


Special Topics









The Gulf Wars

Iraq and Iran, 1980-1988
Iraq Occupies Kuwait, 1990-1991
Toppling Saddam, 2002-03

Coalition Provisional Authority Rule, 2003-04
 "Sovereign" Iraq, 2004-2005
Civil War in Iraq, 2006-2007
The New Iraq, 2008-2009

Benchmarks in the History of Modern Iraq

BBC Iraq pages
BBC Profile of Iraqi Insurgents
Map of Iraq (Univ. Texas)

2006 On January 5, two suicide bombers killed more than 120 in Ramadi and in the Shia shrine city of Karbala.

On February 8, 2006, a newly declassified report to the U.S. Senate showed that the Iraqi insurgency had grown steadily since the March, 2003 invasion (New York Times, Feb. 9, 2006). In addition to the mainly Sunni insurgent attacks, sectarian violence between Kurds, Sunnis, and Shia was also sharply on the rise. There were reports of Shiite "death squads" roaming certain areas seeking out Sunni victims. The United States warned Iraqi leaders that it would cut off aid if sectarian politics came to dominate Iraqi politics (BBC, Feb. 20, 2006). The United States began to call for Shiite Interim Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to step down. By September, U.S. intelligence officials had begun to suspect that, as he became more involved in efforts to make inter-sectarian political compromises, Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr had lost control of many elements of his "Mahdi Army," that these units had "gone rogue," stopped heeding Sadr's orders, and had transformed themselves into anti-Sunni death squads.

On February 22, 2006, a bomb badly damaged the al-Askari Mosque in Samarra, an important Shiite pilgrimage site: burial place of two ninth century Shia Imams - Ali al-Hadi and his son Hasan al-Askari (see also). More than 100 were killed in reprisal attacks the following day. Multiple bomb blasts in Baghdad on February 27 killed at least 75. By the following month, death rates were up to 50-60 a day and former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi spoke for other Iraqi leaders when he declared that civil war in Iraq between Sunni and Shia was underway. He further warned that Iraq was moving close to breaking up and that sectarian violence would overspread the surrounding region as well. On Friday, April 7 (the Muslim holy day), three suicide bombers (two dressed as women) mingling with worshippers in Baghdad's Buratha mosque, one of the oldest and most venerable Shiite mosques in Iraq dating back to the seventh century and the times of the first Shia Imam Ali, killed at least 79. This attack, like the one in February, appeared designed to further inflame sectarian tensions. By mid April, according to the BBC, 65,000 Iraqis had fled their homes to escape the growing sectarian violence. Particularly disturbing were the growing numbers of middle class Iraqis who were fleeing the country (New York Times, May 19, 2006). Iraqi leaders were joined later in the year by others who believed Iraq had collapsed into civil war, including U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, who told a BBC interviewer on December 4th that what was going on in Iraq was "worse than civil war."

On April 22, 2006, Interim Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari agreed to step aside. President Jalal Talabani asked Jaafari's colleague in the Shiite Daawa Party, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, to form a new national unity government that would be agreeable to the three major main religio-ethnic groups in Iraq: Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites. On May 20, a new full-term government was approved with al-Maliki as Prime Minister, the first since Saddam Hussein was deposed at the outset of the war in 2003. However, three key ministries (Defense, Interior, and National Security) remained unfilled because Kurdish, Shia, and Sunni leaders could not agree on who should be appointed (New York Times, May 21, 2006). And, Maliki soon proved himself ambivalent about his job, weak, and incapable of resisting pressure from Shiite militias (especially that of Moqtada al-Sadr).

On April 27, 2006, Grand Ayattolah Ali Sistani, one of the leading Shiite clerics in Iraq, called on the incoming government to dismantle all militias in the country (BBC).

On May 26, 2006, the coach and two players from Iraq's Olympic tennis team were shot dead in Baghdad for failing to heed a ban on wearing shorts in public declared earlier by insurgents.

In late May, 2006, Marine investigators were looking into what some thought might become the Iraq war's "My Lai massacre": Marines on a counter-insurgency operation in Haditha (NW of Baghdad) in November, 2005 allegedly killed 24 civilians, including women and children, after a Marine died in a roadside bomb attack. There were also allegations that U.S. forces shot 11 civilians in Ishaqi in March during an operation on a house where an al-Qaeda member was suspected of taking refuge. Finally, in July, one Army infantrymen was charged with the rape and murder of an Iraqi woman near Mahmudiyya in March, 2006. Three other members of her family were also murdered in the same incident. Three other soldiers were charged in those murders.

On June 7, 2006, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, reputed head of the Sunni insurgency and of al-Qaeda in Iraq, was killed in an American air raid near Baquba.

In late June, 2006, new figures showed that Iraq's oil production had risen to the highest levels since the Americans overthrew Saddam in 2003: 2.5 million barrels per day (BBC, June 28, 2006).

On July 25, 2006 in the wake of mounting bloodshed from the sectarian conflict (by June, 2006, the death toll of Iraqi civilians had begun to exceed 100 per month), former ambassador to Croatia Peter W. Galbraith, in an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times entitled "Our Corner of Iraq," cited American incompetence to stem the development of what he referred to as the "civil war" in Iraq and called upon the U.S. to withdraw. On August 3, top Pentagon military officials testified before Congress that Iraq could slide into "civil war" (six months after Iraqi leaders said the that one was already underway). On August 10, a suicide bomber at the Shiite shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf killed 35 on the anniversary of the death of Zeinab, granddaughter of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. In all, more than 1,500 were killed in sectarian violence throughout Baghdad in the month of August according to the Iraqi Ministry of Health. Finally, in September, 2006, there were arguments among Pentagon officials and U.S. military officers in Iraq over whether or not the U.S. should concede the loss of Iraq's huge western Anbar province (which bordered Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria) to insurgents.

The first day of Ramadan (September 23, 2006) was marked by the killing of more than forty people in Iraq. The victims ranged from women lined up to buy cooking oil to policemen who were decapitated. Ramadan was typically a time when jihadist violence escalated (in commemoration of Islam's first jihad: Muhammad's victory at Badr in 624 on the 17th of Ramadan).

Also in late September, Iraqi politicians agreed to postpone until at least 2008 debate on the question of whether to split the country into three autonomous states (Kurdish north, Sunni middle, Shia south). The Iraqi constitution permitted autonomous states, but, before that could happen, the constitution required the parliament to pass a measure stipulating how it would be accomplished.

By mid October, 2006, with insurgent and sectarian attacks posting a 22% rise over the course of the three weeks since Ramadan began, U.S. Army officials started admitting they were losing ground in stemming the violence, and, President Bush began employing comparisons with Vietnam. On October 20, Shiite "Mahdi Army" troops loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr seized and held briefly the southern town of Amara before withdrawing peacefully. The UN estimated that up to 100 Iraqis a day were dying in sectarian violence during this period. Many of the victims had been tortured and mutilated. On November 14, more than 100 people working in the Ministry of Education building were kidnapped by men wearing the uniforms of security personnel while police reportedly stood by and watched impassively. Most of the hostages were later released. Many Iraqis suspected Shiite militiamen with close ties to the government and thus the capacity to pull off "inside" jobs. Professors and academic institutions had become preferred targets for insurgents; dozens of academicians had been killed and hundreds more had fled the country. Exodus rates during 2006 for Iraqis from all parts of the population may have been running as high as 100,000 per month, according to U.N. estimates, with most seeking refuge in Jordan, Syria, or in European countries.

On November 17, 2006, in a move seen as an attempt to disenfranchise Sunnis from the Iraqi political process, the Shiite dominated government issued an arrest warrant for one of the country's leading Sunni clerics, Harith al-Dhari. While he was not in immediate danger (he was in Jordan at the time), the move was seen as both bizarre and polarizing.

At the end of 2006, only three of Iraq's eighteen provinces were under the control of the Iraqi government.

2007 On January 10, U.S. President Bush, conceding that American troops levels had been insufficient, committed an additional 21,500 troops to help secure Iraq (New York Times, Jan. 11, 2007). He did so over considerable opposition from the Iraqi government and from many Americans who wanted the U.S. to begin pulling out. Moreover, he did so against the advice of some of his top commanders and the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. Bush also repeated his opposition to Syrian and Iranian assistance in establishing greater security in Iraq. Seeming to underscore this point, the next day the U.S. provoked an international incident when it stormed an Iranian liaison office in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil and arrested six Iranians. A report issued by the Brookings Institution in late January underscored the risks of the Bush plan and called instead for an approach that emphasized containment (full report). In mid February, the chief ally of the Americans in Iraq - the British - began a phased pullout from Iraq.

On January 16, car bombs went off at Mustansiriya University in Baghdad killing at least 70 students. Elsewhere in Baghdad, 25 others were killed in bomb attacks. The same day, the U.N. estimated that more than 34,000 Iraqis had been killed in the violence in Iraq in 2006. On January 22, as the vanguard of the American troop surge was arriving in Baghdad, at least 100 were killed in car bomb attacks on Shiite market areas in Baghdad and Khalis. On January 30 during the annual Shiite Ashura rites, at least fifty were killed in attacks targeting pilgrims.

On January 29, 2007, Iraqi and American forces defeated hundreds of Shiite cult members and their leader, a man named Ahmed Hassan al-Yamani who claimed to be the "Mahdi," in a battle near Najaf. It was the biggest battle since the American invasion in 2003. The cult planned to assassinate key members of the Shia leadership in the holy city of Najaf during the annual Shiite Ashura rites.

On April 12, 2007, a bomb went off inside a cafeteria used by the Iraqi Parliament killing at least one MP and severely shaking confidence in the ability of both Iraqi and American forces to secure areas deep inside the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad. On April 14, at least 36 were killed in a suicide bomb attack on a crowded bus station in the holy Shiite city of Karbala.

On April 15, 2007, Iraqi Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr ordered six ministers loyal to him to quit the cabinet in protest against the failure of the Iraqi government to set a timetable for American withdrawal. On April 18, more than 150 were killed in a single day of bomb attacks in Baghdad.

In mid May, 2007, the British think tank Chatham House issued a report claiming that Iraq was nearing the point of collapse and fragmentation (BBC, May 17, 2007).

On May 29, 2007, a midday raid on the Iraqi Finance Ministry was carried out by more than forty individuals dressed in Iraqi security police uniforms and a convoy of vehicles. Five British nationals were kidnapped and taken away.

The spring of 2007 brought signs of infighting among Sunni insurgents in and around Baghdad. Some Iraqi Sunni fighters had begun battling al-Qaeda militants. They resented the foreign jihadists in the Qaeda ranks, the organization's severe version of Islam, and its brutal methods (BBC, June 2, 2007). U.S. commanders began taking advantage of the infighting by arming some of the anti-Qaeda warlords. By July, considerable ground had been gained in pacifying some areas, especially in the Ramadi area of Anbar Province. (more: See John Burns, "Showcase and Chimera in the Desert," New York Times, July 8, 2007)

On June 13, 2007, bombs destroyed the two minarets of the Shiite al-Askari mosque in Samarra where a similar attack in 2006 sparked the descent into civil war. Later on, following a weekend of sectarian violence (July 7 and 8) in which more than 220 were killed, Iraqi leaders began calling upon civilians to take up arms to defend themselves (Robert H. Reid, Associated Press, July 9, 2007).

By July 30, 2007, some were seeing significant progress in fighting the insurgency and stabilizing some areas of Iraq (See Michael E. O'Hanlon and Kenneth M. Pollack, "A War We Might Just Win," New York Times Op-Ed piece, July 30, 2007 -- see also above.) Others were more cautious (see Mark Mazzetti, "Iraq Snapshots Give Two Views," New York Times, Aug. 2, 2007 -- see also)

In early August, 2007, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) announced it could not account for an estimated 190,000 AK-47s and pistols - or 30% of the total - distributed to Iraqi security forces over the previous three years.

On August 6, 2007, five Sunni MP cabinet members began boycotting members rendering the "unity" government without any Sunni representation. Six others pulled out the previous week. So far this year, 17 cabinet members, almost half the cabinet, had either ceased attending for the time being or quit altogether, a serious setback for hopes of cooperation and healing between sectarian factions (BBC).

On August 14, 2007, at least 250 died in a multiple bomb attack aimed at a predominantly Yazidi area in northwest Iraq. It was the single deadliest insurgent attack of the war and al-Qaeda was suspected of being responsible. Most Yazidis are ethnic Kurds. The pre-Islamic Yazidi religion has its roots in Zoroastrianism.

On August 28, 2007, clashes between rival Shiite militias in Karbala left more than fifty dead. The rivalry was based in a struggle for political control, not differences in theology. On one side was the Mahdi Army loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr and on the other a militia loyal to the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC). The carnage took place during the annual Shabaniyah festival marking the anniversary of the birth of the Twelfth Imam (al-Mahdi).

In November, 2007, Iraq's PM Nuri al-Maliki reported that insurgent terrorism had dropped by 77% and that 7,000 Iraqi families had returned to their homes in Baghdad. His claims matched similarly glowing reports from U.S. military forces who, in spite of the fact that 2007 was their deadliest since the beginning of the war (852 killed up to Nov. 7), stated the surge was working. Other signs of change: Moqtada al-Sadr and his "Mehdi Army" found themselves being denounced publicly in Karbala for having orchestrated a four year reign of terror; and, former Sunni allies of al-Qaeda forces in Iraq - The Islamic Army in Iraq (IAI) and the 1920 Revolution Brigades - were engaging in open battles with al-Qaeda. However, the problem of determining precisely (or even approximately) how much violence was still going on in Iraq remained (see BBC "Iraq Violence in Figures")

On December 12, 2007, a triple car bomb attack in the mostly Shiite city of Amara killed at least 39.

One of the beneficiaries of the "new" Iraq was the Shiite holy city of Najaf, site of the tomb of Imam Ali. Najaf was fast becoming a major economic and political center not only for Iraq, but, some predicted, for the Middle East as a whole. (see Alissa J. Rubin, "Iraqi City Poised to Become Hub of Shiite Power," New York Times, Dec. 16, 2007)  (continued)


Top of Page

email: tthornton@nmhschool.org

Last Revised: January 1, 2009