2004 On June 28, 2004, two days earlier than scheduled (some reasoned, in order to preempt further insurgent attacks), the United States formally handed over sovereignty to the new Iraqi government with interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi accepting the legal papers from U.S. Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority, Paul Bremer. Bremer departed the country immediately. (see U.S. in Iraq) In the weeks that followed, the new government was put to the test by a series of bombings and other insurgent activities including attacks on pipelines. PM Allawi instituted emergency law and stated that security would be his top priority.
On July 28, the worst in a series of bombings by Iraqi insurgents targeting Iraqi citizens occurred in Baquba killing scores. Since the U.S. handover of power a month earlier, more than 160 Iraqis had been killed in these attacks.
On August 1, 2004, bombs went off at four Christian churches in Baghdad and one in Mosul killing eleven and injuring dozens, and on January 17, 2005, insurgents abducted Mosul's Catholic Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa. There were an estimated 800,000 Christians in Iraq in 2004 (3% of the population), down from one million in 1991 (New York Times, Aug. 3, 2004). (see also)
Throughout the month of August 2004, U.S. troops in Najaf, Iraq battled insurgent Shiite troops loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr in and around the tomb shrine of Imam Ali. In Baghdad, there was fighting in the slum known as "Sadr City" (named after Moqtada's father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, who was assassinated together with two of Moqtada's brothers by Saddam's agents in February, 1999.) The New York Times in its lead editorial on August 21 blamed the crisis on "serious lapses in the American military command structure." A unit of Marines newly arrived in Najaf and green with inexperience had started skirmishes with Sadr's commandos without first clearing the mission with higher ups. On August 27, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani negotiated a deal whereby Sadr's men agreed to lay down their weapons and vacate the holy shrine of Ali. Few expected Sadr's private army to remain disarmed for long in what appeared, in ways that reminded many of Lebanon from 1975 to 1989, to be a test of the strength of the provisional Iraqi government to exercise sovereignty. In fact, fierce fighting between Sadr's followers and U.S. forces resumed a week later in the Baghdad slum known as "Sadr City." Meanwhile, most of Iraq's Anbar Province (the area including Fallujah, Ramadi, Baquba, and Samarra) had fallen under the control of Sunni fundamentalists and other insurgent forces, a fact conceded by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on September 7. There were signs that secular Ba'athist insurgents had forged alliances with Sunni fundamentalists (a case of strange bedfellows indeed). Some began to doubt that the elections scheduled for January would go ahead. Kidnappings of foreigners by insurgents continued with challenges becoming more and more brazen: in one incident, the kidnappers of two French journalists vowed to kill them unless the French government rescinded a recent ban on the wearing of head scarves in French public schools (more). The pan-Arab daily al-Hayat in an editorial on September 1 referred to it as a "repugnant seizure of innocent life" and "a criminal act that defaces the image of Islam and Arabs."
On September 12, fifty-nine Iraqis died (twenty-five in Baghdad) in a series of attacks by insurgents that seemed to indicate that the insurgency had grown and had become better organized and more widespread. Scores more were killed in subsequent attacks throughout that week. Violence continued to escalate through September with at least 41 killed - including at least 34 children - in a series of explosions detonated in Baghdad by insurgents on September 30. The same day, U.S. forces launched a major operation against insurgency forces in Samarra and by Oct. 4 had reportedly gained control over 70% of the city.
On the second day of Ramadan (October 16, 2004), militants in Baghdad bombed five Christian churches (see also). Earlier in the week, suicide bombers killed five inside Baghdad's heavily fortified "Green Zone" which had been considered relatively safe for foreigners. On October 24, the bodies of more than forty Iraqi army recruits were found near Baquba: presumed massacred by insurgents. In contrast to earlier estimates, U.S. officials published new assessments of the Iraqi insurgency putting the number of active combatants at 8,000 to 12,000. Funding was said to come from sources in the deposed Ba'athist regime and from Saudi Arabian cash sources funneled through Syria.
On November 8, 2004, U.S. Marines launched a major counter insurgency operation on Fallujah. The day before, Iraqi Prime Minister Alawi declared a 60-day state of emergency on the entire country which included curfews and restrictions on freedom of assembly and movement. Reaction across the Arab world was ambivalent: Arabs as a whole did not support American occupation, but at the same time, many were repelled by the kidnappings, beheadings, and other acts of violence being committed by the insurgents and their allies, foreign mujahideen. A group of Saudi clerics called on Muslims to join in a jihad against the American occupation (New York Times, Nov. 11, 2004. In mid November, with Fallujah secured, the Marines turned their attention to the northern city of Mosul and began a campaign to oust insurgents there. On November 19 and 20, Baghdad erupted into widespread violence following a raid by Iraqi troops (back up by U.S. forces) on the Abu Hanifa mosque there, burial place of the sunni jurist Abu Hanifa (699-765) and the most important mosque in Baghdad as well as a major global sunni pilgrimage site. The raid was part of a crackdown on militant clerics opposed to the U.S. led campaign to destroy the insurgency.
On November 20, Germany and the U.S. agreed on a plan to forgive 80% of Iraq's foreign debt.
In late November, members of the G8 nations, the Arab League, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference were hosted by Egypt at a conference in Sharm al-Sheikh to discuss the upcoming elections in Iraq scheduled for January 30.
In December, Sunni insurgents intensified their attacks in efforts to derail the elections scheduled for January. On the 19th, more than 60 were killed in suicide car bombings in the holy Shiite cities of Najaf and Karbala. On the 21st, the worst single attack suffered by the U.S. since the beginning of the war occurred in Mosul where a suicide bomber killed thirteen American soldiers, five U.S. civilians, and four Iraqis at an American base there. The insurgent group Ansar al-Sunna claimed responsibility. Mosul was put under curfew and American troops began counter insurgency operations.
2005 As the elections scheduled for January 30 approached, there was a sharp rise in attacks by insurgency forces, estimated by Iraq's intelligence services at 200,000 (at the time, U.S. troops numbered 150,000). The governor of Baghdad, Ali al-Haidri, was assassinated on the fourth. Some began to say that the word "insurgency" was an understatement, that what was happening was "war." (Paul Reynolds, BBC, Jan. 4, 2005). Former British representative Sir Jeremy Greenstock said, "It depends on the Iraqis. We have lost the primary control." New York Times reporter John Burns echoed this observation when he wrote on January 27, "Starkly put, Baghdad is not under control, either by the Iraqi interim government or the American military." Col. Stephen R. Lanza, the commander of the Fifth Brigade Combat Team, a unit of the First Cavalry Division described the capital city as "enemy territory." In its lead editorial on January 12, the New York Times called for a postponement of the elections pending adjustments that would assure the minority Sunnis greater representation in the new government. The following day, Times columnist Thomas Friedman took strong exception to his paper's stance arguing that a postponement would be a reward to the Sunni suicide bombers and would only encourage them to step up the violence.
On January 21, 2005, following weeks of escalating violence, a bomb went off outside the Shiite al-Taf mosque in Baghdad killing fourteen worshippers who were celebrating Eid al-Adha (concluding the pilgrimage). The Zarqawi group (affiliated with al-Qaeda) took responsibility. On Sunday, January 23, Zarqawi, clearly mounting a final attempt to thwart a certain Shiite victory in the upcoming elections, declared war through a website on the elections, on the Shiites and "their insidious beliefs," and on democracy in general: "We have declared a bitter war against the principle of democracy and all those who seek to enact it." (BBC) (see also)
On January 30, 2005, and in spite of the attempts by insurgents to disrupt them, free Iraqi elections took place for the first time since 1954 with estimates of up to eight million (55-60% of registered voters) participating. Although thirty six died in election day attacks by insurgents, the mood across Iraq was described as festive.
Voters chose from a slate of 111 parties for representatives to provincial parliaments. They also chose delegates to a 275 seat Transitional National Assembly whose responsibility was to draft a new constitution for Iraq by August 15, 2005. A referendum on the draft constitution was scheduled for October 15, 2005 with another round of elections for the constitutional government scheduled for December 15, 2005. If the voters had rejected the new draft constitution on October 15 (they did not), then the December 15 elections would instead have been for a new Transitional National Assembly.
Admiration for the courage of the millions of Iraqis who came out to vote poured in from all over the world. Iraq's National Security Adviser, Mouwaffaq al-Rubaie, said that the transitional government would include broad representation for all of Iraq's ethnic and religious constituencies and that the new constitution would, therefore, not underwrite a theocracy. He claimed to have the support on this score from Shiite leader Ayatollah Ali Sistani whom al-Rubaie claimed was, "one of the most ardent democrats" he had ever met. (BBC, Jan. 31, 2005) (more, and more)
The election results did not turn out as the U.S. had hoped: interim P.M. Allawi's coalition garnered only 14% of the votes. The United Iraqi Alliance (the Shia ticket) pulled in 48%, short of a majority. The Kurds won just under 26% of the votes, enough to assure them a role as a power broker.
On February 18, 2005, suicide bomb attacks at two Shiite mosques and elsewhere around Baghdad killed at least 30. Worshippers were celebrating the annual Ashura festival, the holiest day in the Shia calendar, commemorating the martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Imam Husayn at Karbala in 680. (see also)
Overall by mid February, the level of insurgent attacks had declined 20-50% from its peak in the fall of 2004 (New York Times, Feb. 21, 2005). However, on February 28, the worst attack in a year occurred in Hilla, south of Baghdad, when a suicide bomber killed more than 100. The pace of attacks increased steadily through April and May: on Friday, April 29, the day of Muslim congregational prayers and one day after the new Prime minister (see below) announced his cabinet, a wave of ten suicide car bomb attacks in Baghdad and other cities killed at least 23. The chief target of the attacks was Iraq's majority Shia population. More than 600 died in insurgent attacks in May alone (BBC).
On April 3, 2005, the interim Iraqi parliament elected a Sunni Arab, Hajim al-Hassani, to the post of speaker and chose a Shia Muslim and a Kurd as his deputies. That same week, and following a power sharing formula that attempted to balance ethnic and religious representation in the country, a Presidency Council was appointed with Jalal Talabani (a Sunni Kurd) as President along with Vice Presidents Ghazi al-Yawar (Sunni Arab) and Adel Abdul Mahdi (Shiite Arab). The new Prime Minister replacing the interim P.M. Iyad Allawi was Ibrahim al-Jaafari (Shiite Arab). Wrangling among Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite politicians over the makeup of the cabinet continued into May without resolution against a backdrop of a sharp escalation in attacks by insurgents: on May 4, fifty people were killed in a suicide bomber attack in the Kurdish city of Irbil. Over 250 people had been killed in insurgent attacks since the formation of the cabinet. In early May, U.S. forces mounted the largest counterinsurgency operation since Fallujah targeting Anbar Province in the west of the country. Thousands of mujahideen (Muslim "holy warriors") from Saudi Arabia, the Gulf, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, and the Sudan were pouring across Syria's porous desert border with Iraq to join the insurgency (see also). In early June, U.S. and Iraqi troops swept through the town of Tal Afar in northwestern Iraq in an attempt to root out insurgents. (See George Packer, "The Lesson of Tal Afar," The New Yorker, vol. 82, no. 8, April 10, 2006, 49ff.)
On June 3, ten died when a suicide bomber blew himself up at a gathering of Sufi Muslims in Baghdad and on July 13, twenty seven people, mostly Iraqi children, were killed by a suicide bomber who attacked American soldiers handing out candy to children. Insurgent attacks resembled tactics used by Hizbullah in Lebanon against the Israelis. On June 26, 2005, in the wake of declining American support for the war in Iraq and in a direct contradiction of Vice President Cheney's claim that the insurgency was in its "last throes," U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that the insurgency in Iraq could continue for many years and that U.S. officials had carried out talks with insurgency representatives. By July, insurgents had begun targeting foreign diplomats posted to Iraq, including those from Muslim countries (Egypt, Pakistan, and Bahrain among them). On August 16, a suicide bomber blew up a fuel truck in Musayyib killing 90.
In late August, 2005, as the Transitional National Assembly continued wrangling over the draft constitution past the deadline of August 15, two rival Shiite militias clashed in the holy Shia city of Najaf: the Shiite Badr Militia allied with the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution (SCIRI), Abdul Aziz Hakim and another Shiite militia loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr. On Sunday, August 28, the Assembly agreed to send the draft constitution to the Iraqi electorate on October 15 with Sunnis vowing to defeat it. On October 15, Iraqis ratified the draft constitution by the required two-thirds majority: 78% in favor, 21% opposed. A new round of elections for the Iraqi Parliament was scheduled for December (and took place on time). As expected, Shiites and Kurds, who made up 80% of the population, approved the document while most Sunnis voted no.
The draft constitution raised disturbing questions in the minds of some Arab commentators who felt that, if it were to be adopted, Iraq would lose its Arab identity. Abd al-Wahhab Badrikhan in al-Hayat (Sept. 1, 2005) wrote, "'Iraq is a non-Arab country!' - this is what the "constitution" wants to say: 'Iraq speaks Arabic, but isn't Arab, it shares with Arabs historically and geographically, it borders other Arab countries and shares a common legacy with them, and, it shares resources with other Arabs, including human ones. Yet, Iraq is still non-Arab.'" Badrikhan went on to say that giving the "Farsi [Iranian] Shia" and the Kurds so much of a say in the new Iraq fit the aims of the "Likudniks" in the American administration and explained why President Bush was "optimistic" about Iraq's future ("Likud" was a codeword in the Arabic speaking world for what was perceived to be Israeli or American imperialism).
Insurgents identifying themselves as "al-Qaeda in Iraq" intensified their campaign of suicide bombings: one alone, in Baghdad on September 14, claimed over 100 lives. Sunni insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi proclaimed "total war against the Rafidite ["apostate"] Shiites" in Iraq (see also). (al-Jazeera, Sept. 15, 2005) Zarqawi's declaration of war on Iraq's Shia showed that he had chosen to ignore warnings posted to him by bin Laden and Zawahiri, the heads of al-Qaeda, who were hiding in Afghanistan.
On August 31, 2005, approximately 1,000 Shia pilgrims (out of a crowd of about one million) died in a stampede in Baghdad when rumors spread of an impending suicide bomb attack. Missiles did fall on the Khadhimiyya Mosque killing 36, and 16 others were killed by mortar rounds fired into the crowd. The pilgrims were commemorating the death of Musa al-Khadhim, a prominent Shia Imam who died in 799 and was buried in the Khadhimiyya Mosque.
On September 22, 2005, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal warned the United States that Iraq was on the point of disintegration and that surrounding countries were in danger of being drawn into a regional war.
On October 5, 2005, the first day of Ramadan, a suicide bomber killed 25 Shiites and wounded more than 87 in an attack on the Husseiniyat Ibn al-Nama Mosque in Hilla, Iraq (BBC).
In early November, 2005, a U.N. auditing board recommended that the U.S. pay back Iraq up to $208 million for alleged overcharges and shoddy work done by a subsidiary of Halliburton in 2003 and 2004 (New York Times, Nov. 5, 2005).
On November 18, suicide bombers struck two Shia mosques in Khanaqin (near the Iranian border) killing at least 74 during Friday prayers. At least six more were killed in car bomb attacks in Baghdad. The following day, at least 30 died in a car bomb attack on a Shiite funeral procession in Baquba. As fear grew between Sunnis and Shiites, mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad and surrounding areas began to become more segregated as Shiites moved to areas considered safer against attacks by Sunni insurgents and Sunnis moved to areas where they were less likely to be harassed by the mostly Shiite Iraqi army and police (New York Times, Nov. 19, 2005).
On December 15, 2005, constitutionally mandated parliamentary elections took place under stable conditions in Iraq with voter turnout estimated at 70%. Incidents of insurgent violence were very few.
Also in mid-December, 2005, a Brookings Institution report indicated that while passive support for the Iraqi insurgency among the Iraqi people remained "common" and that a state of "continual turmoil" prevailed, economic growth was occurring, more Iraqi security personnel were being trained, and there was improvement in education. The report concluded that a hasty withdrawal of U.S. forces would only empower the insurgents. (New York Times, OP-Ed, Dec. 14, 2005). A BBC poll indicated that 61% of Iraqis (most of whom were Shia) said the government was doing a good job and 71% described their lives as good. (BBC, Dec. 12, 2005). (continued)