Iraq is full of "holy" places. I really despise the word holy because it is too often used as a justification for people to throw civility out the window and act like animals in the name of their religious memes. The city of Samarra, Iraq contains such a focal point, or it did. In 2006, while I was serving in Baghdad, Iraq the Sunni insurgency managed to blow up the golden-domed mosque which I believe contained the shriveled corpse of an Islamic holy man or two. Blowing up the golden dome was a catalytic event in the low intensity civil war being fought between Sunni and Shia in Saddam’s former playground.
A little more than a year later, in the middle of a troop build-up by the U.S., Sunni insurgents managed to blow up the remaining minarets, an event that is a major tactical victory for them. For the U.S. to claim any type of victory in Iraq, moderate gains in stability are necessary. There will be no moderate gains in stability until the country can achieve basic security. Clearly, that is not yet feasible. I am dubious that it will become feasible until the Iraqi military and police forces get serious about fighting for nationalism instead of sectarianism. Blowing up the golden dome twice sends a clear message that nothing has improved since the first bomb went off. It’s the equivalent of Osama bin Laden telling the U.S. he is going to 9/11 us whenever he feels like it and then doing so with impunity.
The generals and admirals in Baghdad’s International Zone/Green Zone should be answering the question of how to accelerate training the Iraqi armed forces and how to address the culture of corruption and sectarianism that exists in the Iraqi government on down to the uniformed units out in the streets. That will be hard to do when we are fighting our own culture of corruption, waste and bureaucracy simultaneously.
In the meantime, imagine what would happen if someone managed to walk into Washington, D.C. and blow up the Lincoln Memorial. Now take the amount of outrage you think would result, multiply it by 100, factor in a culture where life is much cheaper and stir vigorously. That’s Iraq today, at least in the mind of the typical American voter. Since American voters will have a huge stake in deciding the future of Iraq, I have to say score one for the forces of instability in Iraq.