The first and fatal miscalculation by the Sunnis was to think they could drive the US Armed Forces from Iraq, a gamble which they lost. Encouraged by the absence of a crushing campaign in northern Iraq, itself possibly caused by the absence of the 4ID from the OIF order of battle, and alienated by the American decision to "de-Baathize" Iraq, many former military Sunnis chose to continue resistance using guerilla tactics. By March, 2004 they were ready. The insurgent uprising of early 2004 that culminated in the abortive First Battle of Fallujah, which still saw the Shi'ites in as militarily inferiors. Moqtada al-Sadr's men were as yet limited to their bailiwicks and relatively weak. But doomed attempts to stand and fight against US forces eventually imposed crippling human and material losses on the Sunnis. The border with Syria was more closely patrolled. The US embarked on the what the Belmont Club called the River War to break up the logistical trail up and down the Euphrates. Sunni attempts to keep Mosul within the Sunni orbit also failed. But these were more than tactical defeats: they fatally undermined the strategic basis of Sunni power even as their ethnic rivals gained in strength.
The Sunni insurgency compounded its military failures by ruthlessly suppressing any attempts by their ethnic leaders to participate in political process sponsored by the Coalition and by murdering any Sunni who came forward to join the new Army and Police. The result was that Sunnis were underrepresented in both the Constitutional convention and in the elections of 2005. It was a double-whammy. Not only were Sunni military resources depleted, but they self-selected themselves out of the American sponsored Iraqi government. In my personal view, the Sunnis were encouraged along this path to disaster, not only by the mixed signals sent by the US, which alternately seemed to conciliate and confront them, but also by the coverage of the MSM which trumpeted the view that the Insurgency was growing more potent. Not only did the MSM penchant for listening to Sunni insurgent spokesmen undermine the US effort, it did even greater damage to the insurgents, who believed their own lies and reached for a brass ring fundamentally beyond their grasp.
What news stories missed until very recently was that the insurgent determination to fight increasingly sprang from despair rather than confidence in a Sunni restoration. The recent press release announcing the establishment of a rump Sunni "Caliphate" consisting largely of desert and absurd claims to oilfields beyond their grasp should have signalld how low their ambitions had fallen. But one person who understood how badly things stood for the Sunnis was Abu Musab Zarqawi. In the last months of his life, Zarqawi viewed with mounting alarm the American program to rebuild the Iraqi Army, largely from Kurds and Shi'ites -- since the Sunni insurgents did their level best to blow up any lines of Sunnis who applied for Iraqi Army or Police jobs -- and understood that unless he could drive America out of Iraq by other means all was lost. His solution was to unleash chaos upon everything. Whether or not Zarqawi was truly behind the attack on the Golden Mosque in Samarra it suited his book. Zarqawi's only thought was to unleash Civil War to politically drive America from Iraq. It was the ultimate Scorched Earth tactic and one welcomed by neighboring countries eager to carve up what carcass would remain. What Zarqawi did not face, or could not face, is what would happen afterward.
Westhawk observes that American officers believe that "Iraq’s Sunni Arabs will continue to fight because they believe they face either extermination or banishment if they do not." With the Sunni military struggle essentially hopeless, efforts to redress the balance within the Iraqi political process arrived too late. The door had been barred by Shi'ite extremism fueled by Moqtada al-Sadr and separately, the agents of Iran. In a remarkable display of nonstatesmanship, the Shi'ite parties headed by Iraqi PM Maliki and goaded by al-Sadr proved less interested in building an Iraq than upon obtaining revenge upon their former masters. They failed to rein in their now powerful militias, increasingly able to harry the Sunnis at will. Then, having slammed two doors in their own faces: that of military victory and that of parliamentary viability, the Sunnis proceeded to bang yet another on their battered visage: the chance of protection under the Americans. After a sequence of failures, the gamble unleashed by Zarqawi ironically began to work all too well. The US electorate, disgusted by the internal slaughter, signalled in the mid-term elections of 2006 that it would consider withdrawal. And that, to the Sunnis spelled D-E-A-T-H. Without America to hold them back, the Shi'ite forces -- which the Sunni resistance and defeat ironically brought into ascendance -- would have no compunctions about slaughtering them. In the beginning the Shi'ite militias were only capable of attacking poor, isolated Sunnis. They are increasingly able to penetrate Sunni neighborhoods and to kidnap and kill former high-ranking Baathists.
Civil war or no civil war, whatever label is placed on the violence in Iraq is largely irrelevant. What is true is that the US presence is not making things worse but better. A US pull out will only escalate the violence to the point that neighboring power will be drawn in. Seeing that the regional powers constitute Saudi Arabia (global oil provider), Iran (wannabe nuclear power), and Syria (regional meddler also in Lebanon), a regional conflict in the heart of the Middle East will make the Iraq problem a global problem.
see also Crossroad Arabia on Saudi Arabia plans for Iraq.