Al Qaeda Stoking Sectarian Violence in Iraq, Gates Says

By Steven Donald Smith

Al Qaeda and other extremist groups have worked hard to provoke sectarian violence in Iraq, yet the situation there cannot be called a traditional civil war, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said.

“Stoking sectarian violence is a conscientious strategy of al Qaeda and some of the extremists,” Gates told reporters during a flight to Washington from U.S. Central Command in Florida. “These big car bombs going off in sensitive places, like the golden mosque, are not an accident. These guys have a very clear strategy aimed at provoking this sectarian violence.”

Gates said some aspects in Iraq resemble a civil war, but the situation is much more complex than that, with essentially four wars going on at once. These include sectarian violence, an insurgency, al Qaeda terrorism and Shiia-related violence, mostly in the south. “And maybe even five if you include crime and thuggery,” Gates said.

Thousands of people are not in the streets fighting each other in Iraq, he noted. “These are targeted assassinations that are affected,” he said. “We don’t see mobs of Shi’a, mobs of Sunnis attacking each other. You see hit squads for all practical purposes. You see gangs of people going after targeted neighborhoods and so on, and often not from those neighborhoods.”

The defense secretary said he understands that Americans are impatient for progress in Iraq. He said the Iraqis also know this and are ready to step up. “I met with (Iraqi) Vice President Abdal-Mahdi the other day,” Gates said. “And they certainly understand the pressure on them in terms of the impatience here in the United States.”

Gates also talked about the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed interrogation transcript the Defense Department released this week. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is the confessed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, and killer of Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl. He is in custody at U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“Reading the transcript, I sort of had the … reaction that this was the banality of evil. Hearing this guy go through this incredible list. I did this and then I did that, so on and so forth,” Gates said.

“And it really was a fresh reminder of the kind of threat we’re facing,” he added.