What does the start of a new civil war in Iraq look like? It looks a lot like this:

The Times reports today matter-of-factly on the pattern of assassinations of Sunni members of the Sons of Iraq militia by Shiite death squads:

American military leaders disagree among themselves about whether the assassinations are increasing or whether some of the killings are merely criminal acts. But they are “watching the numbers closely,” said a military official who attends briefings on attacks.

Yesterday I wrote a lengthy piece for The Nation about the likehihood of a new civil war and a new Sunni resistance movement stemming from the sectarian Shiite government’s refusal to make a political deal with Iraq’s Sunnis. The American military may indeed be “watching the numbers” of murdered Sunnis “closely,” but there’s not much that they intend to do about it. (Here’s a clue for the vaunted US military intelligence people “watching” these assassinations: they’re not “criminal.” They’re political.)

In a major feature this week on the handover of the Awakening movement and the Sons of Iraq to Prime Minister Maliki’s bloodthirsty regime, the Post cited the fears of Ibrahim Suleiman al-Zoubaidi, one of the movement’s leaders in Baghdad:

“They will kill us,” Zoubaidi declared. “One by one.”

Across Baghdad, leaders of the groups speak about the transition in similarly apocalyptic terms. Some have left Baghdad, saying they fear that the Iraqi government will conduct mass arrests after the handover. Others are obtaining passports and say they will flee to Syria.

Reports Leila Fadel of McClatchy, one of the very best reporters in Baghdad:

The Sons of Iraq worry that putting them under the control of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki is a ploy to detain and disband them. Already, Sons of Iraq leaders in the northern province of Diyala are hiding in neighboring Syria.

Others aren’t fleeing at all. They’ll fight.

It’s going to get uglier. Here’s an excerpt of an important story in the of London on the Sons of Iraq handover:

The Sons of Iraq said they feared for their future. Mohammad Idan, 42, a former shopkeeper related a rumour he had heard about the Iraqi security forces kidnapping and “disappearing” a Sons of Iraq member.

“We will never feel safe with them,” he said. …

Alarm has spread through the militia group in recent weeks after the government issued arrest warrants for dozens of members around the country. Under US pressure, the Iraqi government has agreed not to arrest any members without a warrant issued during the past six months, and not to fire any without cause.

In The National, a newspaper in the United Arab Emirates, the warnings from the Awakening movement — called sahwa in Arabic — are a little more explicit:

Sunni fighters who once battled US troops in Baghdad, before turning their guns on al Qa’eda, have warned the Iraqi government it must continue to support them or risk a return to chaos. …

The Sahwa themselves are concerned that the Iraqi government may simply disband the councils and push the former insurgents back into the role of active insurgents. In essence it would be a repeat of a former devastating mistake, when America disbanded the Iraqi army in 2003, leaving thousands of trained soldiers without jobs and a score to settle against the US military. …

Sheikh Abdul Mohammad, a Sahwa fighter in Taji, to the west of Baghdad [said], “If we are treated properly we can stand with the government and Iraq will be strong, can stabilize and prosper. If not the country will fall again. The future is not in our hands it is in the government’s.” …

In the notorious Diyala province, one Sahwa leader said government security forces contained too many people who took orders from Iran – again a reference to distrust many Sunnis have for the Shiite dominated security forces.

“The security services have too many elements which are loyal to Iran. We need to see those cleaned out, and then the Sahwa can think about being integrated.”

He’s right, in case you’re wondering. Iran pretty much runs the show, through its teams of death squads, its influence of the powerful Badr Brigade of the Iranian-created Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), and its strong influence over Maliki.

It’s having an effect, across Baghdad and much of Iraq. From an Italian source, here’s one account about Adhamiya, a neighborhood in north central Iraq just east of the river:

In al-Adhamiya in recent days, gunfights have broken out of a sort not seen for some time: two people were killed at a checkpoint on Sunday, and a civilian was killed on Monday when a car bomb exploded. There have also been rising tensions between local leaders and government officials. The situation will have to be carefully managed to keep al-Adhamiya and similar neighborhoods from descending into sectarian violence once again.

Here’s a conclusion from the Pentagon’s own quarterly report on Iraq, in typical bureaucratese, about the Iraqi government’s unwillingness to take responsibility for supporting (and paying) the Sons of Iraq–not to mention not assassinating them:

“The slow pace of transition is a concern. Continued GoI [Government of Iraq] commitment is required to ensure SoI [Sons of Iraq] are fully transitioned to permanent employment. Recent allegations of GoI targeting SoI leaders in Diyala Province are of concern if they are indicators of GoI reluctance to integrate SoI into the ISF or, more broadly, to reconcile a diverse province.”

All this makes mincement of John McCain’s assertion that his vaunted “surge” has led to “victory” in Iraq. It hasn’t. The country is seething with violence and political fissures that are very deep. It’s ready to explode. Barack Obama, who’s been defensive about the surge, ought to slam McCain for his support, in 2006, for escalating the war. Obama — along with the entire US military leadership back then, most of Congress, and the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group — wanted to start pulling US forces out of Iraq two years ago. Had they won, the war would be over. Instead, the next president will take office with more than 150,000 troops in Iraq.

As AP reported this week:

Six Army brigades, a National Guard unit and three military headquarters have been ordered to Iraq next summer in a move that would allow the U.S. to keep the number of troops largely steady there through much of next year.