Will Iraq Fall Into the Abyss of Civil War?

Iraq stands at a pivotal moment.

Violence continues to rage after one of Shiite Islam's holiest shrines was attacked, said foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman. Nearly 130 people have been killed since Wednesday's bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra.

Friedman is the author of "The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century" and also writes for The New York Times.

"One of two things is going to happen here," he said. "Iraqis are going to stare into this abyss and pull back, or I'm afraid they're going to fall in. We'll know real soon whether anything is salvageable there."

In an attempt to curb the violence, the Iraqi government ordered a daytime curfew. But residents in Sadr City, the Shiite slum in Baghdad, took to the streets in demonstration. Many fear that Iraq is on the brink of civil war and that each sect -- the Kurds, the Shiites and the Sunnis -- will choose loyalty to itself over a united government.

"I've said from the beginning of the war, for me the fundamental question is this: Is Iraq the way Iraq is because of Saddam Hussein? Or was Saddam Hussein the way Saddam Hussein was because of the way Iraq is, a country that can only be held together with an iron fist?" Friedman said.

But dividing the country into three parts so each sect can govern itself would not be the answer because of "how intermixed the country actually is," he said. There is a lot of intermarriage between sects, and they do business with each other, he said.

Bombing the mosque was not al Qaeda trying to hurt Iraqis, but rather an attempt to strike back at the United States and ultimately to control the Middle East, Friedman said.

"They know if they defeat America in the heart of their world, the resonance that it will have is enormous," Friedman said. "We, by contrast, if we defeat them in their world in collaboration with other Arabs and Muslims by putting together some decent democracy, it will be a terrible defeat."