August 2, 2006

Iraqi Civil War?

I’m still trying to decide exactly what a civil war is. A helpful person at EAForums insisted that Iraq wasn’t in civil war because it isn’t being waged by cohesive populist groups with a predetermined goal in mind. He described it more as “gang warfare” which does seem to characterize the somewhat more chaotic nature of Iraq’s current situation.

However, many definitions I’ve found of “civil war” are not dependent on how organized the factions are, and it seems that Iraq at least qualifies as having been split along populist lines (sectarian lines, in Iraq’s case). And since the US basically controls the Iraq military, we have prevented the army from splitting along those lines. But organizations where our influence is not felt have succumbed to the influence of militia leaders.

One could say that our preventing the military from turning on itself is preventing civil war. But the sectarian fighting is alive and well. The more accurate view is that Iraq is in civil war, and our control of the military is merely hiding a symptom of that civil war and not a requirement of it. Don’t these loosely organized gangs still need to be part of of a unified and peaceful Iraqi for the war to end?

Calling a Spade a Spade in Newsweek identifies a bitterly divided population that is also seeing segregation along these warring lines.

Across the country, Shiites and Sunnis have abandoned what for decades have been mixed neighborhoods and retreated into ethnically pure enclaves. […]

“Sunnis and Shiites look at each other with hostile views,” says Baghdad-based political analyst Aziz Jabur, “They are returning behind their own lines, their own history, their own religion. It’s now a civil war. The reality is there.” […]

U.S. and military officials in Baghdad admit that “tit-for-tat killings” are occurring, but on a limited scale. But what is “limited” about an estimated 6,000 civilians killed in May and June alone, according to a recent United Nations report on Iraq’s violence? Or that some 27,000 Iraqi families had registered for relocation since February, according to reports from the Ministry of Displacement and Migration? […]

And in the Sunni western desert, Shia are hated even more than the Americans. They are seen as purveyors of an Iranian agenda and accomplices in the despised American occupation. These facts lead to a simple conclusion: where there is even the slightest potential for sectarian conflict in Iraq these days, war on the very fabric of Iraqi civilization erupts. […]

Can there be a civil war when the Army hasn’t turned on itself, or the government? It’s a fair question. But Iraq’s nascent military couldn’t turn on itself even if it wanted to. […] That is not the case with the police, the Facilities Protection Services, or the various other security forces that operate largely out of sight for ministries and other government patrons. These forces are riddled with infiltrators who answer to militia leaders first. Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, has admitted that getting rid of the militias is “complicated” because of their spidery reach into nearly every organ of Iraq’s government.

At the top, there have been political reasons for not calling this a civil war (and opponents are motivated into calling it a civil war). However, I’ve heard non-partisan non-political reasons on both sides. Last week I would have said that I just don’t know. But, thinking of other conflicts in Lebanon and the Balkans - wars we have called civil wars, it seems to me that Iraq’s problems which were previously held in check by a brutal dictator have blossomed into a postponed civil war. We’ve removed the dictator, but not the problems. And war is occurring over those ancient lines. It really looks to me like civil war. And saying we plunged another country into civil war does not sound like “Mission Accomplished.”

Posted by James at August 2, 2006 2:31 AM
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Can Iraq even be considered a country anymore? On the surface I see two separate ethnic groups who live in separate regions but continue to fight over Baghdad. There must be more to it than that but I often have trouble gleaning more details from media reports.

Boy, am I tired of hearing about the Middle East.

Posted by: Mike at August 2, 2006 11:23 AM

As I've said from the beginning, the outcome of this war would not be freedom and democracy, but an even more brutal dictator than Saddam that we praise as a "strong leader" necessary to modernize the country, combat terrorism, and be a bulwark against Iran.

Sorta like what we said about Saddam in the 80s.

Posted by: DG at August 2, 2006 11:29 AM

The Who already covered this in "Won't Get Fooled Again."

Meet the new boss.
Same as the old boss.
Posted by: James at August 2, 2006 11:47 AM

A civil war is when two well-dressed leaders of countries sip tea and say things to each other like this:

"I say, old chap, I'm going to bomb your city tomorrow."

"Right-o, then, there'll be retaliation from our side, you know!"

(Sorry, I just had to say it.)

Posted by: Patti M. at August 2, 2006 12:17 PM

Oops - Erik pointed out to me that I typed "Baltics" instead of "Balkans."

My fingers are not reliably attached to my brain.

Posted by: James at August 2, 2006 12:40 PM

Mike, don't forget the Kurds (3rd ethnic group). Although that seems to be the one positive that's come of this whole fiasco. I heard on "Wait...wait...Don't tell me" this week that they are actually looking to get tourism going in Northern Iraq (kurdish area). Something along the lines of "the other Iraq".

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at August 2, 2006 1:12 PM

Before you say it, yes, it was acknowledged that this is a riff on "Pork: the other white meat."

Posted by: Patti M. at August 2, 2006 1:37 PM

"Don't forget the Kurds"

That sounds like ad copy as well.

Posted by: James at August 2, 2006 2:45 PM

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