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The Iraqi Civil War

As I say in today's column, civil war isn't a possibility, it's a reality:

The rising tensions spilled over last week as the corpses of Iraqi soldiers, many of them Kurds, continued to pile up in the streets of Mosul. Most of them were killed by single gunshots to the head. Some were beheaded. The prime suspects are Arab Islamists allied with local Ba’athists, operating in the Old City on Mosul’s west bank.

Just across the Tigris River, a battalion of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters mustered before their commander in Kurdish-controlled east Mosul, presenting arms and bellowing assent.

"We are here to defend our people. We will fight, and we will win," their commander, Sadi Ahmed Pire, shouted at the 150 fighters crammed into the courtyard of his headquarters. "The Kurds of Mosul will not be second-class citizens."

"We are ready to defend our brothers!" the soldiers chanted in unison.

I don't know what else you call that. The fact that the ostensibly pro-American Kurds are, as highlighted by Juan Cole, actually deeply opposed to what America is trying to do in Iraq and increasingly angry at a Bush administration it believes to have sold them out is one of the great undernotived ill-tidings for this venture. So far, the very lack of success we've had at creating a stable situation and a functioning government has prevented the Kurdish issue from ripening, but now the scope of the violence seems to be forcing the question to some extent. It's obvious, moreover, that the Bush administration does not have a plan for coping with this and never did. They were happy to use Kurdish suffering in the 1980s as a propaganda point for their war, and now are happy to use Kurdish troops to put an Iraqi face on military operations (purely for domestic consumption, you can't trick Arab Iraqis like that), but they haven't thought this through. As ever, hope was the plan.

November 30, 2004 | Permalink

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» Civil War in Iraq (Already)? from THE BELGRAVIA DISPATCH
Matthew Yglesias--merely based on the murder of some Kurds in Mosul by perpetrators beholden to an unholy alliance of fundamentalist radicals and Baathist restorationists--seems to have made up his mind that a civil war has already begun in Iraq... [Read More]

Tracked on Nov 30, 2004 10:49:18 PM

» TCS: Civil War Enthusiasts from Outside The Beltway
My latest TCS column, "Civil War Enthusiasts," is up. It takes a look at Matthew Yglesias' assertion over at TAP that not only is an Iraqi civil war inevitable, it's already underway. The piece incorporates and builds upon a longish post by Greg... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 2, 2004 12:28:39 PM

Comments

So, Matthew, are you proposing that we all just wink and congratulate the Bushies for "winning" in Iraq, sometime around March? I won't do it. But, it won't matter, because the news media will fill in for me. Not a single major TV network will dare point out the reality of the situation, and the newspapers will headline the triumph of American determination so much that the unwashed masses, especially in the red states, will all be atwitter with pride.

Posted by: Vaughn Hopkins | Nov 30, 2004 5:58:34 PM

"You can't trick Arab Iraqis like that"?

Because they're smarter and more media svaay than Americans? I don't underestimate the gullibility of the American people, especially considering the number who think that Saddam was a part of 9/11, but how many Arabs again think that we did 9/11 to ourselves? These are the people you can't trick?

Posted by: Ian Dew-Becker | Nov 30, 2004 7:07:17 PM

I don't know what else you call that.


It's called an appropriate response to an Islamist/Baathist insurgency. It certainly is NOT called a "civil war".

What a silly, silly article, Matthew! A civil war would involve the Kurdish peshmerga fighting the ING or some such other groups. It has nothing at all to do with fighting ON THE SAME SIDE as the ING. Duh.

One wonders where all the lefties go to get indoctrinated with the same exact opinions -- everything's going to hell, there's a civil war, it's impossible to succeed, blah, blah, blah. Meanwhile, just like in Afghanistan, we'll have elections and democracy within a very short time. Not that that would be called "success" by the leftie goalpost-movers.

Posted by: Al | Nov 30, 2004 7:21:22 PM

I don't know, Al, it would seem to me that you are the one who is attempting to change the definition of civil war here. Merriam-Webster says, "civil war: a war between opposing groups of citizens of the same country." It would seem to me that every time you have a native insurgency and natives fighting it, as we obviously have here, it is, by definition, a civil war. Also, by the time we do pull out and declare victory, whenever that is, I will be fascinated to compare that end-state to the one promised us by Paul Wolfowitz, et al, back in early 2003 and see who really has moved the goalposts.

Posted by: Shochu John | Nov 30, 2004 7:42:29 PM

There's no two ways about it: It is a civil war, and that represents a setback for the American strategy.

On the other hand, one is justified in asking whether or not a stable government is possible in an environment where the 20% minority that brutally repressed the rest of the population for a hundred years is given free reign to vent its grievances.

Civil war, in other words, may be a prerequisite of any constitutional process.

As a supporter of the constitutional process I'm not happy with that, but I'm not yet prepared to call it quits either. Certainly not when 80% of the country still stands to benefit enormously from the constitutional process.

Posted by: Jonathan Dworkin | Nov 30, 2004 7:57:25 PM

It would seem to me that every time you have a native insurgency and natives fighting it, as we obviously have here, it is, by definition, a civil war.


I see. So, say, Spain has been in a civil war for decades now, since ETA is a native insurgency fighting natives. Right?

I will be fascinated to compare that end-state to the one promised us by Paul Wolfowitz, et al, back in early 2003


I wonder if you could provide me a link to the specific end-state promises Wolfowitz made in 2003, so I can be sure to make an accurate comparison.

Posted by: Al | Nov 30, 2004 8:08:09 PM

Al: "Meanwhile, just like in Afghanistan, we'll have elections and democracy within a very short time." Even you should know better than to use "very" to emphasize a not so good and speculative point. If Matt and previous posters are right, and there was no realistic way to avoid avoid a civil war and said civil war might be in the offing, how soon can we expect something resembling a cohesive, remotely safe society to unfold? I'd submit that it won't be in a "very short time."

Posted by: fnook | Nov 30, 2004 8:11:53 PM

An interesting point that today's rather bleak NY Times article on the Iraqi security forces makes, though it is overshadowed by the rest of the story, is that security in much of the country is actually a lot better now than it was in April. The Shiite and Kurdish areas are essentially stable and mobilizing for elections.

Now the security situation in areas with a large Sunni population is atrocious, and that remains a grave danger to the project. But calling it quits now, or in the near future, strikes me as a very bad and unneccessary option.

The key to success is forging a process that includes Shiites and Kurds, and that has the potential to slowly draw moderate Sunnis into the fold. Hyperventilating every time a Sunni rejectionist kills a cop solves nothing. We need to be patient and stick to the ideals that are slowly opening the political system to Iraq's long-abused majority.

Posted by: Jonathan Dworkin | Nov 30, 2004 8:30:49 PM

"Meanwhile, just like in Afghanistan, we'll have elections and democracy within a very short time."

Seems pretty accurate to me! January 2005 is certainly a very short time...

Posted by: Al | Nov 30, 2004 8:31:26 PM

Here's an article that nicely summarizes Wolfowitz's ridiculously off-mark predictions for Iraq.

http://tinyurl.com/5dtcr

To date, my cat has been more correct, although to be fair, she is fairly prescient.

Regarding Afghanistan, having elections seems to have had little effect on the terrible, terrible security situation there. Some parts of the country remain under Taliban and/or warlord control. Charitable organizations working there for twenty years have been forced to pull out.

If this is the Iraq model we're aspiring to, it looks like we're on the right track.

Posted by: Windhorse | Nov 30, 2004 8:41:13 PM

Al-
Let's get serious for a minute. While I think the January election has the potential to do a lot of good, it's very likely that:

a.) Parliament will be Shiite-dominated and not all that secular (remember, al-Sadr still has a significant following... not enormous, but significant)
b.) The Kurds will insist on greater autonomy than the Shiites (or Iran or Turkey) will be willing to give them
c.) Many Sunnis will still view the government as illegitimate

The elections are not nearly as important as the Constitution the elected government produces- will it ensure minority rights? Will it ensure women's rights? Will it have proper distance between church and state? How much autonomy will it grant the Kurds and the Sunnis?

You can't claim that "Democracy" is in place until the Iraqis have devised a constitution acceptable to Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis.

Posted by: Brad Reed | Nov 30, 2004 8:44:01 PM

Also, it's highly highly unlikely that any democratically elected government will be sympathetic to US plans for long-term military bases.

Posted by: Brad Reed | Nov 30, 2004 8:46:35 PM

OK, Al, let’s talk about Spain. Spain has had a VERY low level civil war for several decades due to ETA. How many people do they kill a year? About 800 people in 43 years of fighting. That’s less than 20 a year. Compare that to the body count due to the Iraqi insurgency. Estimates vary, but the per year casualty count is about 1000 times heavier in Iraq. So to answer your question, Spain has had an extremely low level civil conflict for 43 years. The one in Iraq is much more devastating.

And now, to administration predictions,
First, the Wolfowitz, this is one I want to seriously compare at the end of all this:
“There’s a lot of money to pay for this that doesn’t have to be U.S. taxpayer money, and it starts with the assets of the Iraqi people…and on a rough recollection, the oil revenues of that country could bring between $50 and $100 billion over the course of the next two or three years…We’re dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon.” [Source: House Committee on Appropriations Hearing on a Supplemental War Regulation, 3/27/03]

Now, the et al (they are talking 30,000 troops by LAST fall):
The Bush administration is planning to withdraw most United States combat forces from Iraq over the next several months and wants to shrink the American military presence to less than two divisions by the fall, senior allied officials said today.
[...]
If the administration plan is carried out, the effect would be to reduce the number of American troops in Iraq from over 130,000 soldiers and marines at present to 30,000 troops or fewer by the fall.
[Source: New York Times, May 3, 2003]

Posted by: Shochu John | Nov 30, 2004 9:01:01 PM

The Kurdish aspiration was for a nation of their own. Period. It was never otherwise. This makes the Turks unhappy but that's their problem. And vice versa for the Kurds.

The differences between the Shi'a and the Sunni are more bitter and theologically deeper than than between Christian and (Sunni) Muslim, stemming from cultural inheritances, as much as anything. And the Sunni are just outnumbered.

[That probably doesn't grab you. Try this: the Shi'a area closely matches the area of ancient Sumer. Whereas the Sunni area (including Baghdad) overlays the Akkadian area. And they had a contested zone in the middle there back then too. Of course, the Akkadians won out, sort of, over the Sumerians, so evidently the Sunnis have been telling the Shi'a what to do for 4000 years. And the Shi'a aren't happy about it. Double that for the whole religion thing. The Shi'a would disavow the connection, but Shi'aism strongly resembles Zoroastrianism in Muhammedian dress. Whereas the Sunni hew rather closely to the, um, Jewish line. (Don't mention that to them tho.) Marquee version: the old Dualist religion continues the brutal contest with the old Monotheist religion, as they have for 2000+ years. (Did I mention how odd it is that Akhanaten embraced a weirdo semi-monotheistic cult of the sungod Aten and then a hundred years later or so Ywy and Jizreel pops up? Have I offended everybody yet? No? Pity.

Of course, the mountain people of the north, who were the Mitanni at one point, and then later the Assyrians (not to mention Gutians and Kassites) come down out of the mountains every so often and kick the shit out of the lowlanders. But their empires don't last.

This little contest has been going on for quite a long time. The players, the jerseys and even the game changes, but it still involves grass, fall, and cheerleaders, no matter what they call the franchises.]

In this context, Saddam Hussein is fucking progressive, imposing a secular socialist egalitarianism via the usual commie trick of brutal indiscriminate repression and murder.

I (obviously) like Federalism, but a country stapled together by the British, comprising two bitterly opposed language groups and two bitterly opposed religions (broken into three major religions) in which no group has an upper hand, has at a minimum, at least one serious bloody civil war due. That is part of the process of sorting out a culture of governing and binding together a modern nation.

Such brutal infighting (kulturkampf for blood!) has accompanied the evolution of EVERY serious democracy, including the United States. It took Albion 12 hundred years to go from a bunch of tribes recently freed from foreign domination to something that involved voting. Same deal with the Frogs. And the Krauts. The Russians haven't even got to uncorrupt, consistant elections yet, much less sorting out who's Russian and who isn't.

I don't see why the Kurds (the Kruds!) could or should be part of 'Iraq' (Uruk). Why? Hell, most of the Kurds don't even live there in the first place.

The point to this rant is that you can mutter about federalism and practicality and whatnot, but if people don't want to live together to the point they will die rather than do so, than no power-sharing arrangement is practical. Not in a democracy. Even the Swiss had a civil war and some 'ethnic cleansing' (internal population reshuffling) in the 19th century. Power-sharing is for groups that want to live togther despite their differences, when those differences are much much smaller than their commonalities.

Why internationalists of any stripe cannot wrap their brains around the concept of borders being somewhat arbitrary concoctions is beyond me. Is it because of the Confederacy? Isn't that a little silly?

(Yes, I am really answering another post. But...)

As for the Bush people, feh. They just want a friendly dictatorship that pumps oil and they'll do anything to get it. Their real incompetence lies in not being able to impose a run-of-the-mill American-back junta. I mean, Christ, I thought we had that part DOWN. If they'd caught Hussein, it would've been a different story.

I totally agree with you about pulling out, since the first consideration is our army. After all, I was arguing for punting to the UN and going home in 2003. Where I disagree with you is I DO think pulling out will be a disaster. Of course it will. Complete, fucking and like, total. The thing is is that staying around will be just as bad for them, and much much worse for us. We are in the same basic position of the guy who gets to chose between the leg amputation and dying of gangrene.

Hrmmm. Amputation...death. Amputation...death. Amputation...death. ('Cake or death?') Gosh, old fellow, death sounds ever so much more grand on TV. Nummy, nummy death!

ash
['I hate that when I go to type one thing and something else completely different pops out. Tres embarressing.']

Posted by: ash | Nov 30, 2004 9:06:57 PM

Not that that would be called "success" by the leftie goalpost-movers.

Snort! Gimme a break. This is the administration's tactic.

Look at the justification for the war: WMDs become Al Qaeda becomes "establishing democracy in the ME".

Or how about the predictions for peace: "they'll throw flowers in front of our tanks" becomes "things will be better after Sadaam is caputred" becomes "once the electricity is back on" becomes "once there's an interim council" becomes "the January elections" becomes...I don't know what, probably "holy fuck!"

Or how about the nature of our opponents: "Sadaam loyalists" become "regime dead-enders" become "foreign fighters" become "Al Qaeda" become "insurgents".

Posted by: ScrewyRabbit | Nov 30, 2004 9:08:30 PM

The elections are not nearly as important as the Constitution the elected government produces- will it ensure minority rights? Will it ensure women's rights? Will it have proper distance between church and state? How much autonomy will it grant the Kurds and the Sunnis?


I don't disagree with you. Democracy is much more than mere elections. Nonetheless, Iraq will not have failed to achieve democracy if its initial Constitution doesn't afford Iraq all of the right that, say, Belgium's Constitution affords Belgians. Let's remember that the US's own Constitution did not afford women or blacks rights for a hundred years plus. That doesn't mean that America was not a democracy in, say, 1820.

Posted by: Al | Nov 30, 2004 9:18:52 PM

OK, Al, let’s talk about Spain. Spain has had a VERY low level civil war for several decades due to ETA.


Well, if we are going to call EVERY intranational conflict a "civil war", then, fine, it's a civil war. So be it. If Spain can endure decades of "civil war" (as so defined) then I don't see a huge problem; Spain has muddled through its "civil war" just fine. The Iraqi "civil war" is a lot closer to Spain's than to our own circa 1861.

And now, to administration predictions,


My apologies - when you posted about Wolfowitz's promised "end-state", I assumed you were referring to some promise as to how Iraqis would find the condition of their country when our troops left. I didn't think you meant a prediction about how much money we'd spend. But if you have any quotes from Wolfowitz essentially saying to Iraqis, "when we leave your country, you will have X, Y, and Z," I'd love to see them.

Posted by: Al | Nov 30, 2004 9:25:52 PM

"Wolfowitz essentially saying to Iraqis, "when we leave your country"

Never gonna find em. Wolfy never had any intention of leaving Iraq.

Ash:very good stuff.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Nov 30, 2004 9:42:40 PM

Well, if we are going to call EVERY intranational conflict a "civil war", then, fine, it's a civil war. So be it. If Spain can endure decades of "civil war" (as so defined) then I don't see a huge problem; Spain has muddled through its "civil war" just fine. The Iraqi "civil war" is a lot closer to Spain's than to our own circa 1861.

OK, Al, I broke out the calculator and broke it down to the % of the population dead per year in each of the three conflicts. Spain vs. ETA, the US civil war, and Iraq. The results are:
Spain: 0.000047%
US Civil War: 0.41%
Iraq: 0.048%

So, The US Civil War was 10 times the casualty rate of the current Iraqi civil war, which is 1000 times the casualty rate of the Spanish ETA matter, whatever you want to call it. Saying that Iraq is closer to the Spanish situation, which you do not consider a civil war, than to the American civil war, is to me a bit off mark. Would you say that a cow is closer is size to an elephant or a rat? Well, average cow weight: 1150 lbs, elephant: 11500 lbs, same magnitude as the difference between Iraq and the American Civil War, a factor of ten. A factor of 1000 is the difference between the weight of a cow and the weight of a smallish New York City rat. Which one is the cow closer to? I say elephant. How about you?

Posted by: Shochu John | Nov 30, 2004 10:04:33 PM

Sorry, the top paragraph in the previous post should be in italics, as it it a direct quote from Al's post.

Posted by: Shochu John | Nov 30, 2004 10:08:07 PM

The gods always punish hubris. Bend over America and take it like a man.

Posted by: Moo Cow | Nov 30, 2004 10:24:58 PM

I seem to recall Vietnam being a civil war as well, or are Vietnam analogies still politically incorrect?

Posted by: Vietnam vet | Nov 30, 2004 10:40:04 PM

Vietnam was more like a war of independence rather than a civil war, dating from 1945 to 1975. Sure, the U.S. thought it was preventing the spread of Communism, but to the North Vietnamese we were successors to the French who happened to have more guns and money. Whether the U.S. is the successor to the British in Iraq is an analogy I'll leave to others to fuss over.

Posted by: David W. | Nov 30, 2004 10:47:52 PM

Al,

America still isn't a democracy. It's a republic.

Hope this helps.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 30, 2004 10:49:19 PM

It's Time for America Again!

Please visit Amendment Nine for the details.
http://amendmentnine.blogspot.com/2004/11/its-about-time-for-america.html

Posted by: Federalist X | Nov 30, 2004 11:18:46 PM

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