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Civil war in Iraq

July 24th, 2006

While world attention has been transfixed by the catastrophes in Lebanon and Gaza, Iraq has reached the point where sectarian bloodletting turns into civil war. Most of the country is already partitioned on ethnic and religious lines, and now the same thing is happening in Baghdad, with people abandoning mixed neighborhoods for the safety of homogeneous enclaves.

This development seems to finally mark the point beyond which slogans like “stay the course” make no sense any more. “Stay the course” presumed that the problem was an insurgency that could be defeated by the Iraqi government, given sufficient backing. Whether or not that was ever feasible, given the way in which the occupation acted as a recruiting agency for the insurgents, is now irrelevant. The forces driving the civil war are as much inside the government as outside. The occupying forces are doing nothing to stop it, and it’s not obvious that they can do anything.

Any suggestions on what to do next would be welcome. Given that the occupation has produced nothing but disaster, an early end to it seems like an obvious first step. But nothing now seems likely to stop the breakup of Iraq into warring statelets, at least some of which will be terrorist havens.

Update While the comment thread has been as acrimonious as you would expect, it’s been notably lacking in positive suggestions, particularly from those who supported the invasion. Stephen Bartos and a couple of others have some worthwhile discussion of the way a withdrawal could be managed, but the war’s supporters seem to think it sufficient to point out that Saddam was (and is) an evil man. Those of us who opposed the invasion knew that; what we were waiting for in 2002, and are still waiting for, was a coherent plan to deal with the consequences of an invasion.

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  1. Ernestine Gross
    July 31st, 2006 at 23:23 | #1

    Sorry, a correction: Please replace ‘president’ with ‘precedent’ in the above.

  2. August 1st, 2006 at 02:32 | #2

    I still think a three state solution can work. That would leave the problem of Shi’ites in Baghdad, but at least two states (Kurdistan, South Iraq) can move forward into some sort of future and the occupation would be restricted to one section (the sunni section including baghdad).

    As for how to deal with “North Iraq”, I think the dynamics would change quite considerably once they where under a sunni leadership (probably including ex-baathists). The remaining problem would be an Iran backed al-Sadr army. Perhaps they could be convinced to back down over time and with some useful contributions from South Iraq and Iran (who would obviously be allies in a shi’ite theocracy).

    If not, then the US would have to ally with the Baathists in their war against the “terrorists/freedom fighters”, which is exactly how we got Saddam in the first place. By being ruthless I imagine it would be possible for the Baathists to keep the Medhi army in check… though that would require the west to turn a blind eye to potentially dodgy tactics. The Baathists of North Iraq could probably get themselves militarily organised within a year or so — and then the occupation could end.

    The benefits of a multi-state solution to the west is that it triples the possibility that there will be a pro-western ally in the region and it shrinks the size of the shi’ite theocracy that will presumably team up with Iran. Each country will be less able to cause trouble for any other country.

    The potential big downside is that Iran and South Iraq attempt to invade North Iraq… but I don’t think Iran is up for that now and I don’t think the (predominantely sunni) arab world would approve.

    How’s that for some ideas? A better idea is that we don’t get into this miss in the first place. The manifest stupidity of this war would be comical if the consequences weren’t so dire.

  3. Graham Bell
    August 1st, 2006 at 05:47 | #3

    Katz [7.50pm om 29th]:
    Interesting scenario. Could see Saddam Hussein being reinstated after many backroom deals and severe restrictions on his powers by those who actually run what’s left of the country.

    The Americans, or rather the Bush clique of born losers, failed to act swiftly and decisively and we will all pay a dreadful price for their dithering and cowardice..

  4. rog
    August 1st, 2006 at 19:30 | #4

    What exactly are you saying Graham, should the swiftly and decisive action have been summary execution?

    The principle involved here is one of the law.

    Katz and co are indulging in online masturbation.

  5. wilful
    August 2nd, 2006 at 11:28 | #5

    (where ‘co’ includes rog)

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