Civil war in Iraq

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.

105 thoughts on “Civil war in Iraq

  1. “The invasion went well, the aftermath has been a disaster.”

    This sums up the limits of American power quite well. The ability of their military to kill people and destroy things is probably greater than all of the rest of the world put together. So far, so easy. Their ability to impose stable political structures on other countries, let alone democratic societies, is very weak.

    Strangely, after WWII, the Americans’ relative military strength was much less, yet they were clever enough to see to it that American democratic values were permanently ingrained in Western Europe and Japan. Perhaps the Americans running the show then were smarter than the ones running the show today.

  2. Funny today in Washington ,to see the Cretin-in Chief actually expected “His” Iraqi PM to refrain from attacking Israeli nazi-type Blitzkreig on Lebanon.
    He didn’t know of course(or could even understand!) that Maliki,and Hezbollah are all Shiites!,and Maliki wasn’t going to speak ill of Hezibollah.
    Actually,the attack on Maliki by 3 Democrat Senators for his attack on Israel was par for the course,although the Senator from New York,a rabid Zionist, (No Not Hillary,,the other one!)was almost beside himself at the idea of Maliki criticizing Israel.
    The growing anxiety among Israel Amen Lobby,is interesting to watch,as it slowly dawns on them that they in deep trouble,and that world opinion is absolutely alienated.
    A poll by CNN in the USA showed a 2-1 votes against Israel…and even bigger margins in the UK and Europe.
    A poll in the Arab world a few days showed up to a 99% vote of admiration for Hizbollah.
    No wonder Israel wants a peace-keeping force..perhaps the Germans will oblige ..or the Turks might come ,,shades of the Ottaman empire!

  3. Sounds like the consensus is that Muslims aren’t ready for democracy, so we shouldn’t listen to or take any advice from their democratically elected govts that now exist in Iraq and Afghanistan. Much better to deal pragmatically with the ‘friendly’ dictators from time to time and actively campaign and support ‘our’ particular bastards. Of course that necessarily entails pushing their ethnically, economically or theocratically cleansed refugees back across the borders to ‘sort themselves out’ in their own way. After all we don’t want to be complicit in any of that cleansing and besides these dictatorships will need their best and brightest to ‘sort themselves out’ in the longer term. As well we don’t want anymore Muslims in our countries until such time as Islam has ‘sorted itself out’ fully, since clearly Muslims are not ready for our civilisation yet. I take it we’re all agreed then? That is one major benefit of the Iraq and Afghanistan ventures. The big questions about Islam have now been answered eh?

  4. “Strangely, after WWII, the Americans’ relative military strength was much less, yet they were clever enough to see to it that American democratic values were permanently ingrained in Western Europe and Japan. Perhaps the Americans running the show then were smarter than the ones running the show today.”

    You don’t reckon it was the material they’re working with now Spiros? You know- ‘ A poll in the Arab world a few days showed up to a 99% vote of admiration for Hizbollah.’ and the consensus forming around here that Saddam was the best option. You gotta take your hat off to Bush, Blair and Co. They asked the bloody big questions and got some Almighty answers it seems.

  5. You like many of the boofheads here just don’t like the big answers staring you in the face Katz, so you’re taking it out on those who asked the questions. Iraq baaaaad Afghanistan gooooood, I ask you! Boofheads clutching at any straw in a raging torrent of facts that state the obvious. Gird your loins for war with Islam. You’re with us and Israel or you’re with them. The only thing that stands in the way of that now is Shia and Sunni factions of Islam taking up the cudgel on our behalf. I’ll keep all my fingers crossed for that.

  6. Please don’t consider it ungrateful, Observa, but with fine chaps like your good self so eager to take up the cudgels on behalf of myself, I wish to convey my regrets that I shall not be attending your kind invitation to a loin-girding.

  7. The race is to see who can get the world on side, the US and Israel vs Iran and Hezbollah.

    Should Israel look as if they are wiping out Hezbollah Iran will provide them with much bigger weaponry, their “trump card.”

    Should Israel take too long and Hezbollah continue to survive the damage to Lebanon will swing opinion against the US and Israel and Iran will have scored a tactical victory. They may even pull Hezbollah’s actions back as part of their “package” but they will run Lebanon.

    Neither scenario appears to hold much appeal.

  8. The race is to see who can get the world on side, the US and Israel vs Iran and Hezbollah.

    Should Israel look as if they are wiping out Hezbollah Iran will provide them with much bigger weaponry, their “trump card.”

    Should Israel take too long and Hezbollah continue to survive the damage to Lebanon will swing opinion against the US and Israel and Iran will have scored a tactical victory. They may even pull Hezbollah’s actions back as part of their “package” but they will run Lebanon.

    Neither scenario appears to hold much appeal.

  9. observa – “Boofheads clutching at any straw in a raging torrent of facts that state the obvious. Gird your loins for war with Islam. You’re with us and Israel or you’re with them”

    And when they are all wiped out and we have recovered all our oil that was inconveniently put under their land the protestants and catholics can restart their centuries old dispute. When either of these manage to wipe each other out then we can start on the black people. And then the redheads ……….

  10. It may be that there is no morally acceptable solution to Iraq’s endemic social conflict. Ethnic sectarianism, Ali Babba crime waves and jihadist holy war appear to be the default condition for Mesopotamian tribes.

    Even though I think the US should quit the country ASAP, and pull up its enduring bases, I do not think that this will cause the conflict to die down.It may just have flare up and splutter for years before it finally dies down to an acceptable level of violence. Its not exactly out of character with that nation and the region’s history, is it?

    There will probably be a no-holds barred bloodbath the moment the last chopper lifts of the rooftop of the US embassy in Baghdad. After all, when the USSR left Afghanistan there was a massive civil war. Ditto France in Algeria.

    Maybe a dictatorial Saddam Hussein “in the box” and a corrupt “Oil for Food” for the population was as good as it gets, until he had a great fall. And it appears that all the kings horses and all the kings men couldnt put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Steve Sailer’s lampooning of the war-party in the WSJ made one year before the war pretty much sum up the pessimism I feel now:

    Iraq? A proud history? What is the WSJ talking about – Sumer? Babylon? … Guatemala, with its Mayan ruins, had a prouder history in the last millennium than Iraq. Iraq has a proud history of backstabbing and cowardice.

    Is there any evidence that the Iraqis are the most likely candidates in the Arab world for restrained self-rule or is this just a delusion to justify a war? Maybe, I’m wrong about Iraq because I’ve been reading Bedouinphiles like T.E. Lawrence and Wilfred Thesiger who despised the Iraqis, but I don’t have a good feeling about Iraq’s future prospects.

    I mean, if you are going to consider the “sophistication” level of the Arab populations, wouldn’t Lebanon be at the top of the list? Wouldn’t the Palestinians be up there too? At least before they launched their on-going “war of the cradle” that is swamping the sophisticated elites with hordes lower-class youngsters? Wasn’t Egypt a be a beacon of culture and tolerance, with a Nobel Prize-winning writer, before the peasants outbred the sophisticates? Isn’t Syria also secular? Doesn’t Jordan at least have a sane monarchy? Isn’t Morocco the favorite destination of French fashion designers looking for boys? Isn’t the Sultan of Oman a huge Gilbert & Sullivan fan?

    One measure of a country’s capacity for self-rule is its warmaking capability. Paradoxically, nation-states that are good at killing their foreign enemies tend to be be cohesive and harmonious at home.

    So, how good is Iraq at fighting its enemies? According to Greg Cochran, war-gamers assign a man-for-man power rating to the armies of the world. Iraq has the lowest rating. In one war, a whole bunch of Iraqi soldiers surrendered to an Italian journalist.

    This delusion could have disastrous consequences after an American invasion. Which Iraq are we talking about? We could easily shatter Iraq into three or more pieces, but if we invade with the notion of making Iraq into a model nation-state, we’re going need more than all the king’s horses and all the king’s men to put Humpty-Dumpty together again. Do we want to fight the Kurds and the Shi’ites to keep Iraq whole, so it can be a good example to the rest of the Middle East?

    Maybe the Shi’ites of the south could rule themselves, but how clear-cut are the demographic borders between Shi’ites and Sunnis? If the two groups overlap, you are headed for trouble. A Shi’ite state on the Iranian border would tempt Iran – a country with much greater potential for becoming a “normal country” than Iraq – into foreign adventurism, which could be fatal to the chances for internal reform.

    And how many tribes are there among the Sunnis?

    It looks to me like the Axis of Evil speech was the direct cause of America now getting stuck waist deep in the Big Muddy River of the ever-lasting Israel-Palestine race war.

  11. whilst we’re talking about “what next for iraq”, the following may be worth keeping in mind:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/13990129/site/newsweek/

    Israel launched airstrikes on Lebanon in response to attacks by Hizbullah earlier this month, and George W. Bush called it “self-defense.” But what to tell the Turks, who over the last week lost 15 soldiers to terror attacks launched by separatist Kurds from neighboring Iraq? Many Turkish leaders are pressing for cross-border tactical air assaults on the guerrillas. But Bush, fearing yet another escalation of the Middle East’s violence, urged Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to hold off. “The message was, unilateral action isn’t going to be helpful,” says a senior U.S. official, describing the 15-minute phone conversation. “The president asked for patience.”

  12. Forecasts of a “bloodbath” the moment US forces leave seem to be stated confidently without much elaboration. Aside that it’s not too far removed from that presently, makes you wonder what magical effect US presence is meant to be having right now. Does anyone think that US troops are doing a great job in maintaining security in Iraq?

    The current crises is fueled by numerous factors over which the various groups are striving to maximise their advantage; oil revenues, political power, influence and religion, all spiced up with revenge, tribal politics and desperation.

    The presence of US troops is just one more factor. The Sunni’s want them gone now, so too does a large part of the Shia, with another part happy for them to stay for differing reasons and the Kurds generally supportive. Removal of US troops is one less irritant in the complex mix. One less thing to disagree over.

    There won’t be an outbreak of peace the next day. Likely, there will be no change. But neither will there be a sudden descent into a bloodbath worse than todays.

  13. I recently read the Salam Pax accounts of the start of the war. It made for unsettling reading when it is now clear that staying the course has meant staying too long. One wonders what has happened to the voice of the Iraqi people in their country. There is no Salam Pax now.

    The in-discipline of the American troops and their lack of respect for the Iraqi people was never a winner – just as Israel is now losing support by its over reaction to the kidnap of several troops by bombing the hell out of a democratic nation and in the process murdering children and their mothers.

    A suitably negotiated withdrawal and a recognition that the occupying forces are part of the problem and have not provided a solution would be a welcome first step. Honouring the reconstruction phase would be another. Whilst the Iraqi invasion may not have been about money and oil it certainly continues to look that way. I would like the Western nations involved to begin to act with a lot more ethics and a lot less spin. Honourable behaviour would help a lot.

    The talk of a Crusade has become a self fulfilling prophecy for Bush. This was a brutal age but existed when war could be glamourised. How much harder in an age of communications.

  14. As well as the political and military issues, we need to consider the economic consequences of defeat and occupation as managed by the US. Some insight is here

    Of course, this is not a solution, just an indication of yet more problems…

  15. Meanwhile, Chimpo’s solution is to invade Baghdad, yet again.

    The Bourbon kings, it is said, “learned nothing and forgot nothing”.

    Chimpo thus scores 50% on the cretinometer.

  16. Katz, the solution concept in your historical analogy is elegant. But how is it to be implemented, given that a replication has been spoiled by a truckler? The UN?

  17. We have the Israeli zealot trying to recruit the punters in their ..what is it again, oh yeah “gird our loins” and join the war against radical Islam in Lebanon, and the other moron clutching at the “we got bad Saddam” the only remaining piece of flotsam left a drowning man. (By the way, the Israeli soldiers were detained, captured, nabbed while they were INSIDE Lebanon. They were not “kidnapped”-but so what? Who gives a damn anyway and if they did what about it?. Just as the US really has accomplished their mission in Iraq, the rest of the story long planned is unfolding in Lebanon. In Churchillian terminology adopted by the little war criminal that could, Olmert, the soft underbelly of Syria that is Lebanon will be secured …”Iran is the World’s problem” .And we’re sitting here debating whether the Middle east is in fact capable of running itself…. Obviously not , that ‘s why we’re running the joint or deputising Israel when necessary.

  18. Thanks EG. And excellent question.

    The following scenario requires some insight and enightened self interest on the part of the sovereign government of Iraq.

    1. Saddam Hussein must be kept alive until the government of Iraq can act independently of the desires of the United States administration. I believe that the forthcoming vote in the UN rescinding the immunity of US personnel in Iraq may serve as the moment, one way or another, for that moment of sovereignty to arrive.

    2. The present trial of the Saddamites is declared by its judges to be a mistrial.

    3. Saddam Hussein is reinstated as President.

    4. He is immediately deposed.

    5. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission along the lines of South Africa’s is established. People with grievances and accusations present them to the Commission. The accusers confront the accused. Forgiveness may be achieved by malefactors who make the fullest disclosures of wrongdoing and crimes. Less than full disclosure to result in criminal prosecution to the fullest rigour of the law.

    6. The findings to serve as a means to begin nation-building on the basis of truth.

    Iraqi groups themselves may not want this procedure. They may prefer to fight their civil war to the bitter end. It’s up to them.

    But I hope that I have suggested how the UN can be made redundant in this process.

  19. By the current government Rog.

    Read further up-thread for the historical parallel of Governor Bligh of NSW.

    This is simply a symbolic gesture of the government of Iraq to signify that they have divested themselves of the US timetable and strategy for the New Iraq.

    The hard work comes after that.

    And I hope that it is understood that I believe the likelihood of Iraq avoiding a very bloody civil war is quite low.

    Nevertheless, perhaps the course of action I suggest may increase those chances for a relatively peaceful resolution.

  20. Katz, the Bligh analogy for (re)deposing Saddam Hussein doesn’t apply. Under any concept of legitimacy, Bligh had authority derived from the UK, which acted under that. But the current Iraqi regime is the analogue of the Rum Rebellion, and could not have the necessary legitimacy to depose what it had overthrown de facto. That is, the only way for Saddam Hussein’s departure to be credible in the eyes of any who supported him would be, if he voluntarily resigned – not if anyone else acted. There is no separate source of authority over him that is recognised by his supporters.

    That said, the workable arrangement would have been to keep him on ice indefinitely pending a trial when circumstances permitted – something that would never come, absent a recognised legitimate and stable authority. Eventually the problem would have gone away. It’s like what Algeria did to Boumedienne.

  21. Not true PML.

    Legitmacy ≠ credibility.

    The present Iraqi regime has the legitimacy of international recognition by the United Nations.

    In other words, their legitimacy is equal and identical to that of the government of Israel.

    The analogue for the Rum Rebels in Iraq was the Provisional Authority of Proconsul Paul Bremer. That regime was the caesura in Iraqi’s legitimacy.

    The act of restoring Saddam would heal over that caesura.

    By your argument the Communist government of China isn’t legitimate because it overthrew Chiang, who in turn wasn’t legitimate because ,,, etc., etc.

    I grant you the issue of credibility. However, it is unlikely that a majority even of the Sunni would be keen to see the return of Saddam.

    The gesture–and it is only a gesture–we are discussing may well not be a sufficiently concessionary one to win over even the Sunni who aren’t Saddam loyalists.

    In any case, the genesis of this argument came from a dare made by CL way above that someone propose the restoration of Saddam. My overall aim is modest: to show that restoration may be conceivable, if not feasible.

  22. Katz, thanks for your elaborations. The role of the UN in your insight drawn from history has been clarified – at least in my mind. So far, the solution concept in your historical analogy is still the only one that captures what I see as a crucial aspect of the multidimensional problem. Hence I won’t let go that easily – out of curiosity really. Switching now from the historical inspiration of the concept to the actual problem – but without becoming prescriptive – a conceivable solution would require feasibility (theoretically). In short, are there feasibility conditions that are empirically ‘testable’ in the sense of, say, indicator variables? It seems to me, the support of the population for the idea would need to be explored. This is an empirical problem which does not require a historical president.

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