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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Civil War

by tristero

Is there now a civil war in Iraq, as the lunatic right is so eager to have its opponents claim? And would calling the horrors going on now within Iraq a "civil war" help or even further obscure any understanding of what's going on?

Depends on the meaning of civil war which, I gather, is not at all a set definition among legitimate scholars. This, of course, lets the wingnuts play their grotestque sophistical games - Who sez it's civil war? Only by liberals' definition! - games made more perverse as the blood flows ever more freely. But there's something more important at stake than arguing over when a civil war is "officially" a civil war or just "significant civic untidiness." And that is trying to get some sort of conceptual handle with which to comprehend what is indisputably a violent, chaotic catastrophe.

How do I see the events of the last few days, the mosque bombing and the subsequent violence? I see them as making the issue of a disintegrative civil war in Iraq - and the scope of its tragic potential - an issue that is long overdue for serious focus. And make no mistake: The United States will be blamed for it. Not only Bush, but you and me. Although many of us fought as hard as we could to prevent Bush from doing anything as stupid as invading and conquering Iraq, we - and our kids- will be blamed; we will have to endure the consequences of the incompetence and stupidity of the Bush administration.

As a preliminary to a serious discussion, here are some remarks from September 16, 2005 from the Council on Foreign Relations. There is much more to be said, of course. And there are things I disagree with here. But they are interesting and thougthful comments:
Lionel Beehner,staff writer for cfr.org, asked several experts their opinions of what constitutes a civil war, and whether the situation in Iraq qualifies or not.

[Michael O'Hanlon] "The kind of civil war I’m worried about is of the ethnic-cleansing kind, where people form militias and clear out neighborhoods...If you saw the militia-style combats—clearing out neighborhoods, people fighting each other and getting killed in pitched gun battles versus car bombs, or leaders calling for more organized conflict—then that would constitute a civil war."

[Kenneth Katzman] "Civil war is organized violence designed to change the political structure or governance within a country, or internal conflict within a state...

This week [September 16, 2005] it’s definitely become clearer that we’ve entered civil war, but whether it’s a sustained or permanent feature, we don’t know. Also, I wouldn’t say it’s full-blown, that is, where it’s neighborhood against neighborhood...just because you don’t have one side fighting back doesn’t mean you’re not in a civil war. "


[Marina Ottaway] "To go from acts of terrorism to civil war you need two population groups deliberately targeting each other. As long as it is insurgents trying to kill people to dissemminate terror, and the population is angry at the terrorists, that does not constitute civil war. In the case of Iraq, we would talk of civil war if the insurgents, who are overwhelmingly Sunni, started to deliberately target Shiites (or Kurds) and the targeted group reacted by holding every Sunni responsible, and thus would seek revenge against all Sunnis. I’m very hesitant to say you have a civil war in Iraq now. [Again, as of September 16, 2005].

I think Iraq is sliding very closely in that direction. It’s not quite there yet, but there is no longer a viable political process underway to halt the slide into civil war."

[David Phillips] "It’s already civil war. Civil war is sectarian-based conflict that’s systematic and coordinated. This has been going on for some time [in Iraq]...Next, what happens is the political process breaks down and sectarian strife worsens, Iraqi Kurds withdraw their cooperation from the government, ethnic conflict ensues, and Iraq starts to fragment. This will force the United States to manage the deconstruction of Iraq, meaning the country is not viable, and the United States can’t have 140,000 troops in the middle of a civil war. We’ll have to withdraw troops to the north, draw a line in the thirty-sixth parallel [which formerly demarcated the largely Kurdish no-fly zone from the rest of Iraq], and secure U.S. national interests, in the form of Kirkuk’s oil fields and protecting democracy in northern Iraq."

[Thomas X. Hammes]: "I think you know it when you see it, but we’re not there yet. In a true civil war, the mass of society on both sides is involved. Civil war would require family-on-family violence. That’s not the case yet...Obviously, all sides are preparing for the possibility [of civil war], but I think as long as [Shiites and Sunnis] are talking and trying to work through the constitution, we’re OK. "


[Steven Metz] "It’s really a whole spectrum because when we hear the phrase “civil war,” we think of the equivilance of total war. But I think there are lots of things at lower levels that constitute civil war. In terms of its definition, it’s obviously just war primarily internal to a country, even though it could have some external involvement. I’ve said all along the chances are perhaps fifty-fifty that the ultimate outcome [in Iraq] will be some sort of major civil war. I haven’t seen anything politically or militarily that would lead me to change that position.

The bottom line is Iraqis don’t have a strong sense of national identity but rather a sense of tribal and local identities. Countries like that are only able to avoid internal conflict if they have a powerful, central government, like Iraq had under Saddam Hussein. Unfortunately, a democracy is not the type of government equipped to hold together such a fractured society."