Monday, July 10, 2006

Does Iraq already have a Civil War?

Yesterday, the front page headline of my morning paper read, "Sunnis gunned down in Iraq." This is part of an ongoing blood bath being carried on by Sunis and Shiites, and occasionally Kurds. The Kurds seem to get involved via their participation in the Iraqi army. In mid-May, there was a case where two Iraqi military units, one Kurdish and the other Shiite, got in a firefight with each other with some Kurds being killed and wounded. Interestingly, Kurds took their injured people out of the best US military hospital in Iraq for fear that they would be killed where they lay. This news story from a San Diego newspaper suggests that Army units tend to consist of just Shiites or just Kurds, with the Sunnis not participating. I haven't been able to confirm that that is generally true. Obviously, an effective army and police force would have integrated units with all three sects represented in all units but that, it seems, is not happening.

Here is the way of things in Iraq: Insurgents kill Americans and persons cooperating with the Iraqi government. Americans kill Insurgents. Sunnis kill Shiites. Shiites kill Sunnis. Meanwhile, the Kurds sometimes are involved as the story cited above shows. Who the Insurgents are is not known precisely. There are claims that they are primarily outsiders but I suspect that they are either Sunnis or allied to Sunnis or share with Sunnis the desire that the government not succeed. What this boils down to is that George Bush has managed to put the United States military in the middle of what is a very complex sort of civil war.

The term "civil war" is key here. I may be wrong in using it. What we may have is a system of reprisals. Today, on the front page of my morning paper there is a story on Iraqis getting false IDs so that they can get through fake road checks in which Sunnis or sometimes Shiites are pulled out and killed. While one cannot tell a Sunni from a Shiite by how they look, there are names that can give away the sect they belong to. On page 3 of the paper (page 2 is devoted to brief summaries of stories that can be read elsewhere in the paper, apparently in a bid to compete with the short USA Today stories), the title of a story is "Reprisals continue as Sunnis, Shiites battle with guns, bombs". I see this as a nascent civil war, but other interpretations are possible. It could simply be a Hatfield and McCoy type feud but on a much larger scale that will go back and forth until the participants tire of it.

One thing is clear, the U. S. Military and the Iraqi government, including its army and police force, can do nothing to stop the killings that are going on. The net result is an Iraq in which the average citizen is in much more danger now than when Saddam was in power. Saddam did not go on daily killing sprees in the parts of Iraq we let him control -- don't forget the two no-fly zones that protected the Kurds and Shiites from air attacks, as well as any concerted ground attack. But now, no Sunni or Shiite seems to be safe in Baghdad. It is reminiscent of "the troubles" in Northern Ireland.

George, meanwhile, is trying to create an army and a police force. Good luck with that. To be effective, it must have Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds (who are mostly Sunni, I believe, but not allied with the Sunnis) working together for a common goal -- namely to shut down the civilian armies (militias), including the insurgents, and bring peace to the country. But from time to time reports come out suggesting that the Sunni and Shiite elements in the police force and army help out or even do wet work with their counterparts in the civilian militias. Last November, there was a story about Shiite militia members had infiltrated the police force. A story on this from the LA Times started off saying:
BAGHDAD — Shiite Muslim militia members have infiltrated Iraq's police force and are carrying out sectarian killings under the color of law, according to documents and scores of interviews.

The abuses raise the specter of organized retaliation to attacks by Sunni-led insurgents that have killed thousands of Shiites, who endured decades of subjugation under Saddam Hussein.
I don't know how you regard what is going on in Iraq. I have believed from before Bush invaded Iraq that a civil war was inevitable -- that the Kurds, always desirous of a Kurdish state, would fight to stay independent of the rest of Iraq, and that the Shiites would take control over what was left, and that the Sunnis would pay for past injustices done to Shiites. Is it a nascent civil war or a blood feud that the participants will some day tire of as the country gradually becomes a full-fledged democracy? It can't yet be a full blown civil war until we leave.

My pre-war worst case scenario was that Shiite fundamentalist Iraq would ultimately emerge. I think that is much more likely than that a functioning democracy emerges. What do you think?

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Blogger The Language Guy said...

Hmmm, I wonder if this was supposed to have a chilling effect on my bloggery?

2:39 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seriously. Clearly you are a dangerous man.

"It can't yet be a full blown civil war until we leave."

Really? I wonder. The various factions seems to be going at each other (and us) despite our presence there. I don't disagree with you but I'm not entirely convinced they aren't in civil war mode even though we're there.

8:10 PM

Blogger Maureen said...

I would agree that they're in at least the early stages of a civil war, whether despite or because of our presence. Making a mess, then leaving strikes me as irresponsible, to say the least, but I don't know how long we could stay and be productive. The term "tarbaby" keeps coming to mind...

8:42 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

I looked over the CentCom web site and to someone of my generation, the idea of taking what the military says at face value seems like a bad idea for their history of providing information is very poor indeed. Lies were the currency of the day in Vietnam until the press got into the field, some with cameras, telling a story different from that contained in briefings. Trusting the military under Rumsfield strikes me as foolish at best. We are told at this site that certain areas of Iraq have increasingly come under the control of the Iraqi military but I am not familiar enough with those areas to know what that means. What has never been mentioned is an Iraqi air force. I believe that this is the US hole card -- we will provide them with an air force should some neighbor (specifically Iran) give them grief.

The military has confirmed that they have some means, perhaps a way of spidering through the web to hunt down critical material. Their troubling to reply suggests they worry a bit about blogs.

4:23 AM

Blogger Larry Kollar said...

Yippee! Can I be on the watch list too? :-P

I've heard the current situation in Iraq described as a "low-level civil war" (now there's a topic for you, LG, using adjectives to bend meanings). I wouldn't go that far personally, although I think it would be fair to say that Iraq is "on the brink" — the right trigger event (maybe al-Sadr getting assassinated) would get it going.

11:06 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

I ran into military person of very high rank (for a nonofficer) who is involved in military public relations and he says that the army is being proactive about its reputation. So, in fact, all that comment meant is that they are out on the web trying to find out what is said about them so that they can counter false information. The army does not want to go down in flames with the Bush administration. The war is not their fault. Anything but that in fact.

Anyone would be proud that he is a representative of the USA. Very thoughtful young man. An almost iconic GI Joe.

1:40 PM


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