Sunday, April 09, 2006

Iraq Liberation Day and Civil War

Today is Iraq Liberation Day. In Iraq they are calling it "Freedom Day". While I still hold hopes for Iraq and still maintain, without caveat, that Arabs, Kurds, Turks, Persians and/or any person that follows Islam can and will practice Democracy as is understood in Western ideology and politics, it would appear to me that Civil War, open and without reserve, may be the outcome of Iraq.

As I stated on another blog, it's not that I don't believe civil war is occuring now, it is just that there is a difference between open civil war and the tit for tat killings that we see now in what must be best termed a power struggle. In my supposition, the current situation reminded me of the 1850's in the United States where groups of people moved from one state to the other to stuff the ballot boxes and determine entry as free or slave state; where armed militias would ride into different towns or even across state borders to raid and punish towns that they thought were "stacked" or in order to punish those citizens for possible beliefs. John Brown and Harper's Ferry, the Lawrence Raid, there were many other incidents that took place before the official opening of the American Civil War. The election of Lincoln was the straw that broke the camel's back. In Iraq, it may be the selection of the Prime Minister which does the same.

Interestingly, Caleb Carr wrote today a piece that advocates allowing the Iraqis to have their civil war.

As the violence in Iraq has expanded, analysts have been asking: Are we witnessing the beginning of a formal Iraqi civil war? But far more important when we consider what role our troops might play in the extended fighting is the question: Does the United States have any right to forcibly stop such a war, when and if it begins?[snip]

And although civil wars, like revolutions, can be influenced by outside forces as well as ideological considerations, sometimes they are merely struggles for power. Still others -- like the American Civil War -- are contests over not just politics or power, but some high motivating moral principle as well.

No such principle would seem to be at play in Iraq, for one of the insurgency's glaring deficiencies has always been its lack of a coherent ideological rallying point for all Iraqis. Its aim, by contrast, has been simple: the return to power of the Sunni Muslim minority that held sway under Saddam Hussein, or, failing that, the kind of endless anarchy that will make any other government's rule impossible.


The last is the truth, except where I would say the power struggle within the Shia sect is equally violent. Many of the deaths of Shia political and religious leaders have been blamed on the Sunni ex regime or al Qaida Islamist affiliates, but some of them have certainly been murdered by other Shia groups as the Shia jockey for power, not just of the national government, but for cities, mosques and financial power brought by reconstruction money. So, when we speak of the possibility of civil war in Iraq, we are not talking about civil war that we are familiar with, two opposing sides. Caleb Carr gives a hint to that, but doesn't really fill out how many potential "sides" would be involved, who they are or why. It's difficult to tell since no one knows what might drive one group to ally with another. It's not even a given that the Shia would be one monolithic "side" in this fight. In some ways, Carr presents a three sided theory with Kurds, Shia and Sunni making the main groups, but that, like the current situation, would be far too simplified.

Aside from the MSM coverage which is all death and little economic or living situation reporting, the MSM has failed to really provide informative analysis of the different groups and what is really going on politically or even in the deaths. The usual fare consists of "Sunni/Shia sectarian strife", where as I am indicating that the strife is far more complex and involves strife between sub groups under each of these sects. The Islamists kill the ex ba'athists or Sunni shiekhs who cooperate with the coalition. The Sunni shiekhs kill the Islamists for revenge or in order to clear them from their territory because of their treatment of their people. Some Sunni clans fight each other for control of land or water rights or because of some offense to honor. There may even be the possibility that Sunnis who practice Ashouri Islam attack their Wahhabist co-religionist for religious reasons, though this is less reported than the Shia incidents. Of course, in the Sunni areas, there is much less money from tourism of pilgrimages to their mosques and less money for reconstruction (since it has little tourism involved and most Sunni religious sites for pilgrimages are in different lands like Saudi Arabia).

The Shia, for their part, have several very high profile and important mosques in Iraq that attract many pilgrims, such as Najaf and the Ali Mosque. There's a lot of money in controlling, not only the mosques, but tax revenues from tourism, money from bribery and extortion (such as security details, clearances, permits for opening businesses or operating street side carts, construction permits and contracts, etc); then there is the money for reconstruction from the Iraq and US government. The money from the mosque comes from donations of wealthy patrons or the zakhat (tax for charity; like Christian tithing) that can buy a lot of good will, particularly when it comes time for elections.

Of course, the political power of being able to preach and reach a secure audience in a highly populated area can guarantee votes.

Finally, the ideological struggle of Islam is not just liberal v. conservative or Shia v. Sunni, but the Shia have an internal ideological struggle as well, underneath all the power struggles that are purely secular in nature. The question is whether Iran's Qom or Najaf, Iraq is the center of learning, the director of sharia law, the decision as to whether Islam is political, controlling the state and the law or strictly religious, which guides the people's lives and only influences the state, leaving politics to the secular.

It's a long standing issue that has been going on long before Western powers ever thought about crusades to Jerusalem, much less discovered oil. The question may be whether a civil war within Iraq will actually resolve these issues to the point where sectarian internal and external killings actually stop or whether it will just drive it underground once a "winner" has been determined; for now anyway. It will not resolve the entirity of the struggle in the Middle East, but it may reconfigure Iraq into a "state" instead of the anarchist territories that exist today.

Caleb goes on to write:

If Americans ever had the power to stave off such a conflict, the past three years of misguided military policy have exhausted it. But military ability to stop a civil war is not the key issue. Nor should excessive concern for our own national security cloud our policy decisions: The first casualties of any expanded fighting will almost certainly be both Saddam Hussein (who has been kept alive thanks to U.S. insistence on his trial -- and thanks to U.S. guards) as well as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is now despised more than Hussein by many Iraqis. No, the real issue of importance for Americans with regard to any impending Iraqi civil war is: Are we morally justified in trying to prevent it?


Here, I believe, Carr makes one mistake in his analysis. US involvement in staving off the conflict has little to do with morality. That is a question for the philosophers. This is real politics. If Iraq starts into open civil war and we do not try to intervene on behalf of one or the other side, we will leave the field open for influence from Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran who will certainly provide weapons and money for the groups they wish to win and who would then be beholden to those governments. Neither state is a friend of the US and would certainly make Iraq not the ally of the US in the region, which was one of the agenda items for this entire escapade. Ignoring that expectation and real geo-political situation for the "moral" is a bit of sheer blindness on Carr's part.

However, he makes an argument that sounds nearly sane in comparing Britain's consideration of interference in the US Civil War with the final decision not to after careful warning from Lincoln. The difference, of course, was that England did not have any significant forces in the Unites States already, had not invaded us and turned over the governmet. If it had, it would have been in the same position as we are: deciding to support one side against the other and throwing their forces behind it in order to insure a friendly government or withdrawing totally until the issue was decided.

Carr makes another valid point:

Indeed, if polls in Iraq are reliable (and they seem to have been, thus far) then the American presence there is only increasing the likelihood that if civil war comes, it will be more vicious. The presence of U.S. troops, noble as their efforts at control may be, only fuels more rage, since they keep Kurdish and Shiite forces at bay while failing to stop the Sunnis from committing daily murder.


Two sides may hate each other, but they will never love the peacemaker in the middle and that is our situation. In short order, if there is no resolution to the government and the assembly does not decide on an immediate date for a new vote, open civil war can be guaranteed.

It is this and only this that I would agree to pulling back and letting them go at it. In fact, I almost agree with Carr that we just sit back and support no one, particularly since it's obvious the Shia are just as likely to commit murder on civilians, executing prisoners and doing other things that are not kopascetic with our own rules of war or the Geneva Convention which our participating would require. The Vietnam issue was greatly complicated by the South Vietnamese actions (and our own) that greatly depressed world opinion of the war. We should remember that and insure that we do not become embroiled in the situation.

There is still time for political resolution, but, even as a supporter of the war, I think it is important to be ready to recognize when the political resolution no longer exists and its time to let the Iraqis sort it out between themselves.

John at Castle Arrggh has another post that echoes a conversation we had several months ago in the midst of the terror in Iraq regarding the benefits of total war. Or, at least following Powell's Doctrine (Clausewitz said it first) of overwhelming force.

What Clausewitz said:

3. Utmost use of force.
[snip]
Now, philanthropists may easily imagine there is a skilful method of disarming and overcoming an enemy without causing great bloodshed, and that this is the proper tendency of the art of War. However plausible this may appear, still it is an error which must be extirpated; for in such dangerous things as war, the errors which proceed from a spirit of benevolence are just the worst. As the use of physical power to the utmost extent by no means excludes the co-operation of the intelligence, it follows that he who uses force unsparingly, without reference to the quantity of bloodshed, must obtain a superiority if his adversary does not act likewise. By such means the former dictates the law to the latter, and both proceed to extremities, to which the only limitations are those imposed by the amount of counteracting force on each side.

This is the way in which the matter must be viewed; and it is to no purpose, and even acting against one's own interest, to turn away from the consideration of the real nature of the affair, because the coarseness of its elements excites repugnance.

If the wars of civilised people are less cruel and destructive than those of savages, the difference arises from the social condition both of states in themselves and in their relations to each other. Out of this social condition and its relations war arises, and by it war is subjected to conditions, is controlled and modified. But these things do not belong to war itself; they are only given conditions; and to introduce into the philosophy of war itself a principle of moderation would be an absurdity. [snip]

4.—The aim is to disarm the enemy.[snip]

Here then is another case of reciprocal action. As long as the enemy is not defeated, I have to apprehend that he may defeat me, then I shall be no longer my own master, but he will dictate the law to me as I did to him. This is the second reciprocal action and leads to a second extreme (second reciprocal action).


When I was talking to John about as we sat in our comfortable chairs at the bar in the Outback eating steak and chatting with SWWBO was historical war. Not simply modern wars that we remember and hark back to like WWII and Vietnam when we talk about the Iraq War, but medieval war. When medieval knights took a town they didn't simply do battle with the defending army. They sacked and pillaged. They would burn down the peasants homes and take most of their grain and other stores. It wasn't just for the pleasure of it or to provision their own forces. Without huts for shelter or grain or salted meats that had been stored away for the winter, the peasants spent most of their time building their homes and replenishing their stores so they wouldn't starve. Thus they had little time for rebellion. In modern times that translated to the total war of WWII.

As Clausewitz noted, the further we become civilized, the less we remember why war was so terrible and the less terrible we try to make war which usually results in:

Now, philanthropists may easily imagine there is a skilful method of disarming and overcoming an enemy without causing great bloodshed, and that this is the proper tendency of the art of War. However plausible this may appear, still it is an error which must be extirpated; for in such dangerous things as war, the errors which proceed from a spirit of benevolence are just the worst.


And the worst is what we are seeing in Iraq. Zarqawi may yet get his wish to begin a civil war between Sunni and Shia. It will certainly cause the US to rethink its situation in Iraq, but I believe that Zarqawi has placed his bet with the losing side because the Sunni simply cannot muster the amount of forces and weapons that the Shia will and it will be all undone for the Sunni. Or maybe we should feel pity for the Sunni who obviously did not realize that they were not the majority and no longer controlled the military. The slaughter they will have engendered by their insistance on joining forces with Zarqawi and ex-Ba'athists is just too terrible to contemplate.

Still, on Iraq Liberation Day, Carr has a valid point:

We went to Iraq, according to our president, to make Iraqis free. If that is so, and if their first decision as a free people is to declare war upon one another, just as Americans once did, where do we derive the right to tell them they may not?


As another famous blogger once said, "Indeed."

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

If Iraq turned to Civil war and we sat by and did nothing, then all the sacrifices of our men and women who serve so gallantly in our military will be for naught. We took out Saddam and now we need to stand up and make sure the job is finished by seeing peace evolve in that nation. Right now we should all be saying thanks to all Gold Star families for what they have given....and lost!

Alise said...

It is true that after liberation comes the complicated inner workings of establishing the government (which has been done) the consitution (which has been done) and then allowing the people to be self-sufficient. It is our mission to train the Iraqi people, government and military so that they can fight it out at the ballot box and not in the form of a civil war. Our men and women of the armed forces have and are continuing to work hard to give the people the freedom and knowledge to remain a democratic nation. We will see what happens in the future but as for today "anonymous" is right...let's thank the Gold Star families as well as the troops and the veterans and let's congratulate the liberated Iraqi people.

Kat said...

Alise and Anonymous,

Its true that building a government and consensus, thus peace and prosperity is a long term project without quick fixes and that we have been working diligently towards that. I would submit that I advocate on a daily bases on this blog for our forces to continue that job and do the utmost to maintain security while helping the Iraqis become proficient at it themselves.

I also don't see todays violence as anymore than yesterdays or last year for that matter. Nor do I believe we should give up easily in the face of these attacks.

My only point is that we should not be looking at this through such a narrow window that we do not understand what is at play in Iraq. Its much more than forces who find democracy anathema to their existense. If it was, I would not have discussed or pointed to the possibility of a civil war and suggested withdrawal in the face of such a war.

Understand, the war I speak of is not simply anti-democratic, but in fact a war about vengence, money, territory, power and even religious ideology. And that is just the Shia.

I don't want to be blinded to the fact that you may hand someone their liberty and every opportunity to use it constructively with education and all the tools that we can muster and yet they may decide that war may be required to settle their differences.

I am hoping not. In reality, I was waiting patiently for the outcome of the political process and the formation of the government, but these sides are sticking to their guns (so to speak) to such a degree that compromise seems a long distant dream. Thus, Ja'afari becomes Lincoln and his assured ascendence to the role of PM against the wishes of half of the assembly seems tantamount to the last straw. Worse, if no government is formed and they don't set an immediate election date for a new assembly (which is the current law in Iraq) because some don't want it and refuse it, then it may mean civil war.

This is only a discussion of the possibilities, not an advocation of immediate withdrawal. It's why I signed the United Families petition because I don't want us to do something silly for political gain here that ruins all efforts there.

All I'm saying is, if it breaks into open civil war, we should not take sides and should withdraw to the outer fray to simply keep others out as well until it is settled.

Until then, I agree that our men and women have worked near miracles to date in a land with so much bitterness and history of destruction that no power on earth could have done much better and no people could have performed to such a standard in the midst of hostile situations except those we now have in uniform and our erstwhile allies. I pray everyday that their efforts on behalf of the Iraqis will not be squandered either by wishy washy politicos here or by the Iraqi people.

But, with all due respect to the Gold Star families and others, please allow me to keep the blinders off and the options open should things out of our control determine the future.