Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Civil War or Not Civil War, The Military Answers Back

Everyone is talking about civil war in Iraq. There are questions among those talking about Iraq as to whether it is civil war or something else. Semantics we seem to be discussing. But, the millitary has decided that they are not talking semantics, they are talking about actual indicators (open in new window to view larger image; hold cursor over bottom right hand corner of image in new window for resizing icon):

This can be found at Operation Iraqi Freedom in This Week in Iraq (PDF). Vol 2, No 18, May 1, 2006 edition page 6.

The main issue that many who oppose the idea that Iraq is currently in a state of civil war keep pointing to is a lack of a coherent opposing force with an organized, political ideology does not appear to be on the list of indicators. What they are looking for is "unrestrained, self-sustaining sectarian strife across multiple provinces". While militias are attacking different people, they are not targeting whole groups in an "unrestrained" fashion. The attacks have been very specific on specific opposing leadership or individuals they believe have been responsible for attacking their people or on ex-ba'athists that they believe have not been appropriately punished for past behavior.

What we are not seeing is whole groups of organized militia (I mean on a company or brigade level), armed and attacking across the whole of social and government structures. For instance, there are few attacks, on hospitals, military garrisons, whole towns, government ministries, etc. Even though many of these have had additional security added that helps prevent it, it is simply that these places are not being attacked across the country. Frankly, the militias are big enough that, should they actually decide they are at war with one group or the other, the war would look very much different.

Another important indicator has been the issue of "internally displaced persons". There have been several reports lately that indicate possibly 100,000 people (or 30,000 families) are internally displaced in Iraq and are continuing to be forced out of certain areas depending on whether they were Sunni, Shia, Kurd, Arab or Turkomen. The reports included up to 16 possible IDP camps. General Lynch indicates that they have identified 4 such camps that are occupied by IDPs in Baghdad, Al Kut, Nasirah and Basra. Some of which can be explained by something other than violence. In fact, the Shia encampment south of Baghdad has been discussed by several military bloggers who operate in the area. These camps sprang up in response to groups looking for work moving closer to industrial and economic centers. Others are moving, not because they have been forced to leave, but because they feel that security in their original areas was tentative at some time. Many have or had little in the first place so don't have any incentive to return to their original homes.

On the other hand, while General Lynch indicates that he does not see these 36,000 families originally discussed, his own indicators might be under represented because of the nature of Iraqi society. This society is family and tribal based. Iraqi bloggers have actually discussed family members from other areas simply going to other cities, suburbs or rural areas where they have other family. This usually result in these families being taken in by other members or provided homes from those that other members may have as rental property or where they know friends or members of the tribe have homes available. This most likely results in "invisible" displaced people. They aren't homeless or living in camps because they have family, but they are moving.

However, I would caution anyone from trying to use this idea as a "gotcha" against General Lynch since even this movement must be limited considering the number of homes and jobs that would need to be found. Further, the movement must be fairly dispersed since the addition of 100,000 in only a few cities would probably strain the limited resources. In either case, I would say that there are more than the military indicator and less than the reports by certain Iraqi officers and ministers. Further, I found it interesting that the original report indicated 36,000 families or 100,000 people and then a later report indicated another Iraqi officer stating 100,000 families, which would equal over 300,000 displaced people. If that had actually occured, we would see more displaced person camps and certain cities or towns with services completely breaking down.

I think it may be safe to say that the current movement of families and individuals is probably no less or more than what might occur during peacetime industrial and economic booms or when cities have experienced intense crime waves in other countries without an insurgency. Some may recall that the suburbs in New Jersey or outside of Detroit or LA have grown considerably for the same reasons: money, family and crime.

But, it is a good number to watch, displaced persons, because it will mean that the political-ethnic situation has deteriorated to flash point (such as in Sudan). I believe that Iraq has been on the verge of civil war for the last two years. The insurgency changed from Islamist/anti-American to include militia organized attacks on other groups and violence as leverage for political gain.

I believe and have indicated before, that this is more like 1850's in the United States where the potential for outright civil war is there and it takes the right (or wrong) political or violent action to spark a conflageration. The most recent flash point seems to have passed, but the choice of Prime Minister and cabinet members or heads of ministries can conflate or de-escalate, depending.

The military is looking for civil war, too. They are just looking for some concrete evidence. Still, gut feelings aren't always wrong and it might mean that some people need to take a gut check.

Cross posted The Castle

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