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Blaming the Iraqi’s, or how to explain away something worse than a civil war… December 4, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Iraq, Israel, Israeli - Lebanon Conflict, Lebanon, United States, US Media.
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The latest statement from Kofi Annan (as found in the Irish Times) is – to my mind at least – the most accurate description of the present situation. Whatever way one cuts it the sectarian strife in Iraq is vastly worse than a typical civil war. It pains me to say this, but I also think he’s correct that the situation under Saddam was better. I don’t say that lightly, nor in the wish that Saddam was still in power, but it does point up the incredible vacuity and lack of responsibility of the US led coalition in exercising even the most basic of it’s duties as regards maintaining the integrity of Iraq following the invasion and occupation. I’ve said it before, I supported the invasion. I thought it was a good thing. Unfortunately I was wrong – although even still the majority of Iraqi’s are glad to see the back of Saddam. But the occupation was, as I’ve also noted previously, beyond abysmal in it’s implementation.

In part it’s due to this not being a ‘civil war’ of the usual model that the violence is so appalling. There is an excellent, if depressing, article in this months Prospect magazine by John Keegan and Bartle Bull which argues that since the various groups involved in the violence in Iraq do not have coherent aims as regards attaining state power – these groups being the Sunni insurgency, the Shia militias and extra-judicial elements allied with the state, with infiltration of the state forces by the previous three – therefore it is impossible to characterise it as a civil war. And it’s notable that within each of those groups are sub units. Sunni’s are split between Wahhabists, Salafists and Baath secularist. As the subhead on the article put’s it ‘Lessons from history suggest that Iraq, though in chaos, has not yet reached civil war’. That’s correct in one sense, but most observers would argue – I suspect – that it has in fact moved beyond a civil war. Keegan and Bull note that a curious feature of the Iraqi violence is that it’s ‘decidedly unmilitary’, and this much is true. There are no set pieces, no real attempts to stake or hold territory. And in that respect this is much worse than a civil war. If one thinks of Al-Zaqawi one can see how effectively amateurish his goals and means were. Yet amateurish means do not lessen the ability to massacre.

I said it was worse than a civil war, and I mean that in the sense that the violence, since it has no clear state power aims, is both reactive and entirely uncontrolled. The most appalling acts are carried out by all sections involved with no clear restraint. These acts fit into no particular strategy, indeed run completely counter to the purported aims and interests of those involved in carrying them out. The bombing of the Samarra mosque is indicative of this. Some see this as the final trigger for the involvement of the Shia militias in significant resistance, and altered the complexion of the conflict from one largely between the Sunni insurgents and the state into a broader more inclusive conflagration. But while conflagration is easy to achieve, an end point is more difficult. The complex nature of Iraqi society means that domination of it by Wahhabists is impossible. Yet neither can Shia dominate if the Sunni refuse to engage. In a way this reminds me to some degree of the situation in the North in the very early 1970s where competing groups vied as much to be heard as to make any strategic progress. But, the difference is of course that in Northern Ireland there were clear political programmes pursued by all involved (with the possible exception of Loyalists) and as time progressed it was possible to discern and engage with those programmes.

Frankly the most disgusting thing I’ve heard recently on this matter has been the chorus of voices from some on the US right effectively blaming the Iraqi’s for not being able to ‘do democracy’. Such a charge is specious in the extreme. Firstly it’s clear that Iraqi’s do do democracy as the successful election last year indicated. What they don’t ‘do’ at this point in time is coherent state building since the aftermath of the US invasion saw the willful attrition of the minimally required infrastructure of the Iraqi state and its replacement by – at first – an equally minimal security entirely inadequate for a country as large as Iraq. Secondly the very nature of the invasion and occupation robbed any serious legitimacy from the US – even if one accepts, and I tend to, that this wasn’t a ‘resource war’ fought for oil. No effort was made by the US administration to dispel that impression in a context where such an impression could only serve to weaken it’s bona fides. Indeed the administrations approach was one which actually exacerbated that impression by refusing to seriously engage with the UN, or make any effort to step aside from being the prime mover in the immediate aftermath. Thirdly, the actual make up of Iraq as an enormously intricate society divided along different religious, ethnic, political and other lines was such that it required the most delicate and nuanced of efforts to arrive at a reasonable solution. No such delicacy or nuance was forthcoming.

And now the situation is one where Keegan and Bull suggest that the ultimate shape of the conflict may be similar to that played out in the Lebanon. Fifteen years of civil war passed before a negotiated settlement. Fifteen years. And it’s worth considering for a moment how that settlement in Beirut is this very week under threat, in part due to Hizbollah’s drive to exercise greater power, in part due to another unintended consequence of US policy in the region, a foolish and short-sighted support for foolish and short-sighted Israeli military actions.

I still take a view that it was necessary to remove Saddam. But necessity is one thing, means employed another. It’s very clear that a non-military option was being explored just prior to the war. It wasn’t explored fully, a profound mistake. And this is a world which is crying out for a different approach to international relations, one which isn’t limited by 19th century concepts of state sovereignty, or by entirely sincere but effectively passive anti-war thinking. War happens, dictators dictate, people are imprisoned by the very concept of state sovereignty sometimes. A beefed up UN approach to totalitarianism is a good thing. But as Iraq demonstrates it won’t be feasible as a strategy simply by pretending that regime change through military force is the only, or even the preferred, option.

Comments»

1. Dublin Opinion » It’s Bad in Iraq. Does that Help? No. - December 8, 2006

[…] Considering the rise in the daily death toll of both Iraqis and US soldiers and the argument that Iraq is going through not one, but three civil wars, this is extraordinarily trite. Or ‘wildly inappropriate’ as WorldbyStorm puts it. It’s good to hear as WorldbyStorm ’supported’ George Bush’s initial decision to invade Iraq. […]

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