Is It Civil War Yet?

BAGHDAD — That pink-o, liberal workers’ rag DefenseNews (thanks to Robert for the link!), also known as a trade publication for defense contractors, “published a depressing piece”: on Iraq calling the situation here an “undeclared civil war.” I think it’s time we journalists faced up that this is, indeed the case.
I remember many discussions over the past few months with colleagues as to whether this place is in civil war yet or not, but I think this article lays out the argument for it pretty well:

‘Things Are Getting Worse By the Day’
Undeclared Iraq Civil War Signals Worse to Come
5 Sept 05
By Riad Kahwaji, Dubai
Iraq’s long-feared civil war is escalating and will engulf the entire country unless ethnic leaders take drastic steps, according to officials and analysts.
“The current sectarian and ethnic killings in Iraq are actually the beginning of a civil war,” said Georges Sada, an adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and the executive secretary of the Iraq Institute for Peace. “Sectarian divisions in Iraq have started back in the ’90s, which prepared the ground for the civil war spreading today.”

Kahwaji notes that the Americans have downplayed deep cultural differences between Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds despite the increase in sectarian and ethnic killings since April 2003. And while Amb. Zalmay Khalilzad and military commanders now acknowledge the possibility of civil war, none of them will label the violence going on right now as such.
Hundreds have been killed for being Sunni, Shi’ite or, less often, Kurdish. Entire neighborhoods of Baghdad are being “cleansed”:,10987,1096488,00.html (paid link, sorry. c’mon, guys!). Sunni leaders accuse the government of Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shi’ite from the Dawa Party, of allowing the Badr militia to settle scores and eliminate enemies by using the security apparatus of the state. (Badr controls the Interior Ministry and its dreaded commando units.)
And yet, I’ve been reluctant to call it a civil war because I just haven’t been able to. I felt unsure and perhaps a little unwilling to see that it’s gone as far as it has. And others say “the existence of a political process means it’s not yet a civil war”: I now think that’s simplistic. After watching this place for two years, I’m now prepared to call this thing a civil war, aligning myself squarely with the America-haters at DefenseNews.

“For over a year now, there has not been a day in which Iraq did not witness sectarian killings where the victims were either Shiite, Sunni or Kurds,” said Ghassan Attiyah, chairman of the Baghdad-based Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy. “I’m not talking here about random shooting. I am talking about targeting people individually on the roads and killing them for being from one group or another.”

In the article, Qassem Jaafar, a Doha, Qatar-based Middle East security analyst, listed the symptoms of a civil war:
* A weak central government with incompetent security apparatus.
* Spread of sectarian and ethnic killings.
* Existence of armed sectarian and ethnic militias.
* High threat perception among the sectarian and ethnic groups of the country.
* Insistence of each group on its demands.
* Foreign interference and support to feuding groups.
All of these elements are present now in Iraq, and the constitution process didn’t help matters.
Trumpeted by Khalilzad as a “national compact,” the constitution is instead a greater source of division, and privately the Americans are barely stomaching it. The problem is not so much the content as is the process. It’s not a _bad_ document, as written, and the contradictions within — with the exception of federalism — can probably all be finessed. But the process of drafting it, which largely excluded the Sunnis, deepened distrust among the various groups. The Sunnis, who didn’t participate in January elections and who have themselves to blame for not having legitimately elected leaders to sit on the panel, distrust the Shi’ites and Kurds as making a power grab. The Shi’ites and Kurds, however, never trusted the Sunnis who _did_ show up to help draft the charter, saying they weren’t elected so who knows who they represent. (Both fair enough points, I suppose, but not very helpful ones for bridging divides.)

“If the constitution is not amended to meet Sunni demands and goes as-is to the referendum, then moderate Sunni figures would lose ground to the radical forces and an all-out civil war will spread to each corner of the country,” Attiyah said.
[UPDATE: It was amended slightly, but whether it will be enough to assuage Sunnis remains to be seen. The hard core rejectionists obviously will never vote for it.]
Jaafar agreed. “The U.S. is facing a serious dilemma in Iraq, where its Shiite and Kurdish allies have gone out on their own pushing for their own agendas that do not seem to meet with Washington’s vision of a future Iraq,” he said.
“The Shiites, for example, have been pushing for an Iranian-style Islamic republic, which would not suit U.S. interests,” while “the Kurdish secessionist drive is growing stronger every day, which is getting Turkey and other neighboring states more worried.”

The question is what is Washington going to do? They’re in a no-win situation, Jaafar says, neither able to withdraw nor able to maintain Iraq’s unity and establish a democratic Iraq as a model for neighboring countries. Attiyah believes the U.S. might choose to sacrifice Iraq’s unity for its own goals.

“I believe some U.S. officials have started entertaining the idea of dividing Iraq on ethnic and sectarian lines to ensure stability and facilitate their exit after establishing some military bases in the oil-rich Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq,” Attiyah said. “In this case, Washington would blame the Sunnis and other neighboring states like Iran and Syria for the breakup of the country.”

A dismembered Iraq with various militias fighting over the corpse on top of 20 percent of the world’s oil. It’s a nightmare scenario that looks more more likely by the day, and the current civil war is just a smolder compared to the inferno to come.

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2 Comments on “Is It Civil War Yet?”

  1. Civil War

    Well, I think the fat lady is about to sing. Defense Weekly is clearing the collective throat of the US in preparation. ‘Things Are Getting Worse By the Day’ – Undeclared Iraq Civil War Signals Worse to Come”Even if U.S….

  2. Bring ’em on! (More medals, that is)

    What time is it, kids? Why, it’s time for our leader to hand out some more presidential medals! And this time, let’s give a very special medal to Michael Brown, former head of FEMA, for showing the country just how