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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Monday, November 27, 2006

A Civil War?

Lots of talk that NBC has made the editorial decision to begin designating Iraq as a civil war. This is significant in the US because of the political implications as "civil war" was always put out as a worst case outcome, but in Iraq, such a definitional change will make no difference except in how it might impact US actions. Iraqis are still dying in just the same horrific ways and numbers as the day before. But I want to propose an even worse case possible outcome.

The term "civil war" is usually used to denote warfare between one group or groups against an established state for autonomy or control. For that definition to be applicable in Iraq the Iraqi government would have to have some major constituency backing its efforts.

If, for example, Sadr and the Mahdi make good on their threat to withdraw from the government after Maliki's meeting with Bush on Thursday, Maliki will no longer have any majority backing. In theory, the government could fall, although in reality it will probably continue in its procession to near irrelevance. What does Iraq look like with an irrelevant central government?

Iraq then becomes a failed state with local, regional, and even semi-national warlords violently competing for power. The Sunni groups have already fractured three ways into religious Sunni, Baathist Sunni, and Al Qaeda, and the SCIRI/Mahdi faultline has already been fairly clearly drawn in episodes like that in Amarrah not too long ago.

On top of that, you already have significant elements of Sadr's Mahdi army (20-30% by some estimates) freeing themselves from his control for both political and economic/criminal reasons.

As the choas and violence grow and social services completely break down, the influence of power could well devolve to increasingly local levels.

As bad as the federalism/partition of Iraq looked to the US and the regional neighbors, there is a possibility that we may be looking at the far more perilous situation of warlordism and a failed state.

This is by no means a predetermined outcome as a various "strongmen" could arise to gather the separating groups, but, right now, the trending, to me, seems to be towards this sort of fractured state. If this does come to pass, it will probably not devolve into the open warlordism of Somalia or the various points in Afghani history, but will probably fall into loose coalitions of local and regional players under a few larger regional leaders. But the thing is, for the near future, these groups will be fighting for territory and influence all the time. This would all take place beneath the larger Sunni/Shia conflict.

As the government and media understanding of Iraq has largely been months behind the realities of Iraq and everyone is caught in the question "is it a civil war," I thought I should introduce a next possible phase.


  • I can't help but bring up Bush's statements since before we invaded Iraq. The Iraq people will be better off without Saddam. The world will be better off without Saddam as the head of Iraq. The Iraq people deserve a free democracy. Saddam is a madman, who will attack his neighbors, or America with his nukes. Ect., ect.....

    Although it will do no good; it's time to say that things would be better off, if Saddam had been left in charge and other actions had been taken to control him.

    He was, for bad or good, the strong man that was keeping Iraq's warlords (that have always been there) in line. Maybe the Shaw found he had to be ruthless to control the warlords within Iraq to rule the whole country.

    Other plans, such as the Biden-Gelb plan, now have no chance because of the situation on the ground. If they ever had any chance at all.

    I agree with your discription, which only reinforces my belief that we never should have gone in there in the first place, we should have controlled Saddam while leaving him in power, and Bush's decision to invade Iraq will go down in History as one of the worse mistakes every made by a U.S. President.

    We could go with McCain and send in more troops; enough to stop the violence, which to me means 400,000 to 600,000 troops, that's not going to happen. Sending another 20,ooo to 80,000 will not get the job done.

    The American people have spoken, get out. So I see no other answers except your senario. Of course all this violence that is going to happen, will be blamed on the Democrats.

    This debate on whether or not it is an actuall civil war, is useless, and only a media argument over definitions. These are Iraqis fighting Iraqis, that to me is a civil war.

    By Blogger Time, at 1:13 PM  

  • Yeah, Saddam was definitely better than what we have now. Outside Kurdistan, alot of Iraqis are saying that. I think it could be argued that if the US had held elections and the construction of the government within 3-6 six months, it might've been a better situation than Saddam (a strongman Shia pro Iran government,) but from where we are now, yeah, Saddam was better.

    I have never liked the Biden/partition plan. It would enable the US to get out quickly, but the mid term result is unworkable. Al Qaeda safe haven in the west, Turks at war with Kurds, and Iran controlling their oil, most of the Iraqi oil, and a hezbullah like militia stationed just north of the major Saudi oil fields. We lose in every region.

    I hesitate to say this, but the best answer right may be a Shia strongman backed by militias. It would be extremely difficult to work out from our point of political weakness, and the Iranians would end up with alot of sway, but I think it's the quickest answer to the violence and towards stability. The initial bloodshed would be horrific, but I don't see another way towards a stable unified Iraq.

    And, frankly, a stable enemy is better than the current unsettled Iraq. In theory, we can negotiate with a stable enemy.

    Let me say, I don't like this answer because of the bloodshed, but it seems the surest way to restore some stability and to prevent a regional conflict. The trick is to somehow get the Saudis/Jordanians/Syrians to not fund an endless Sunni insurgency against it.

    The downside risk is the real possibility of regional war.

    Just an opinion from where I sit right now.

    And, no, we shouldn't have gone in in the first place. Tons of Middle East experts who were not Neocons predicted this civil war outcome and were derided and ignored by the administration. Many of the experts were saying, don't do it, too much risk.


    By Blogger mikevotes, at 2:13 PM  

  • Iraq's government has already collapsed. It is valid only within the friendly (most of the time) confines of the Green Zone. It is a failed state.

    By Blogger copy editor, at 3:05 PM  

  • I could accept that as an argument.

    If you run through the "failed state" descriptors lack of services, failed command structure, etc, I think it qualifies.

    I would offer though, that perhaps there's some legacy of legitimacy that still lingers like a scent after someone leaves the room.

    I think I was loose in my language. What I was intending to paint is that Iraq is not yet to full blown warlordism although all the symptoms are already appearing.

    When I used the term failed state, that was the implication I was pointing towards.


    By Blogger mikevotes, at 3:28 PM  

  • You're right, changed the wording a bit.


    By Blogger mikevotes, at 3:34 PM  

  • It is about 95 percent of a failed state. I am working on an entry myself.

    But, like usual, we are 99.9 percent in agreement.

    By Blogger copy editor, at 3:40 PM  

  • There really is a stunning months long lag that persists to this day!

    By Blogger copy editor, at 4:08 PM  

  • It's just like Lebanon in the 70s and 80s.... only:

    Lebanon - Christian government + (perhaps) even more regional involvement + oil rich strategic cities that are contested by Sectarian groups.

    By Blogger copy editor, at 4:10 PM  

  • I really think that lag is a lag in understanding.

    I mean, Forward Together might have had some impact influencing the tide if it had been put in place right after the bombing of the Askirah shrine in Samarra ratherthan 6 months later.

    This regional diplomatic tour might have had a fair amount of influence if it had been done 6 months or a year ago.

    It seems they're so loathe to admit failure, that they keep trying things long after they've stopped working which delays the implementation of more effective strategies.

    Also, the planning cycle is too slow for the shifting battlefield.

    I would suspect that the ISG's proposals will be similarly out of date.


    By Blogger mikevotes, at 4:23 PM  

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