March 09, 2006

Larry Diamond on Iraq's Civil War

Larry Diamond, the author of Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq, has written an article titled How Civil Wars start and end (sub req'd) for the New Republic. He says the Iraq is already in a civil war based on the standard definition:

Iraq is in the midst of a civil war. Indeed, by one common social science definition--at least 1,000 dead (with at least 100 on each side) from internal hostilities in which one side tries violently to change the state or its policies--Iraq's civil war began in the first year of the "postwar" era and has been particularly bloody. The Brookings Institution estimates that somewhere between 12,000 and 20,000 Iraqis have been killed by violence since "major combat operations" ended on April 30, 2003. That is somewhere between 350 and 600 Iraqis a month--or, in terms proportional to the U.S. population, the equivalent of two September 11 catastrophes every month. And this calculation does not account for the hundreds killed in the days following last week's Askariya shrine bombing.

He also notes that although Iraq is in a civil war, it has not yet devolved into the truly horrific form that it could take if sectarian violence gets totally out of hand such as in Niger where over a million people lost their lives in their civil war. But both the sectarian violence and the rhetoric and violent reaction are getting worse, and things are definitely heading the wrong way. Diamond believes that one reason thing have not gotten worse already is because of the calming influence of Sistani.

Political party and identity group leaders frame the context through which their followers perceive troubling events. If they depict those events as a struggle for group dignity or even survival, their followers will respond in kind, with group-on-group violence. If, instead, they paint acts of outrageous violence as the work of extremists who must be marginalized, then there is at least a chance for the center to hold against the extremes. For nearly three years now, what passes for stability in Iraq--its ability to avert a slide toward all-out war--has owed much to the calming appeal of Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, who has urged his devoted Shia followers not to be goaded into violent retaliation, despite appalling acts of terrorism and mass murder. For many months now, that patience has been wearing thin, and Sistani's command over the Shia faithful has been challenged by younger, more radical clerics like Sadr. A more apocalyptic framing has emerged, in which terrorist acts are seen as "a war against the Shia." The day after the Askariya bombing, a Shia newspaper called for war in return "against anyone who tries to conspire against us, who slaughters us every day. It is time to go to the streets and fight those outlaws." In fact, Sunni and Shia political leaders have been torn between bitterly blaming one another for the crisis, blaming "the troublemaker in the middle" (the Americans)--something it seems all sides can agree on--and calling for restraint and nonviolence. After the initial wave of violent retaliation, prominent Sunni and Shia political and religious leaders did reach across the divide to pray together and dampen the fires of violence. But, with each new incident of mass violence and symbolic desecration, the hotheads become more difficult to contain. As Iraqi liberal elder statesman Adnan Pachachi recently lamented, "I think people are rapidly losing confidence in the political class, and I don't blame them."

He notes that some of the very worrying signs are the increasing occurances of ethnic cleansing of neigborhoods, the assassinations and disappearances of Sunnis and the fact that one deadly militia is associated with the Ministry of Interior. No wonder many who could leave the country have already done so.

Again, he says things are not as bad as they could get and they still could turn around, but it will depend on the ability to build a politically fair solution for all parties and the Bush administration to make the right decisions now.

The key remains a political settlement that isolates the extremes and avoids a zero-sum logic of power. This requires broad sharing of power among all the major parties and coalitions, the reversal of sectarian militia penetration of the security forces, and revision of the constitution to produce a more viable federal bargain.

It is precisely these three goals that Khalilzad has courageously and doggedly pursued since his arrival last summer. But he is an overstretched mediator, lacking the diplomatic resources, legitimacy, and time to broker a comprehensive deal on his own. And he is still burdened with a U.S. posture that feeds the Sunni-based insurgency (and thus, increasingly, the Shia counterinsurgency) and the deepening civil war. To get a grip on what is now a bewilderingly fragmented Sunni insurgency, we need a broad dialogue with as many elements of it as possible. Mediation of the scope, complexity, and delicacy now necessary urgently requires a team effort, involving as well the United Nations and the European Union. In fact, the United Nations has the perfect person to partner with Khalilzad. He is the one person who was able to come from the outside before and reason with Sistani, achieving a compromise that saved the transition to sovereignty when it was unraveling. He is the same man who partnered with Khalilzad himself in bringing about a far more successful transition in Afghanistan: Lakhdar Brahimi.

Even a mediator of Brahimi's prodigious and proven talents (he also mediated the Taif accord, which helped end the Lebanese civil war) would need help and luck. Part of this must come in the form of more far-reaching changes in U.S. policy. Any agreement that pulls significant elements of the Sunni-based insurgency away from violence will require an unambiguous commitment from the Bush administration to eventual withdrawal from Iraq. This means renouncing any intention to seek long-term U.S. military bases in Iraq and a willingness to negotiate some plan for U.S. military withdrawal, even if it stretches over several years and is tied to flexible goals rather than to a fixed timetable.

This is not a time for the United States to throw in the towel in Iraq. The consequences of all-out civil war--which would now surely follow a precipitous U.S. withdrawal--would be too disastrous for everyone except the extremists. It is still possible to find or reconstruct some political common ground. It is still conceivable that the Shia politicians who are now set (in one combination or another) to rule Iraq for the indefinite future can be persuaded to make concessions on the big issues, by the logic that less is more in circumstances when seeking to win everything means civil war. There is still time for far-reaching mediation to avert the slide. But the hour is growing late.

Why do I worry that to have to rely on Bush or his administration to make the right decisions is to set us up for the worst outcome? Especially when Rumsfeld believes that Iraq is solely responsible for the bad things going on over there?

Pray for the Iraqi people and for our combined future if this situation spirals totally out of control.

Posted by Mary at March 9, 2006 07:07 PM | Iraq | Technorati links |


As an agnostic I won't be praying, but I share your concerns...I would hope also for some quiet diplomacy with Iran..the eventual withdrawal of American troops, and possibly bases could be a useful bargaining point there as well.

Posted by: mesa at March 9, 2006 08:15 PM

Is this a joke or ....well

Rumsfeld thinks there is no Civil War in Iraq

Posted by: lk at March 10, 2006 12:30 PM

What about this

Afghan Man Faces Death for Allegedly Converting to Christianity

Posted by: al at March 24, 2006 10:20 AM