Saturday, November 25, 2006

It's a Civil War

All we've heard for months is how Iraq is teetering on the edge of civil war or is descending into civil war or risks civil war. That's all nonsense. Iraq is in a state of civil war. There is underway in Iraq an actual civil war and there's no point dodging that reality.

Here's a useful discussion of the meaning of "civil war" from the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University:

"Politics aside, however, the definition of civil war is not arbitrary. For some -- and perhaps especially Americans -- the term brings to mind all-out historical conflicts along the lines of the U.S. or Spanish civil wars. According to this notion, there will not be civil war in Iraq until we see mass mobilization of sectarian communities behind more or less conventional armies.

But a more standard definition is common today:

1) Civil war refers to a violent conflict between organized groups within a country that are fighting over control of the government, one side's separatist goals, or some divisive government policy.

By this measure, the war in Iraq has been a civil war not simply since the escalation of internecine killings following the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra in February, but at least since the United States handed over formal control to an interim Iraqi government in June 2004.

Here's why: Although the insurgents target the U.S. military, they are also fighting the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government and killing large numbers of Iraqis. There is little reason to believe that if the United States were suddenly to withdraw its forces, they would not continue their battle to control or shape the government.Political scientists who study civil war have proposed various refinements to this rough definition to deal with borderline cases. One issue concerns how much killing has to occur -- and at what rate.

2) For a conflict to qualify as a civil war, most academics use the threshold of 1,000 dead, which leads to the inclusion of a good number of low-intensity rural insurgencies.

Current estimates suggest that more than 25,000 Iraqis have been killed in fighting since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 -- a level and rate of killing that is comparable to numerous other conflicts that are commonly described as civil wars, such as those in Lebanon (1975-1990) and Sri Lanka (beginning in 1983).

The organization -- or rather, disorganization -- of the warring communities in Iraq means that a large-scale conventional conflict along the lines of the U.S. Civil War is unlikely to develop. More probable is a gradual escalation of the current "dirty war" between neighborhood militias that have loose ties to national political factions and are fighting almost as much within sectarian lines as across them.

This is roughly what happened in Lebanon and at a lower level in Turkish cities in the late 1970s. Ethnic cleansing will occur not as a systematic, centrally directed campaign (as in Bosnia), but as a result of people moving to escape danger."

There, that resolves it. There's no more 'descending' or 'teetering' necessary. There's no reason to hush up to avoid recognizing yet another failure by the U.S. and British. This specious argument that they can't leave lest Iraq descend into civil war is utter nonsense. Iraq is in a full-blown civil war. Now, we can start figuring out how this will end. A good start would be to get the coalition forces out of there if only to stop fueling the insurgency.

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