Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Reflections on Civil War in Iraq

Iraq 2013 - New York Times: "Scholars and diplomats who have closely studied civil wars describe them almost as forces of nature, grinding on until the parties exhaust themselves, shredding bonds that cannot be stitched back together even long years after the killing stops. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the United Nations and other international actors have spent a decade trying to undo the psychic as well as the physical destruction of four years of intramural mayhem. There’s not a great deal to show for it. David Harland, the head of a small policy team inside the U.N. peacekeeping department, points out that “on the eve of the war, Sarajevo was 40 percent Muslim and 60 percent everything else. Now it’s 90 percent Muslim, and of the remaining 10 percent, most are mixed marriages or the elderly. You can’t reverse ethnic cleansing.”

"And you generally can’t stop it either, as we are now learning in Iraq. The question of whether Iraq has descended into civil war has, of course, become an obsessive issue, if basically a semantic one. President Bush insists that it has not, though American military officials concede that sectarian violence now poses a greater threat to Iraq than does the (largely Sunni) insurgency. In October, according to a U.N. report, Iraqi civilian deaths reached a record 3,709, though the real number is almost certainly higher. One hundred thousand Iraqis are now fleeing abroad every month, in addition to vast numbers internally displaced. Experts have no trouble describing what they’re seeing. In Congressional testimony this past September, James D. Fearon, an expert on civil conflict at Stanford University, said that “by any reasonable definition, Iraq is in the midst of a civil war.”

"The White House’s steadfast refusal to call this conflict a civil war feels more like denial than delusion; President Bush understands that using the term would force him to concede that the defining act of his presidency had ended in ruin. Americans will not continue to send their sons and daughters into the Iraqi maelstrom in order to defend Iraqi factions from one another. What’s more, civil wars rarely have the kind of equitable conclusion that the Bush administration has envisioned in Iraq. Fearon testified that the 54 such conflicts he studied typically lasted more than 10 years and normally ended with decisive military victory rather than power-sharing agreements. History, he said, indicates that the current administration strategy “is highly unlikely to succeed, whether the U.S. stays in Iraq for six more months or six more years (or more).”

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