Is It Civil War Yet?

Article excerpt

Far from serving as a democratic model for the Middle East, Iraq is slipping deeper into sectarian violence.

MORE THAN THREE YEARS after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the same catch-22 that has plagued U.S. efforts to put Humpty Dumpty back together again in Baghdad continues to operate. Any leader in Iraq installed by, supported by, or endorsed by the United States has zero credibility with Iraqis, yet over and over the United States has made the same mistake, ineptly planting the kiss of death on a succession of would-be Iraqi leaders: first Ahmad Chalabi, then Iyad Allawi, and finally Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the current prime minister.

This brings us to the visit to Iraq earlier this month by secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign secretary Jack Straw. Like colonial overseers checking in on their proconsul's efforts to suppress the natives' latest rebellion, Rice and Straw visited Iraq to lend their heft to Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad's seemingly hopeless quest to get Iraq's warring factions to agree on what Khalilzad continues to describe as a "national unity government," even though Iraq's national unity has utterly evaporated. In their imperial sojourn, Rice and Straw made it absolutely clear, in public, that the Anglo-American alliance no longer has any use for Jaafari's services and that the ruling Shi'ite alliance ought to toss him overboard and select another figure as Iraq's next prime minister. In so doing, Rice and Straw flouted whatever remains of the democratic process in Iraq, alienated virtually all Iraqi factions, and condemned to utter failure the next prime minister of Iraq. They ensured that he will be seen as yet another American puppet and that the incoming and supposedly permanent four-year government will lack the credibility needed to halt Iraq's civil war.

That America has failed in Iraq is now clear to all but the most dense observers of the political scene. The Bush administration may still believe in the mission and its shredded "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq," announced with great fanfare last November. But this is the same administration that dismissed, rejected, or ignored warning after warning by the U.S. intelligence community that post-Saddam Iraq would be ungovernable. The Central Intelligence Agency, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and other agencies warned President Bush and Vice President Cheney before, during, and after the war about the likelihood of an armed resistance to the U.S. occupation and about the real possibility that Iraq would collapse into civil war and splinter into parts. In the fall of 2004, Bush famously pooh-poohed the CIA-INR National Intelligence Estimate that warned that Iraq might slip into a civil war, calling the work of a high-powered U.S. intelligence team that spent months assembling that NIE "just a guess." Today, we do not need to guess. Since at least last summer, Iraq has been engulfed in a civil war.

Needless to say, having dismissed the CIA's warnings, the Bush administration's officials are also unwilling to believe their own eyes. "Do I think we're in a civil war at the present time? No," said secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, even as leading Iraqis, including former Prime Minister Allawi, admit frankly that civil war has begun. Khalilzad, closer to the scene, told Al Hayat, a Londonbased Arabic newspaper, that Iraq "is bleeding and headed for civil war," but that it isn't there yet Rumsfeld, who said that the Pentagon is war-gaming the idea of civil war in Iraq, was asked what such a conflict would look like. Said Rumsfeld, "I wiU say I don't think it'll look like the United States Civil War."

He's right. It looks a lot like the Iraqi civil war, which in turn looks very much like Lebanon's civil war. That conflict, which pitted Maronite Christians, Palestinians, Shi'ites, Sunnis, and Druze against each other in an ever-shifting battle of alliances, left a hundred thousand dead between 1975 and 1990. …