Magazine article USA TODAY

A Reality Check for Iraq

Magazine article USA TODAY

A Reality Check for Iraq

Article excerpt

IT TURNS OUT THAT the Iraq Study Group, although bipartisan, still was a political animal. Even though it concluded that the Bush war policy (is there a policy?) thus far has failed, the panel's 79 recommendations shotgunned the field of Middle East strategy and yet still pulled some punches. If the U.S. really wants to get out of Iraq without turning the entire Middle East into an inferno, some very basic realities must be addressed.

First, there is a civil war in Iraq. Let's stop arguing about it; no more talk show discussions on "is it or isn't it?" The ongoing dialogue about whether there is, or is not, a civil war is destructive to the analytical process of determining where the U.S. is in the conflict and what it needs to do strategically. There is a civil war between Arab Shia and Arab Sunni in Iraq. The basic definitional criteria for a conflict being a civil war are that there be two or more warring sides within a political boundary; the conflict is about political control or agenda setting; and there is some minimum number of casualties on each side. Whatever parameters might be set for the latter, conflict in Iraq meets the test.

Actually, there are multiple wars going on in Iraq--it is a conflict multiplex. The fact that there are outside parties that are encouraging and aiding the sides in this civil war should come as no surprise; that also was the case in the American Civil War--and most other civil wars, really. Just because Iranians or Hezbollah or regional Sunnis or the U.S. are aiding one side or another does not exempt it from being a civil war. None of which is to say that there are not other wars going on in Iraq as well.

The U.S. invaded and attacked the regime of Saddam Hussein to eliminate his stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (or other ex-post facto reasons). There is an international war between the U.S. and the (remnant) forces of Saddam's ethnic Sunni government and insurgency with a variety of ethnic and tribal forces opposing the U.S. presence, as well as terrorist organizations attacking U.S. forces, the Iraqi government, and even tribes. There clearly is a political agenda on the part of those resisting the use of civil war terminology, with the fear that it will change the nature of U.S. support. However, U.S. popular support for the Iraqi war has been in free fall for the last year and is not likely to be salvaged under any scenario. It is imperative that the situation be seen for what it is.

The second reality is that Iraq already is at least two countries; the U.S. is not going to leave behind a single political unit in what today is Iraq. There are three basic units among its population: Arab Shia, Arab Sunnis, and Kurds (who assertively are not Arabs). The latter have been given special status since the 1991 Gulf War when the U.S. began protecting their independence from the Saddam government under the No Fly Zone policy. They also have special status under the current Iraqi constitution. They are not going to be integrated back into any Iraqi system that is controlled by Arabs. They concretely are linked with Kurdish populations in Turkey, Syria, and other surrounding states. Those neighboring states fear the rise of "Kurdistan" and there is substance to those fears. Ultimately, the land will be distributed three ways: Arab Shia, Arab Sunni, and Kurds. …

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