Oy, oy, Iraq, Iraq
1. Prepare for the Great Arab Unraveling -- by Rami G. Khouri /Daily Star Lebanon
Seymour Hersh, investigative journalist for The New Yorker magazine, has sparked fresh debate with his latest article alleging that the Bush administration's new policy to confront Iran has led it to send American money and other forms of assistance to extremist Sunni groups, sometimes via the Lebanese and Saudi governments, in order to confront and weaken Hizbullah, Syria and Iran.
Do not pity or jeer Washington alone, for every single player in this tale - the United States, Hizbullah, the Lebanese government, Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia - wriggles uncomfortably in the mess they collectively created through their shortsighted policies of recent years. I suspect this mirrors something much bigger: We are in the midst of a potentially historic moment when the modern Arab state order that was created by the Europeans in circa 1920 has started to break down, in what we might perhaps call the Great Arab Unraveling.
Shattered Iraq is the immediate driver of this possible dissolution and reconfiguration of an Arab state system that had held together rather well for nearly four generations. It is only the most dramatic case of an Arab country that wrestles with its own coherence, legitimacy, and viability. Lebanon and Palestine have struggled with their statehood for half a century; Somalia has quietly dropped out of this game; Kuwait vanished in 1990 and quickly reappeared; Yemen split, reunited, split, fought a war, and reunited; Sudan spins like a centrifuge, with national and tribal forces pushing away from a centralized state; Morocco and the Western Sahara dance gingerly around their logical association; and internal tensions plague other Arab countries to varying degrees.
A learned British friend reminded me this week of the mixed legacy of countries manufactured by Europe at the Paris peace conference after World War I: Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and Iraq. Not an inspiring record. The Anglo-American war to change the Iraqi regime has triggered wider regional tensions, unleashing powerful and often antagonistic forces of ethnic, religious and tribal identities, most of which have formed their own militias. All militias thrive on Arab, Iranian, or Western support. It is no surprise that Washington now may be indirectly assisting Sunni fundamentalist radicals of the ilk who attacked the US in recent years. America, welcome to the Middle East.
The US obviously decided several months ago to go to Plan B in Iraq. The surge in US troops probably camouflages the American retreat to more defensible lines in the Arab world, where it can fight against Iran and its mostly Islamist, but also Syrian Baathist friends, allies, and surrogates. Washington and its friends are desperate to control the genie they unleashed in Iraq, but they are wrong to see the threat primarily as a Shiite-Iranian one. It is more useful to recognize that the driving force behind the loose coalition of anti-American and anti-Israeli forces in the region is, precisely, American and Israeli policies in the region.
The Middle East has suffered so much homegrown tyranny and sustained external assaults that it has become a dangerous pressure cooker, given that a majority of citizens live with enormous, still-growing dissatisfaction in their economic, social, ethnic, religious, or national lives. If the pressure is not relieved by allowing the region and its states to define themselves and their own governance values, the pot will explode. I suspect we are witnessing both things happening together these days.
On the one hand, Islamist, ethnic, sectarian, and tribal movements are growing and flourishing all over the Middle East - and are aided by Iran - in a dramatic example of collective self-assertion. On the other hand, massive external pressure, led by the US, some Europeans, Israel, and some Arab governments, fights back, hoping to keep the lid on a region trying to define itself and liberate itself from the modern legacy of the American, British and Israeli armies.
The pervasive incoherence of this bizarre picture makes it perfectly routine for Arab monarchies to support Salafist terrorists, for Western democracies to ignore the results of Arab free elections, for Iranians and Arabs, and Shiites and Sunnis, to work hand in hand while also fighting bitter wars, for Islamists and secular Arabs to join forces, for freedom lovers in London and Washington to support seasoned Arab autocrats, for Western and Arab rule-of-law advocates to sponsor militias, and for Israel and the US to perpetuate Israeli policies that exacerbate rather than calm security threats and vulnerabilities in the region.
Short-term panic, medium-term confusion, and a long-term absence of direction have long defined the policies of all actors in the Middle East. These characteristics have only become more obvious as confrontation, defiance, and war in the region interact to signal the end of an era and the start of a new one. The Great Arab Unraveling is in its very early days. More harrowing changes are yet come.
(Rami G. Khouri writes a regular commentary for THE DAILY STAR.)
2. Feeding the Guerillas
Combating Iraq’s militias means declaring war on the communities they govern.
By Martin Sieff/ The American Conservative
Think 20,000 more American troops in Baghdad will make Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army and the other Iraqi militias roll over and say uncle? Think again.
The Bush administration’s policymaking in Iraq remains where it has always been—at least three years behind what is actually happening on the ground. Gen. Dave Petraeus is being sent out as the new U.S. ground forces commander. Middle and junior level U.S. Army and Marine officers are eagerly snapping up copies of the just republished paperback version of Sir Alistair Horne’s A Savage War of Peace , his classic account of the Algerian War of Independence against France. (Let us here pause to note that Paul Wolfowitz, in testimony before a congressional committee, referred to it as a war against Spanish colonial occupation. He couldn’t even get that right.) None of this will make the slightest bit of difference.
U.S. policymakers are finally paying lip service to the idea that the Sunni insurgents in Iraq are indeed waging a full-scale guerrilla war against American forces. The trouble is that this conception of the Iraq conflict has been obsolete ever since Sunni insurgents bombed the al-Askariya Mosque in Samara on Feb. 22, 2006. Shi’ite militias across Iraq, and especially in Baghdad, responded with a savage wave of random killings in reprisal. That was the key moment when the Iraq conflict metastasized into a sectarian civil war between the entire Sunni and Shi’ite communities.
It is not even a “clean” or simple civil war, for it involves conflicts between rival warring militias within each community. Yet none of the 1,500 overpaid civilian analysts in the U.S. Department of Defense have yet awakened to this truth: paramilitary militias in both communities provide the only effective government in Iraq. The Rube Goldberg constitutional machinery that the Bush administration so lovingly labored over to produce free and fair elections, an independent parliament, and then a Shi’ite-dominated government, has failed to provide reliable basic services or security. The new Iraqi army and police are thoroughly penetrated by the Shi’ite militias, and every Iraqi knows it. The more U.S. forces come into conflict with the Shi’ite militias in Baghdad, the more they run the risk that the guns they provide to the new Iraqi army and police will be turned on them, at first in increasingly common “random incidents” and eventually in a general uprising.
The British had to deal with three general and very popular uprisings of the Iraqi army—in 1936, 1941, and 1958. And they had spent decades ensuring its loyalty and dependability. This is what makes the “three-to-one” formula—putting three Iraqi army battalions into Baghdad for every single American battalion backstopping them—that Rep. Duncan Hunter, the former Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, continues to push on the Bush administration so unconnected to reality. The Iraqi army is fated to eventually turn its guns on the troops that empowered it.
But suppose this grim scenario does not come to pass. Surely the overwhelming firepower of the five existing American combat brigades in Baghdad and the “surge” so touted by President Bush, combined with an avid reading by U.S. combat officers of Horne’s classic text on Algeria will bring Baghdad to heel?
Alas no. First, champions of the Algiers-Baghdad analogy neglect to note that the entire population of Algiers in 1956 was only half a million. It doubled to a million by 1960. The Casbah that was the heart of the FLN guerrilla forces before they were tactically smashed in the 1958 Battle of Algiers was less than 100,000. But the total population of Baghdad today is 7 million with 2 million of those living in the Shi’ite-dominated working-class district of Sadr City alone. And the U.S. Armed Forces, thanks to the political pusillanimity of President Bush and the romantic fantasies of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his neocon “experts” that they could wage sci-fi super-war on the manpower cheap does not have the half million conscript soldiers that the French Fourth Republic, determined to hold on to Algeria, flooded into that unhappy country. Adding an extra 20,000 troops to make the difference in pacifying a city of 7 million is a drop in the ocean—or, perhaps more aptly, a spoonful of sand in the Arabian Desert.
Neither the U.S. Armed Forces nor the ramshackle Iraqi parliamentary-democratic system that American authorities have imposed on Iraq have brought peace, prosperity, security, or basic daily services to the Iraqi capital. For these, the people of Baghdad, especially the ever-growing Shi’ite majority, have come to rely on their neighborhood militias, which have become the real government of the Iraqi capital. “Beirut Rules” or “Belfast Rules” now operate in the city of Baghdad.
In Belfast from 1969 through 1994 and in Beirut from 1975 through 1991, the professional armies of major states never made the mistake of thinking they could totally annihilate the guerrilla/paramilitary forces operating in the country.
Belfast had always been a British city, so the British army was never an army of military occupation. The guerrilla insurgency of the Irish Republican Army came only from a small minority of the Catholic community of Northern Ireland, which itself was only one-third of the total population. The British army managed to tame the IRA only by waging relatively limited military operations against it and putting its main emphasis on intelligence and diplomatic/political dialogue with the political wing of Sinn Fein.
The Syrian Army in Beirut was far more of an outside, foreign presence than the British army in Northern Ireland ever was. Yet for all their famed ruthlessness, after their initial entry into Lebanon in the mid-1970s, the Syrians never made the mistake of trying to wage a direct war of annihilation against any of the most powerful sectarian militias.
The reason for this was that in both cases the militia forces were deeply rooted in their own local community strongholds and were seen by a significant plurality—and often a majority—of their inhabitants as the community’s defenders. War against them was therefore seen as war against the entire community. The more force that was used by outsiders against militia forces and the more civilian casualties incurred, the more the remaining civilians, especially the families and friends of the dead and injured, would be motivated to rally to the militias’ cause.
That is the nightmare scenario that the U.S. Armed Forces could face if they are forced to fight a campaign of annihilation or repression against the dominant Shi’ite militias that increasingly control the city of Baghdad.
The idea is for the American military to act in a supportive role in partnership with the Iraqi police and army, which would be operating on behalf of the democratically elected Iraqi government. But the reality would be far different. The Iraqi armed forces and police remain highly unreliable. Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the commander of the U.S. military’s effort to train Iraqi forces, publicly admitted on Dec. 18 that as many as 25 percent of the senior commanders of the Iraqi police had significant ties to the Shi’ite militias.
The more U.S. firepower and military force used against the militias, and the more civilian casualties inflicted as a by-product of military operations, the more the Shi’ite population of Baghdad would become bitterly opposed to America’s presence. As the conflict escalated, U.S forces would become embattled and besieged. The Iraqi government—a government in little more than name—at best would try to help ineffectually and at worst could easily become a conduit for intelligence and sabotage on behalf of the Shi’ite militias.
The U.S. Army historically has had little experience with the complexities, viciousness, and enormous casualties of full-scale street-fighting in urban environments. Horne’s great book is no guide to that kind of experience nor does it pretend to be. Horrific as the Algerian War of Independence and its Battle for Algiers were, they were not remotely on that scale.
That is because the tactical doctrine of street fighting in cities is one of the most difficult to master in modern war, and it requires far more expertise than the overwhelming firepower that the U.S. Marines and other combat forces poured into Fallujah and other Iraqi towns and Baghdadi districts whenever they felt they had to take them. The German Sixth Army and Fourth Panzer Army at Stalingrad were 300,000 strong, more than double the current total U.S. troop strength for the whole of Iraq. They outnumbered the combat troops of Red Army Gen. Vassili Chuikov’s 62nd Army by factors of four or five to one. And their use of firepower was unrestrained, to put it mildly: an estimated half a million Russian civilians died in the great siege. Yet it was the Wehrmacht forces that were outfought, decimated, and eventually annihilated. For the previously invincible Wehrmacht had no operational doctrine for street fighting in large cities, and Chuikov was the world’s leading expert on the subject. He had played a major role in successfully defending Madrid for the forces of the Spanish Republic in 1936.
The U.S. Army today has no effective systematic doctrine for the capture, pacification, and holding of entire cities either. Rumsfeld, his Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz and their Undersecretary for Policy Douglas Feith did not think the subject was important enough to warrant their attention during their fateful stewardship of the Armed Forces of the United States.
As the Battle of Baghdad escalates in the coming months, the book American combat officers will find most timely to read for useful and accurate historical analogies will no longer be Savage War of Peace but another recent classic of military history by another British historian of renown: Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-43 by Anthony Beevor.
(Martin Sieff is national security correspondent for United Press International. He has reported from more than 60 countries, covered seven guerrilla wars and ethnic conflicts, and been nominated three times for the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting.)
3. Why the U.S. Can't Win Iraq's Civil War -- by James Fearon/Foreign Affairs
NO GRACEFUL EXIT
As sectarian violence spiked in Baghdad around last Thanksgiving, Bush administration spokespeople found themselves engaged in a strange semantic fight with American journalists over whether the conflict in Iraq is appropriately described as a civil war. It is not hard to understand why the administration strongly resists the label. For one thing, the U.S. media would interpret a change in the White House's position on this question as a major concession, an open acknowledgment of dashed hopes and failed policy. For another, the administration worries that if the U.S. public comes to see the violence in Iraq as a civil war, it will be even less willing to tolerate continued U.S. military engagement. "If it's a civil war, what are we doing there, mixed up in someone else's fight?" Americans may ask.
But if semantics could matter a lot, it is less obvious whether they should influence U.S. policy. Is it just a matter of domestic political games and public perceptions, or does the existence of civil war in Iraq have implications for what can be achieved there and what strategy Washington should pursue?
In fact, there is a civil war in progress in Iraq, one comparable in important respects to other civil wars that have occurred in postcolonial states with weak political institutions. Those cases suggest that the Bush administration's political objective in Iraq -- creating a stable, peaceful, somewhat democratic regime that can survive the departure of U.S. troops -- is unrealistic. Given this unrealistic political objective, military strategy of any sort is doomed to fail almost regardless of whether the administration goes with the "surge" option, as President George W. Bush has proposed, or shifts toward a pure training mission, as advised by the Iraq Study Group.
Even if an increase in the number of U.S. combat troops reduces violence in Baghdad and so buys time for negotiations on power sharing in the current Iraqi government, there is no good reason to expect that subsequent reductions would not revive the violent power struggle. Civil wars are rarely ended by stable power-sharing agreements. When they are, it typically takes combatants who are not highly factionalized and years of fighting to clarify the balance of power. Neither condition is satisfied by Iraq at present. Factionalism among the Sunnis and the Shiites approaches levels seen in Somalia, and multiple armed groups on both sides appear to believe that they could wrest control of the government if U.S. forces left. Such beliefs will not change quickly while large numbers of U.S. troops remain.
As the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad proceeds, the weak Shiite-dominated government is inevitably becoming an open partisan in a nasty civil war between Sunni and Shiite Arabs. As a result, President Bush's commitment to making a "success" of the current government will increasingly amount to siding with the Shiites, a position that is morally dubious and probably not in the interest of either the United States or long-term regional peace and stability. A decisive military victory by a Shiite-dominated government is not possible anytime soon given the favorable conditions for insurgency fought from the Sunni-dominated provinces. Furthermore, this course encourages Sunni nationalists to turn to al Qaeda in Iraq for support against Shiite militias and the Iraqi army. It also essentially aligns Washington with Tehran against the Sunni-dominated states to the west.
As long as the Bush administration remains absolutely committed to propping up the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki or a similarly configured successor, the U.S. government will have limited leverage with almost all of the relevant parties. By contrast, moving away from absolute commitment -- for example, by beginning to shift U.S. combat troops out of the central theaters -- would increase U.S. diplomatic and military leverage on almost all fronts. Doing so would not allow the current or the next U.S. administration to bring a quick end to the civil war, which most likely will last for some time. But it would allow the United States to play a balancing role between the combatants that would be more conducive to reaching, in the long run, a stable resolution in which Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish interests are well represented in a decent Iraqi government. If the Iraqis ever manage to settle on the power-sharing agreement that is the objective of current U.S. policy, it will come only after bitter fighting in the civil war that is already under way.
A civil war is a violent conflict within a country fought by organized groups that aim to take power at the center or in a region, or to change government policies. Everyday usage of the term "civil war" does not entail a clear threshold for how much violence is necessary to qualify a conflict as a civil war, as opposed to terrorism or low-level political strife. Political scientists sometimes use a threshold of at least 1,000 killed over the course of a conflict. Based on this arguably rather low figure, there have been around 125 civil wars since the end of World War II, and there are roughly 20 ongoing today. If that threshold is increased to an average of 1,000 people killed per year, there have still been over 90 civil wars since 1945. (It is often assumed that the prevalence of civil wars is a post-Cold War phenomenon, but in fact the number of ongoing civil wars increased steadily from 1945 to the early 1990s, before receding somewhat to late-1970s levels.) The rate of killing in Iraq -- easily more than 60,000 in the last three years -- puts the conflict in the company of many recent ones that are routinely described as civil wars (for example, those in Algeria, Colombia, Guatemala, Peru, and Sri Lanka). Indeed, even the conservative estimate of 60,000 deaths would make Iraq the ninth-deadliest civil war since 1945 in terms of annual casualties.
A major reason for the prevalence of civil wars is that they have been hard to end. Their average duration since 1945 has been about ten years, with half lasting more than seven years. Their long duration seems to result from the way in which most of these conflicts have been fought: namely, by rebel groups using guerrilla tactics, usually operating in rural regions of postcolonial countries with weak administrative, police, and military capabilities. Civil wars like that of the United States, featuring conventional armies facing off along well-defined fronts, have been highly unusual. Far more typical have been conflicts such as those in Algeria, Colombia, Sri Lanka, and southern and western Sudan. As these cases illustrate, rural guerrilla warfare can be an extremely robust tactic, allowing relatively small numbers of rebels to gain partial control of large amounts of territory for years despite expensive and brutal military campaigns against them.
The civil war in Iraq began in 2004 as a primarily urban guerrilla struggle by Sunni insurgent groups hoping to drive out the United States and to regain the power held by Sunnis under Saddam Hussein. It escalated in 2006 with the proliferation and intensification of violence by Shiite militias, who ostensibly seek to defend Shiites from the Sunni insurgents and who have pursued this end with "ethnic cleansing" and a great deal of gang violence and thuggery.
This sort of urban guerrilla warfare and militia-based conflict differs from the typical post-1945 civil war, but there are analogues. One little-discussed but useful comparison is the violent conflict that wracked Turkish cities between 1977 and 1980. According to standard estimates, fighting among local militias and paramilitaries aligning themselves with "the left" or "the right" killed more than 20 people per day in thousands of attacks and counterattacks, assassinations, and death-squad campaigns. Beginning with a massacre by rightists in the city of Kahramanmaras in December 1978, the left-right conflicts spiraled into ethnic violence, pitting Sunnis against Alawites against Kurds against Shiites in various cities.
As in Iraq today, the organization of the Turkish combatants was highly local and factionalized, especially on the left; the fighting often looked like urban gang violence. But, also as in Iraq, the gangs and militias had shady ties to the political parties controlling the democratically elected national parliament as well. (Indeed, one might describe the civil conflicts in Turkey then and in Iraq now as "militiaized party politics.") Intense political rivalries between the leading Turkish politicians, along with their politically useful ties to the paramilitaries, prevented the democratic regime from moving decisively to end the violence. Much as in Iraq today, the elected politicians fiddled while the cities burned. Fearing that the lower ranks of the military were becoming infected with the violent factionalism of the society at large, military leaders undertook a coup in September 1980, after which they unleashed a major wave of repression against militias and gang members of both the left and the right. At the price of military rule (for what turned out to be three years), the urban terror was ended.
Especially if the United States withdraws from Iraq, the odds are good that a military coup in which some subset of the Iraqi army leadership declares that the elected government is not working and that a strong hand is necessary to impose order will result. It is unlikely, however, that a military regime in Iraq would be able to follow the example of the one in Turkey in the early 1980s. The Turkish military was a strong institution with enough autonomy and enough loyalty to the Kemalist national ideal that it could act independently of the divisions tearing the country apart. Although the army favored the right more than the left, Turkish citizens saw it as largely standing apart from the factional fighting -- and thus as a credible intervenor. By contrast, the Iraqi army and, even more, the Iraqi police force appear to have little autonomy from society and politics. The police look like militia members in different uniforms, sometimes with some U.S. training. The army has somewhat more institutional coherence and autonomy, but it is Shiite-dominated and has few functional mixed units. Some evidence suggests that high-level figures in the army are facilitating, if not actively pursuing, ethnic cleansing. Accordingly, a power grab by a subset of the army leadership would be widely interpreted as a power grab by a particular Shiite faction -- and could lead the army to break up along sectarian and, possibly, factional lines.
What happened in Lebanon in 1975-76 may offer better insights into what is likely to happen in Iraq. As violence between Christian militias and Palestine Liberation Organization factions started to escalate in 1975, the Lebanese army leadership initially stayed out of the conflict, realizing that the army would splinter if it tried to intervene. But as the violence escalated, the army eventually did intervene -- and broke apart. Lebanon then entered a long period of conflict during which an array of Christian, Sunni, Shiite, and PLO militias fought one another off and on (as much within sectarian groups as between them). Syrian and Israeli military involvement sometimes reduced and sometimes escalated the violence. Alliances shifted, often in surprising ways. The Syrians, for example, initially sided with the Christians against the PLO.
A similar scenario is already playing out in Iraq. Whether U.S. forces stay or go, Iraq south of the Kurdish areas will probably look more and more like Lebanon during its long civil war. Effective political authority will devolve to regions, cities, and even neighborhoods. After a period of ethnic cleansing and fighting to draw lines, an equilibrium with lower-level, more intermittent sectarian violence will set in, punctuated by larger campaigns financed and aided by foreign powers. Violence and exploitation within sects will most likely worsen, as the neighborhood militias and gangs that carried out the ethnic cleansing increasingly fight among themselves over turf, protection rackets, and trade. As in Lebanon, there will probably be a good deal of intervention by neighboring states -- especially Iran -- but it will not necessarily bring them great strategic gains. To the contrary, it may bring them a great deal of grief, just as it has the United States.
LEARNING TO SHARE?
When they do finally end, civil wars typically conclude with a decisive military victory for one side. Of the roughly 55 civil wars fought for control of a central government (as opposed to for secession or regional autonomy) since 1955, fully 75 percent ended with a clear victory for one side. The government ultimately crushed the rebels in at least 40 percent of the 55 cases, whereas the rebels won control of the center in 35 percent. Power-sharing agreements that divide up control of a central government among the combatants have been far less common. By my reckoning, at best, 9 of the 55 cases, or about 16 percent, ended this way. Examples include El Salvador in 1992, South Africa in 1994, and Tajikistan in 1997.
If successful power-sharing agreements rarely end civil wars, it is not for lack of effort. Negotiations on power sharing are common in the midst of civil wars, as are failed attempts, often with the help of outside intervention by states or international institutions, to implement such agreements. The point of departure for both the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and the rebel attack that ended it, for example, was the failure of an extensive power-sharing agreement between the Rwandan government, Hutu opposition parties, and the Tutsi insurgents.
Power-sharing agreements rarely work in large part because civil wars cause combatants to be organized in a way that produces mutually reinforcing fears and temptations: combatants are afraid that the other side will use force to grab power and at the same time are tempted to use force to grab power themselves. If one militia fears that another will try to use force to win control of the army or a city, then it has a strong incentive to use force to prevent this. The other militia understands this incentive, which gives it a good reason to act exactly as the first militia feared. In the face of these mutual, self-fulfilling fears, agreements on paper about dividing up or sharing control of political offices, the military, or, say, oil revenues are often just that -- paper. They may survive while a powerful third party implicitly threatens to prevent violent power grabs (as the United States has done in Iraq), but they are likely to disintegrate otherwise.
The Bush administration has attempted to help put in place an Iraqi government based on a power-sharing agreement among Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish leaders, but it has done so in the midst of an escalating civil war. The historical evidence suggests that this is a Sisyphean task. The effective provision of security by an intervening power may even undermine the belief that the government could stand on its own without the third party's backing. U.S. military intervention in Iraq is thus unlikely to produce a government that can survive by itself whether the troops stay ten more months or ten more years.
Could Iraq in 2007 be one of the rare cases in which power sharing successfully ends a civil war? Examining earlier such cases suggests that they have two distinctive features that make power sharing feasible. First, a stable agreement is typically reached only after a period of fighting has clarified the relative military capabilities of the various sides. Each side needs to come to the conclusion that it cannot get everything it wants by violence. For example, the Dayton agreement that divided power among the parties to the Bosnian war required not only NATO intervention to get them to the table and enforce the deal but also more than three years of intense fighting, which had brought the combatants essentially to a stalemate by the summer of 1995. (Even then, the agreement would not have held, and the government would surely have collapsed, if not for a continued third-party guarantee from NATO and effective sovereign control by the Office of the High Representative created under Dayton.)
Second, a power-sharing deal tends to hold only when every side is relatively cohesive. How can one party expect that another will live up to its obligations if it has no effective control over its own members? Attempts to construct power-sharing deals to end civil wars in Burundi and Somalia, for example, have been frustrated for years by factionalism within rebel groups. Conversely, the consolidation of power by one rebel faction can sometimes enable a peace agreement -- as occurred prior to the deal that ended the first war between Khartoum and southern Sudanese rebels in 1972.
Neither of these conditions holds for Iraq. First, there are many significant (and well-armed) Sunni groups that seem to believe that without U.S. troops present, they could win back control of Baghdad and the rest of the country. And there are many Shiites, including many with guns, who believe that as the majority group they can and will maintain political domination of Iraq. Moreover, among the Shiites, Muqtada al-Sadr seems to believe that he could wrest control from his rivals if the United States left. Indeed, if the United States withdraws, violence between Shiite militias will likely escalate further. Open fighting between Shiite militias might, in turn, reaffirm the Sunni insurgents' belief that they will be able to retake power.
Second, both the Sunnis and the Shiites are highly factionalized, at the national political level and at the level of neighborhood militias and gangs. Shiite politicians are divided into at least four major parties, and one of these, Dawa (the party of Prime Minister Maliki), has historically been divided into three major factions. Sadr is constantly described in the U.S. media as the leader of the largest and most aggressive Shiite militia in Iraq, but it has never been clear if he can control what the militias who praise his name actually do. The Iraqi Sunnis are similarly divided among tribes outside of Baghdad, and the organizational anarchy of Sunni Islam seems to make groupwide coordination extremely difficult.
If Maliki had the authority of a Nelson Mandela, and a party organization with the (relative) coherence and dominance of the African National Congress in the antiapartheid struggle, he would be able to move more effectively to incorporate and co-opt various Sunni leaders into the government without fear of undermining his own power relative to that of his various Shiite political adversaries. He would also be better able to make credible commitments to deliver on promises made to Sunni leaders. As it is, intra-Shiite political rivalries render the new government almost completely dysfunctional. Its ministers see their best option as cultivating militias (or ties to militias) for current and coming fights, extortion rackets, and smuggling operations.
Tragically, more civil war may be the only way to reach a point where power sharing could become a feasible solution to the problem of governing Iraq. More fighting holds the prospect of clarifying the balance of forces and creating pressures for internal consolidation on one or both sides, thereby providing stronger grounds for either a victory by one side or a stable negotiated settlement. Should the latter eventually come into view, some sort of regional or international peacekeeping force will almost surely be required to help bring it into being. The Iraq Study Group report is quite right that Washington should be setting up diplomatic mechanisms for such eventualities, sooner rather than later.
Hopefully, this analysis is too pessimistic. Perhaps Iraq's elected politicians will muddle through, and perhaps the Iraqi army will, with U.S. support, develop the capability and motivation to act effectively and evenhandedly against insurgents and militias on all sides. The optimistic scenario is so unlikely, however, that policymakers must consider the implications if civil war in Iraq continues and escalates.
Suppose that the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad continues and Sunni insurgent groups and Shiite militias continue to fight one another, U.S. troops, and civilians. If the Bush administration sticks to its "stay the course toward victory" approach, of which the surge option is the latest incarnation, it will become increasingly apparent that this policy amounts to siding with the Shiites in an extremely vicious Sunni-Shiite war. U.S. troops may play some positive role in preventing human rights abuses by Iraqi army units and slowing down violence and ethnic cleansing. But as long as the United States remains committed to trying to make this Iraqi government "succeed" on the terms President Bush has laid out, there is no escaping the fact that the central function of U.S. troops will be to backstop Maliki's government or its successor. That security gives Maliki and his coalition the ability to tacitly pursue (or acquiesce in) a dirty war against actual and imagined Sunni antagonists while publicly supporting "national reconciliation."
This policy is hard to defend on the grounds of either morality or national interest. Even if Shiite thugs and their facilitators in the government could succeed in ridding Baghdad of Sunnis, it is highly unlikely that they would be able to suppress the insurgency in the Sunni-majority provinces in western Iraq or to prevent attacks in Baghdad and other places where Shiites live. In other words, the current U.S. policy probably will not lead to a decisive military victory anytime soon, if ever. And even if it did, would Washington want it to? The rise of a brutal, ethnically exclusivist, Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad would further the perception of Iran as the ascendant regional power. Moreover, U.S. backing for such a government would give Iraqi Sunnis and the Sunni-dominated countries in the Middle East no reason not to support al Qaeda as an ally in Iraq. By spurring these states to support Sunni forces fighting the Shiite government, such backing would ultimately pit the United States against those states in a proxy war.
To avail itself of more attractive policy options, the Bush administration (or its successor) must break off its unconditional military support for the Shiite-dominated government that it helped bring to power in Baghdad. Washington's commitment to Maliki's government undermines U.S. diplomatic and military leverage with almost every relevant party in the country and the region. Starting to move away from this commitment by shifting combat troops out of the central theaters could, accordingly, increase U.S. leverage with almost all parties. The current Shiite political leadership would then have incentives to try to gain back U.S. military support by, for example, making more genuine efforts to incorporate Sunnis into the government or reining in Shiite militias. (Admittedly, whether it has the capacity to do either is unclear.) As U.S. troops departed, Sunni insurgent groups would begin to see the United States less as a committed ally of the "Persians" and more as a potential source of financial or even military backing. Washington would also have more leverage with Iran and Syria, because the U.S. military would not be completely bogged down in Baghdad and Anbar Province -- and because both of those countries have a direct interest in avoiding increased chaos in Iraq.
Again, none of this would make for a quick end to the civil war, which will probably last for some time in any event. But it would allow the United States to move toward a balancing role that would be more conducive to ultimately gaining a stable resolution in which Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish interests are represented in a decent Iraqi government.
Despite the horrific violence currently tearing Iraq apart, in the long run there is hope for the return of a viable Iraqi state based on a political bargain among Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish leaders. Indeed, they may end up cooperating on terms set by a constitution similar to the current one -- although only after a significant period of fighting. The basis for an Iraqi state is the common interest of all parties, especially the elites, in the efficient exploitation of oil resources. Continued civil war could persuade Shiite leaders that they cannot fully enjoy oil profits and political control without adequately buying off Sunni groups, who can maintain a costly insurgency. And civil war could persuade the Sunnis that a return to Sunni dominance and Shiite quiescence is impossible. Kurdish leaders have an interest in the autonomy they have already secured but with access to functioning oil pipelines leading south.
There are, of course, other possible outcomes of continued civil war in Iraq, including a formal breakup of the country or a decisive victory south of the Kurdish areas by a Sunni- or Shiite-dominated military organization that would impose a harsh dictatorship. Insofar as the United States can influence the ultimate outcome, neither of these is as good a long-term policy objective as a power-sharing agreement. As the Iraq Study Group has argued, attempting to impose some kind of partition would probably increase the killing. In addition, there are no obvious defensible borders to separate Sunnis from Shiites; the Sunnis would not rest content with an oil-poor patch of western Iraq; it is not clear that new Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish states would be much more peaceful than Iraq is at present; and there would be considerable economic inefficiencies from making three states from one in this area. It is conceivable that civil war will someday lead the combatants in Iraq to agree on Iraq's partition anyway, but this is a decision for Iraqis rather than outsiders to make.
Most civil wars end with a decisive military victory -- and this one may as well -- but a decisive military victory and political dictatorship for some Sunni or Shiite group is even less appealing as a long-term U.S. policy objective. A decisive military victory for a Shiite-dominated faction would favor both Iran and al Qaeda, and a decisive victory for Sunni insurgents would amount to restoring oppressive minority rule, a major reason for the current mess.
Two less extreme outcomes would be much better for most Iraqis, for regional peace and stability, and for U.S. interests in the region. The first would be a power-sharing agreement among a small number of Iraqi actors who actually commanded a military force and controlled territory, to be stabilized at least initially by an international peacekeeping operation. The second would be the rise of a dominant military force whose leader had both the inclination and the ability to cut deals with local "warlords" or political bosses from all other groups. Neither outcome can be imposed at this point by the United States. Both could be reached only through fighting and bargaining carried out primarily by Iraqis.
To facilitate either outcome, the U.S. government would have to pursue a policy of balancing, using diplomatic, financial, and possibly some military tools to encourage the perception that no one group or faction can win without sharing power and resources. A balancing policy might be pursued from "offshore," implemented mainly by supplying monetary and material support to tactical allies, or "onshore," possibly drawing on air strikes or other forms of U.S. military intervention originating from bases in Iraq or close by. The mechanics would necessarily depend on a complicated set of diplomatic, political, and military contingencies. The important point is that the only alternative to some form of balancing policy would be to support decisive victory by one side or the other, which would probably be undesirable even in the unlikely event that victory came soon.
Even if the coming "surge" in U.S. combat troops manages to lower the rate of killing in Baghdad, very little in relevant historical experience or the facts of this case suggests that U.S. troops would not be stuck in Iraq for decades, keeping sectarian and factional power struggles at bay while fending off jihadist and nationalist attacks. The more likely scenario is that the Bush administration's commitment to the "success" of the Maliki government will make the United States passively complicit in a massive campaign of ethnic cleansing. Standing back to adopt a more evenhanded policy in the civil war already in progress is a more sensible and defensible course. To pursue it, the Bush administration or its successor would first have to give up on the idea that a few more U.S. brigades or a change in U.S. tactics will make for an Iraq that can, in President Bush's words, "govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself" once U.S. troops are gone.
(James D. Fearon is Geballe Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences and Professor of Political Science at Stanford University.)
4. Why are So Few Americans Listening to Truth from Within?
Is Lt. Watada an Isolated Case of Military Dissent?
By SARAH OLSON/Counterpunch
The Army refilled five charges against 1st Lt. Ehren Watada late last week, paving the way for a possible second court-martial for the highest-ranking member of the military to publicly refuse to deploy to Iraq. When his first court-martial ended in a mistrial on February 7th, serious debate on the emerging opposition to the war within the military, the legality of war, and the right of military personnel to publicly disobey illegal orders had not yet begun to surface. Though it's unclear that a second court-martial may legally proceed, the possibility brings these issues back into focus.
I was one of two journalists subpoenaed to testify in Lt. Watada's court-martial. I objected on the grounds that members of the military must be free to speak with journalists without fear of retribution or censure. That so few critical voices in the military are given an ongoing platform in the media contributes to an inaccurate view of the Iraq War and erroneous ideas about how to ameliorate the problems. Supporting the troops requires that we listen to what they have to say.
Opposition is growing
Army Specialist Mark Wilkerson was just sentenced to 7 months in prison for refusing to return to Iraq. Last year, he wrote: In the year I was in Iraq, I saw kids waving American flags in the first months. Then they threw rocks. Then they planted IEDs. Then they blew themselves up in city squares full of people. Hundreds of billions of American dollars, thousands of American lives, and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives have al been wasted in this war. I feel as though many more soldiers want to say things like this, but are afraid of retribution, and who's really listening anyway.
Ivan Brobeck, a Marine who went to Canada rather than return to Iraq, was released from prison on February 6th, just in time for the birth of his first child. Army Medic Augustine Aguayo awaits a March 6th court-martial in Germany and is facing up to 7 years in prison. He's a conscientious objector who refused to load his gun during the year he spent as a combat medic in Iraq. Despite nearly three years attempted to have his conscientious objector status approved, Aguayo was ordered back to Iraq. When his commanding officers threatened to send him to Iraq in shackles, he climbed out his bedroom window and went AWOL into Germany. According to the Pentagon, there are at least 8,000 soldiers who have quietly AWOL. Hundreds more have gone to Canada.
The Appeal for Redress has received over 1600 active duty signatures. The online petition says, "As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq. Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price." What began as a simple online petition has exploded into public dissent: soldiers are attending anti-war demonstrations, holding press conferences. Liam Madden is one of the appeal's founders, and embarked on a cross-country speaking tour just two weeks after being released from the Marines.
Last year's Zogby poll showed that 72% of soldiers wanted to leave Iraq by the end of 2006. Opinion has not grown more sanguine. Though soldiers have stinging criticisms of the Iraq War we rarely get to hear them. Instead, Lt. Watada is relentlessly juxtaposed with soldiers who have no apparent qualms about their orders.
Speaking against the war
When Lt. Watada announced his opposition to the Iraq War on June 7, 2006, many called him a coward. He took an oath, they argued, and must obey orders regardless of the war's legality. Even those sympathetic to Lt. Watada's beliefs sometimes appear uneasy with his public opposition to the Iraq War, especially when speaking to members of the press.
Whether members of the military should abandon individual responsibility when they go to war is a debate worth having. While members of the military agree to certain speech restrictions, the extent of those limitations is by no means immutable. In fact, it is one of several questions in Lt. Watada's prosecution.
Members of the military agree not to speak contemptuously about the commander-in-chief. Lt. Watada expressed himself respectfully, out of uniform, off base, and after work hours. It seems that the specter of military law is so dark and mysterious a force that ordinary civilians have ceded their ability to question the authority of those that wield it.
Why is our civilian society so comfortable allowing the military to determine the parameters of acceptable speech during a time of war? Lt. Watada along with the thousands of men and women who are returning from Iraq today is uniquely positioned to speak about the military mission in Iraq. What do we lose when we allow the systematic exclusion of their voices?
The Iraq War is messy. It's inconvenient. The absence of soldiers denouncing the war in mainstream consciousness likely has something to do with the public's unwillingness to face the war itself. What does it mean if this war is actually illegal? In what ways is each of us complicit in the perpetration of a war not thoroughly vetted by the media, debated by congress, nor considered by the public?
The starkness of these answers is reflected in the faces of the men and women returning from battle. But if we don't hear from Ivan Brobeck, Mark Wilkerson, Augustine Aguayo and any of the hundreds of Iraq veterans return to the United States isolated and disillusioned, it's easier to believe that everything is going just fine.
(Sarah Olson is a freelance journalist. She can be reached at: email@example.com)
5. Billions Over Baghdad -- by JOHN B. TAYLOR/NY Times
EARLIER this month, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing that criticized the decision to ship American currency into Iraq just after Saddam Hussein’s government fell. As the committee’s chairman, Henry Waxman of California, put it in his opening statement, “Who in their right mind would send 360 tons of cash into a war zone?” His criticism attracted wide attention, feeding antiwar sentiment and even providing material for comedians. But a careful investigation of the facts behind the currency shipment paints a far different picture.
The currency that was shipped into Iraq in the days after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government was part of a successful financial operation that had been carefully planned months before the invasion. Its aims were to prevent a financial collapse in Iraq, put the financial system on a firm footing and pave the way for a new Iraqi currency. Contrary to the criticism that such currency shipments were ill advised or poorly monitored, this financial plan was carried out with precision and was a complete success.
The plan, which had two stages, was designed to work for Iraq’s cash economy, in which checks or electronic funds transfers were virtually unknown and shipments of tons of cash were commonplace.
In the first stage, the United States would pay Iraqi government employees and pensioners in American dollars. These were obtained from Saddam Hussein’s accounts in American banks, which were frozen after he attacked Kuwait in 1990 and amounted to about $1.7 billion. Since the dollar is a strong and reliable currency, paying in dollars would create financial stability until a new Iraqi governing body was established and could design a new currency. The second stage of the plan was to print a new Iraqi currency for which Iraqis could exchange their old dinars.
The final details of the plan were reviewed in the White House Situation Room by President Bush and the National Security Council on March 12, 2003. I attended that meeting. Treasury Secretary John Snow opened the presentation with a series of slides. “As soon as control over the Iraqi government is established,” the first slide read, we plan to “use United States dollars to pay civil servants and pensioners. Later, depending on the situation on the ground, we would decide about the new currency.” Another slide indicated that we could ship $100 million in small denominations to Baghdad on one week’s notice. President Bush approved the plan with the understanding that we would review the options for a new Iraqi currency later, when we knew the situation on the ground.
To carry out the first stage of the plan, President Bush issued an executive order on March 20, 2003, instructing United States banks to relinquish Mr. Hussein’s frozen dollars. From that money, 237.3 tons in $1, $5, $10 and $20 bills were sent to Iraq. During April, United States Treasury officials in Baghdad worked with the military and the Iraqi Finance Ministry officials — who had painstakingly kept the payroll records despite the looting of the ministry — to make sure the right people were paid. The Iraqis supplied extensive documentation of each recipient of a pension or paycheck. Treasury officials who watched over the payment process in Baghdad in those first few weeks reported a culture of good record keeping.
On April 29, Jay Garner, the retired lieutenant general who headed the reconstruction effort in Iraq at the time, reported to Washington that the payments had lifted the mood of people in Baghdad during those first few confusing days. Even more important, a collapse of the financial system was avoided.
This success paved the way for the second stage of the plan. In only a few months, 27 planeloads (in 747 jumbo jets) of new Iraqi currency were flown into Iraq from seven printing plants around the world. Armed convoys delivered the currency to 240 sites around the country. From there, it was distributed to 25 million Iraqis in exchange for their old dinars, which were then dyed, collected into trucks, shipped to incinerators and burned or simply buried.
The new currency proved to be very popular. It provided a sound underpinning for the financial system and remains strong, appreciating against the dollar even in the past few months. Hence, the second part of the currency plan was also a success.
The story of the currency plan is one of several that involved large sums of cash. For example, just before the war, Saddam Hussein stole $1 billion from the Iraqi central bank. American soldiers found that money in his palaces and shipped it to a base in Kuwait, where the United States Army’s 336th Finance Command kept it safe. To avoid any appearance of wrongdoing, American soldiers in Kuwait wore pocket-less shorts and T-shirts whenever they counted the money.
Later, American forces used the found cash to build schools and hospitals, and to repair roads and bridges. Gen. David Petraeus has described these projects as more successful than the broader reconstruction effort.
But that wasn’t the only source of dollars. Because the new Iraqi dinar was so popular, the central bank bought billions of United States dollars to keep it from appreciating too much. As a result, billions in cash accumulated in the vaults of the central bank. Later, with American help, the Iraqi central bank deposited these billions at the New York Federal Reserve Bank, where they could earn interest.
Finally, when Iraq started to earn dollars selling oil, the United States transferred the cash revenue to the Finance Ministry, where it was used to finance government operations, including salaries and reconstruction. Many of these transfers occurred in 2004, long after the financial stabilization operation had concluded. Iraqi Finance Ministry officials had already demonstrated that they were serious about keeping the controls they had in place. The 360 tons mentioned by Henry Waxman includes these transfers as well as the 237.3 tons shipped in 2003 in the stabilization.
One of the most successful and carefully planned operations of the war has been held up in this hearing for criticism and even ridicule. As these facts show, praise rather than ridicule is appropriate: praise for the brave experts in the United States Treasury who went to Iraq in April 2003 and established a working Finance Ministry and central bank, praise for the Iraqis in the Finance Ministry who carefully preserved payment records in the face of looting, praise for the American soldiers in the 336th Finance Command who safely kept found money, and yes, even praise for planning and follow-through back in the United States.
(John B. Taylor, under secretary of the Treasury from 2001 to 2005, is the author of “Global Financial Warriors.”)
6. The Same Old Songs
There is a gaping hole for a new anti-war anthem that will capture the moment and the mood
By Duncan Campbell/ Guardian UK
'And it's one, two, three, what are we fighting for?..." Forty or so years ago, no anti-Vietnam war rally was complete without someone trying to sing the I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag by Country Joe and the Fish. Country Joe McDonald himself is still very much with us, living in Berkeley, still protesting and promoting versions of his 1965 song that now incorporate the war in Iraq.
Today tens of thousands of anti-war protesters are due to assemble in George Square in Glasgow and Hyde Park in London, when they will hear a new version of the other great anti-war anthem of that era - War (What Is It Good For?), originally sung by Edwin Starr in 1970. The latest interpretation is by Ugly Rumours, an anti-tribute band named after the group in which the prime minister performed in his long-haired youth.
London demonstrators will also be entertained by Ed Harcourt singing Masters of War, written in 1963 by Bob Dylan about the military-industrial complex that profits from the fighting (and Joan Baez may even be appearing). These are all great songs, but where is the defining anti-war anthem of today?
The first world war, as anyone who has seen the musical Oh! What a Lovely War will know, produced dozens of haunting songs from When This Lousy War Is Over to The Bells of Hell. In the second world war, everyone did know what they were fighting for, which may account for the fact that there were fewer in the way of protest songs, but the Vietnam war brought a bundle to the fore in addition to the contributions of Country Joe and Edwin Starr.
The cold war gave us Randy Newman's still highly topical Political Science ("No one likes us / I don't know why / We may not be perfect / But heaven knows we try ... Let's drop the big one now"), and the conflict in Northern Ireland prompted Billy Connolly to write a beautiful little song called Sergeant, Where's Mine? ("All your talk of computers and sunshine and skis / All I'm askin' is - sergeant, where's mine?"). And from the Falklands war we had Elvis Costello's Shipbuilding, as sung by Robert Wyatt.
Nor is there a shortage now of songs about what is happening in Iraq. Bloc Party's Helicopter, Hard-Fi's Middle Eastern Holiday and Elbow's Leaders of the Free World are just three suggested by a colleague, and there are many from the other side of the Atlantic; but there is still the lack of a defining anthem.
Andrew Murray, of the Stop the War Coalition, says that every week he is sent new anti-war songs, but they are mainly in a traditional folk style, and he has not yet come across a new song that has quite the anthemic, rallying resonance of Fixin'-to-Die or War. He said that the anti-war movement has had plenty of support from writers, actors and artists, but not quite as much as he would have hoped from the musical fraternity. Ms Dynamite was at the big 2003 rally, Damon Albarn has also attended protests, and Nigel Kennedy and Brian Eno have been active - but Murray says there is a gaping hole for a new song.
There is no shortage of bands and musicians of all generations committed to political action, whether in terms of climate change or poverty, and there is no lack of willingness to help. This summer an army of young and middle-aged musicians will take part in Live Earth to draw attention to the dangers of global warming. But it is one thing to offer one's services and another to compose that elusive song that somehow captures the moment and the mood.
Murray says that if anyone can come up with such a song they will be guaranteed a big audience. Out there somewhere there must be a musician lurking with lyrics scrawled on the back of a flyer just waiting for their moment.
In the meantime, it's one, two, three ...