July 12, 2006

The Important Stuff Beneath the "Civil War" Headline

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Projo headline over today's John E. Mulligan story describing Senator Jack Reed’s assessment of Iraq blares “civil war”…

Reed describes 'civil war' in Iraq…A "low-grade civil war" is under way in Iraq that could erupt into full-scale war among the nation's rival ethnic and religious groups, Sen. Jack Reed said yesterday.
After Senator Reed’s press conference, at a lecture given at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Zalmay Khalilzad, the United States Ambassador to Iraq, was asked specifically to respond to the "civil war" assessment …
Q: Maya Beydoun from Al Jazeera…Senators Biden and Reed today have described what's going in Iraq as a civil war, whereas you are downplaying it now. So, I mean, for the American administration, when will -- how do you define civil war?

A: I believe that this is a matter of definition, of course. And there is a sectarian conflict focused particularly in Baghdad right now. But the state institutions are holding.

The leaders of the different communities are in the government. They say they want to stay in the government. And therefore because of that, because of the desire of the leaders to work together, and they are, and the state institutions to hold together, I do not believe that what's happening could be described in terms of just what I described as a civil war. But there is significant sectarian violence, there's no question about that.

Though they may not agree on what to call it, the Senators and the Ambassador do agree on how the essential nature of the war in Iraq has evolved; sectarian conflict has replaced an insurgency as the key driver of violence. The war in Iraq is no longer a concerted effort to drive the U.S. out, but a fight for control of Iraqi governance. Here are Senators Reed and Biden again…
Over the past weekend, apparently in reprisal for Sunni attacks of Shiite mosques, the militia staged a broad-daylight reprisal that, according to Reed's theory, was partially intended as a show of force for the benefit of al-Maliki and the government....

"If you don't call that a nascent civil war, I don't know what it is," Biden added. "I think it exceeds the danger of the insurgency."

Ambassador Khalilzad sees the same relative danger, with sectarianism eclipsing the insurgency…
A year ago, terrorism and the insurgency against the coalition and the Iraqi security forces were the principal source of instability. Particularly since the bombing of the Golden Mosque in February, violent sectarianism is now the main challenge. This sectarianism is the source of frequent tragedies on the streets of Baghdad. It's imperative for the new Iraqi government to make major progress in dealing with this challenge in the next six months….
So if we can agree on what the conflict is (save for whether sectarian violence automatically constitutes a civil war or not), can we also agree on a best course of action?

In broad brush strokes, yes. Senators Reed and Biden and Ambassador Khalilzad agree that Iraq's sectarian militias are not beyond redemption and that many can convinced to pursue their interests peacefully rather than through arms. Senator Biden singles out the importance of reaching out to Sunni sects…

"In the absence of a political solution, the Sunni insurgents are not going to stand down and the [Shiite] militia violence won't stop," Biden said. "We have to cut this Gordian knot. The [Shiite]-led government has to take significant steps to bring the Sunnis in, and they have to move against the [Shiite] militia and guarantee the Sunnis a share of the oil revenues."
Ambassador Khalilzad discusses the government's outreach to Iraq's sects without singling out Sunnis as the most intransigent…
The new government's effort to enhance the unity of the Iraqi people will be channeled through Prime Minister Maliki's National Reconciliation and Dialogue Project. This is a bold initiative which puts all of the toughest issues on the table for resolution.

The central goal of the National Reconciliation Project is to bring insurgent elements who are currently in the armed opposition into the political process. Many insurgents have fought the coalition and the Iraqi government as a result of misplaced fears that the United States was seeking to occupy Iraq indefinitely or was motivated by a sectarian agenda. Now many are considering the pursuit of their goals by means other than violence….

Biden’s remarks, however, tilt uncomfortably towards appeasement – he inexplicably mentions moving against Shiite militias, but not Sunni ones -- while Ambassador Khalilzad is explicit that sectarian groups must renounce violence before entering the governing process...
Prime Minister Maliki understands the importance of reaching out to the maximum extent to groups who are willing to lay down their arms, provided they accept the new Iraqi order and fully cooperate in helping target those who persist in engaging in terrorism. We support this view because it will help to reduce the violence in Iraq and support other measures to defeat the terrorists.

A chasm has been developing between al Qaeda and those Sunni Arabs in Iraq who have been part of the armed opposition. Previously, many Sunni Arab insurgents saw al Qaeda operations as beneficial for their own cause. Now, the Sunni Arabs increasingly understand that the terrorists are not interested in the future of Iraq, and that al Qaeda's leaders see Iraqis as cannon fodder in an effort to instigate a war of civilizations.

Finally, there is one area where Senators Biden and Reed seem to be ahead of the official administration position. Senator Reed reiterates a point he made earlier this week; more non-military resources are needed in Iraq to speed reconstruction and make it obvious that it is our side that is helping to build a better future for the average Iraqi…
Both men stressed that they think there have been significant military and political gains in Iraq -- particularly in the training and equipping of Iraqi forces. They said there remains a pathway to a stable, democratic Iraq -- but one full of pitfalls and requiring a greater U.S. commitment to costly economic rebuilding work….

[Senator Reed] said American military leaders have told him repeatedly that "the single most decisive and effective thing we can do to move toward the most favorable outcome" is to step up the pace of civilian reconstruction assistance to Iraq.

Ambassador Khalilzad also talks about more resources for economic and infrastructure development, but in a not very comforting way. The Ambassador focuses achieving development through old-style international bureaucracies…
In addition, a number of countries and firms, including major energy companies, have approached the Iraqi government proposing to increase their involvement in Iraq, to make investment in important Iraqi economic sectors and to commit to binding contracts. These developments represent a shift reflecting our calculation that the new Iraq is increasingly likely to succeed.

The Iraqi government has secured an agreement with the United Nations to co-chair a process to develop a compact between Iraq and the international community. Under this compact, Iraq will commit to specific goals and timelines for economic and other reforms, in exchange for commitments for assistance from coalition allies, the IMF, the World Bank, and other nations, including those who may have opposed Iraq's liberation but who now have a stake in seeing a prosperous Iraq.

The programs discussed by the Ambassador have histories of being too top-heavy and too hyper-bureaucratic to quickly and effectively get aid to people on the street. Similar programs have failed to produce results in much more tranquil circumstances. A more direct American plan for increasing the flow of non-military aid to Iraq needs serious attention and discussion in this country.

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If our good Congressmen and Senators took half of the waste and pork out of the federal budget they could easily help finance reconstruction in Iraq from the surplus. Why aren’t Reed and Biden soliciting our allies and anyone else who has anything to gain from a solid Iraqi republic? Instead they play party politics.

Granted, we enjoy the relative peace of a prosperous and safe society here in our country. We have our factions and philosophical and cultural battles but these rarely descend into physical violence and killing. The Shiites and Sunnis must either sit down and iron out their differences or they will eventually annihilate each other. But like any bad relationship (particularly an ancient and religious one like this) the deep pain and lack of trust among the warring parties must first be addressed. Leaders from both sides must lay down their arms and their hatred before progress toward a lasting peace can occur.

Sectarian violence fueled by religious zealotry and revenge is never a solution. But until the warring factions see this for themselves and begin to talk the violence will continue.

In my humble opinion the use of the term "civil war" is off the mark and only adds fuel to the fire there, and distorts the facts thereby misleading Americans about what is actually happening on the ground in Iraq. Right now there is only one government in Iraq, and therefore there is no civil war.


Posted by: Sol Venturi at July 12, 2006 9:59 PM