No civil war and Massive Casualties
There were major gun battles in Mosul and Samarra on Wednesday, and bombs went off on the road to Baghdad airport and at Iskandariyah to the south.
They don’t hate our freedoms. They hate US policies. This conclusion had been obvious from extensive polling done by Ron Inglehart, Gallup, Zogby and others, but has now also been stressed by the Defense Science Board of the Pentagon.
The two big policies of the US that people in the Muslim world mind most are knee-jerk support for Israeli actions in the Occupied Territories and the US invasion and military occupation of Iraq. Before the Iraq war, it was mainly the Palestine issue that drove poor opinion of the US. A further issue that annoys people is US support for authoritarian governments in the Middle East. Despite paying lip service to democratization, the US is if anything more complaisant toward strong-arm tactics by rulers like Tunisia’s Zayn al-Din Bin Ali, since these are deployed against Muslims fundamentalists. Bin Ali just won a fourth term as president [for life]. Apparently Washington’s insistence on democratization is reserved for states that take a posture of enmity or defiance toward the United States.
The Pentagon report is critical of calls for better public diplomacy in the absence of policy change. We all remember the commercial about the brokerage firm peddling a loser stock, and the boss says, “Let’s put some lipstick on this pig.” Well, that is how Muslim audiences would respond to attempts to pretty up US policies.
The one big lesson that George W. Bush may yet learn before going out of office is that having power and having authority are not the same thing, and that power without legitimate authority has severe limitations. There are, by the way, 1.2 billion Muslims in the world, and by the time world population levels off at around 9 billion mid-century, it may be the biggest religion in the world, outstripping Christianity, for reasons of demographic growth. The US can’t afford to have that many people angry at it and plotting its demise.
AP reports that 38 small Shiite parties have threatened to pull out of the united Shiite list being constructed by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. They complain that the list is dominated by theocratic politicians. Spencer Ackerman at Iraq’d seems to me to have, uncharacteristically, misunderstood this development. This revolt is not coming from the Sadrists but from the secularists. I suspect Ahmad Chalabi is the one really agitating here. Frankly, the secular Shiites are so little organized and such a small political grouping so far, that they don’t matter that much. The big Shiite parties are Dawa, Islamic Dawa, Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and the Sadrists. All of them do want Islamic law as the law of the land, and some may want eventual clerical rule.
I suspect that the secularists are afraid of not being given very many slots at the top of the list, which maeans that they may not actually get seated. If a list has 200 candidates on it, ranked 1 to 200, and the party gets 30 percent of the national vote, it will be able to seat about 90 of its candidates– i.e. 1 through 90 of its ranked list. So I suspect these tiny parties are just trying to improve their representation at the top, where it counts. It does not seem to me important whether they join the mega-list or not. If they don’t, most Shiites will still vote for Sistani’s list, which includes Dawa and SCIRI, the biggies.
The important split would occur if Muqtada and the other Sadrists don’t join the Sistani list. Even then, such a split might not hurt Shiite representation in parliament. If Sistani’s list got 40 percent of the vote, and Muqtada’s got 15 percent, the Shiites would still have their majority in parliament.
Meanwhile, Hussein Shahristani, the head of Sistani’s effort to create a united list, insisted that secularists would indeed feature among the top candidates. He also stressed that the list would include Sunni Arabs, Turkmen, and Kurds, and said he hoped that the latter two groups would also vote for the list, not just the Shiite voters. He said a number of Sunni tribes had joined the list, which has not yet been named and probably will have a non-sectarian title. In the Sistani list, The al-Dawa Party will likely get 30 seats, as will the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and the Sadrists are being offered 27. (-Reuters/ ash-Sharq al-Awsat).
John Yaukey of Gannett has a good analysis of the Sunni Arab problem in Iraq and how it affects the elections. Read all the way to the end, where he compares American Iraq to French Algeria:
“One sobering lesson from the past, however, is that well-armed insurgents have rarely ever lost. The French fought Islamic insurgents for eight years in an attempt to hold on to Algeria. In 1959, it appeared the French army had suppressed the insurgency. But it flared up again, reinforced by insurgent recruits driven to arms by harsh French measures, and France gave up in 1962 and granted Algeria independence. By then, 15,000 French soldiers had died and Muslim casualties were estimated at between 300,000 and 400,000.”
Imperialist, warmonger journalist Max Boot’s standard reply to this sort of argument is to point to the early-twentieth century Philippines, where the US killed some 200,000 Filipinos and succeeded in ruling the country until the Japanese invasion during WW II. But contemporary Iraq is highly socially and politically mobilized– urban, sophisticated, literate, industrialized– compared to the Philippines of that time, and so is much more formidable. There is for the same reason no analogy to British Malaya; and in any case, as John Mearsheimer has pointed out, the British were unable to keep Malaya (they would have liked to– the tin and rubber there were a significant part of the British economy after WW II).
I was trying to think of an instance in which a Western occupier has successfully put down a nativist insurgency in the global South since 1970, and could not come up with anything. There are some indirect such victories. The Algerian military, backed strongly by France, appears to have defeated the Islamic Salvation Front and the Armed Islamic Group, after a decade of civil war that killed 100,000. But it isn’t clear that this victory could have been attained had Algeria been occupied by 140,000 French troops. Likely, the Islamic Salvation Front would have picked up enormous support from anti-colonialist Algerians.
The only thing the US has going for it in Iraq is that the Shiites and Kurds are still afraid of the Baathists and radical Muslim fundamentalists among the Sunni Arabs. But a lot of Shiites have come to loathe the American troops, and that they may in the future demand that they leave is entirely possible.
James H. Joyner, Managing Editor of Strategic Insights, the journal of the Naval Postgraduate School, uses social science definitions and data to challenge journalist Matthew Yglesias’s allegation that Iraq is already embroiled in a civil war. He cites the project initiated by my colleague David Singer of the University of Michigan political science department, Correlates of War, which defines civil war:
‘ The Correlates of War project . . . offers a very simple definition:
“An internal war is classified as a major civil war if (a) military action was involved, (b) the national government at the time was actively involved, (c) effective resistance (as measured by the ratio of fatalities of the weaker to the stronger forces) occurred on both sides and (d) at least 1,000 battle deaths resulted during the civil war.”
By that rudimentary definition, a civil war does indeed exist in Iraq — and a “major” one at that. The COW definition is rather broad, however, and would include any significant insurgency and could conceivably cover even large terrorist operations or criminal enterprises such as narco-terrorists in Latin America or Al Capone-style gangsterism. Stanford political scientists James D. Fearon and David D. Laitin offer a narrower definition that more closely mirrors the way most of us conceive of civil war:
“(1) They involved fighting between agents of (or claimants to) a state and organized, non-state groups who sought either to take control of a government, take power in a region, or use violence to change government policies. (2) The conflict killed or has killed at least 1000 over its course, with a yearly average of at least 100. (3) At least 100 were killed on both sides (including civilians attacked by rebels). The last condition is intended to rule out massacres where there is no organized or effective opposition.”
While very similar to the COW definition, the qualification that the anti-government forces are fighting to gain control of the political apparatus is important. While the Kurds certainly have aspirations to a unified, independent Kurdistan, their actions as described by Yglesias and Galbraith are not aimed at that end but rather at establishing security and defeating an insurgent-terrorist movement that’s working against their interests. The insurgents, meanwhile, are fighting primarily to coerce foreign interveners to leave Iraq. So, at present, civil war does not exist in the classic sense. ‘
Jeffrey Sachs has a brave meditation on the absence of interest in the US mainstream press and media in the issue of Iraqi civilian deaths as a result of the US war and continued aerial bombardment of civilian neighborhoods.
Sachs is among the foremost economists in the world and is eminently qualified to make a judgment on the Lancet study showing at least 40,000 and perhaps 100,000 excess civlian deaths in Iraq as a result of the war. He clearly credits it, suggesting that the resistance to the study by American journalists may derive from their lack of numeracy rather than weaknesses in the methodology.
Sachs’s point is ironically underlined by the appearance of his opinion piece in the Beirut Daily Star rather than in a major US metropolitan newspaper.