Friday, February 24, 2006


The denial of impotence

The Iraqi civil war has been underway for some time, but the media have been happily ignoring it as they focused on such irrelevancies as, first, the election and now the negotiations to form a government. Now the rhinoceros in the livingroom has become too awkward to avoid completely. We're seeing headlines such as "Iraq edging closer to civil war," "Iraq surges toward civil war" and "Bush ignored warnings of civil war."

Former Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi has decided to speak of "stages"—

it is now going towards stage two and hopefully it won't turn into stage three where this is what I would categorise as a full-blown civil war.

This at least acknowledges that a civil war has been ongoing.

Since the media haven't been able to wrap their minds around this obvious truth for many months, they are certainly unable to ask the correlative question: What is the role of the U.S. military in the midst of such a war?

Here's the military plan, according to Bradley Graham of the Washington Post

In the event conditions spiral out of control,1 U.S. military officers said, forces in Iraq could be quickly enlarged by a U.S. army brigade of about 3,500 troops on standby in Kuwait and by the deployment of other strategic reserve elements from the United States. But the officers said violence in Iraq would have to reach a much higher level to trigger such moves.

"The best way forward is to have the Iraqi police and military handle the situation, with the coalition forces in a support role," Kimmitt said.

How do you say "whistling in the dark" in Arabic?

Juan Cole remarked today—

The US military ordered the US soldiers in Baghdad to stay in their barracks and not to circulate if it could be helped. This situation underlines how useless the American ground forces are in Iraq. They can't stop the guerrilla war and may be making it worst. Last I knew, there were 10,000 US troops in Anbar Province with a population of 1.1 million. What could you do with that small force, when the vast majority of the people support the guerrillas? US troops would be useless if they had to fight in alleyways against sectarian rioters. If they tried to guard the Sunni mosques, they'd have to shoot into Shiite mobs, which would just raise the level of violence they face from Shiites in the south.

What is likely is that the Bush administration will continue to make every effort to ignore and deny the fact of civil war. The only thing they have to offer is spin. Reporters from Knight-Ridder tell us that—

The top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, downplayed the violence Thursday. He said that the Iraqi security forces could control the situation.

“We’re not seeing civil war igniting in Iraq. We’re not seeing 77, 80, 100 mosques damaged.2 We’re not seeing death in the streets,” Lynch said at a news briefing in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad. “We’re seeing a competent, capable Iraqi government using their capable Iraqi security force to calm the storm that was inflamed by a horrendous, horrific terrorist attack yesterday.

The spinmeisters will be using phrases such as "sectarian violence" to avoid the dreaded truth.

What are the possibilities for the U.S. military?

John Shovelan of Australian Broadcasting had this tidbit—

JOHN SHOVELAN: 2,286 US troops have died in Iraq. In attempting to restore order, coalition forces could now find themselves forced to choose between Sunni or Shia.

Rand Beers, a former official at the White House National Security Council, says that's a situation they must avoid.

RAND BEERS: Well I think we have to absolutely stay out of the middle of this.

JOHN SHOVELAN: A civil war in Iraq will drain the remaining domestic support for continued involvement.

Pollsters say Americans will have very little tolerance for it and cite the Vietnam conflict and Somalia as two examples where support vanished as a result of US troops getting caught up in cultural ethnic or religious crossfire.

Taking sides just doesn't seem to be the way to go, though you can never count on the Bush administration not to make a bad decision.

The Knight-Ridder journalists offer another view from Michael O’Hanlon, "a military analyst at the Brookings Institution"—

“The only hope here to avoid the fate of former Yugoslavia is for U.S. troops to remain there as the glue around which loyal Iraqi forces can coalesce” and for the central government in Baghdad of Shiite and Sunni Arabs and minority Kurds to unite in a push for sectarian calm, he said.

I have seen no indication that Iraqis of any persuasion are inclined to glom onto the Americans. And if any of them were so inclined, it is more likely than not that the Americans would be pushing them away, since they prudently avoid a close association with Iraqi forces. It is perfectly ludicrous to suggest that the U.S. military is going to be much in the way of glue.

There is speculation that the Iraqi civil war will bring in other participants—Turkey, Iran and the Sunni Arab countries. Perhaps the American role will be to fend off invasion by these other interested parties while the Iraqis have at it.

But the wisest, most humane course would be to announce a timetable for American withdrawal "in an orderly, but rapid manner" and "without delay," as Congressman Steve Rothmann is now urging. This would leave the Iraqis so stunned, at least temporarily, that they might be able to find some unity at the prospect of an American withdrawal.

Do I think this is what the Bush administration will do? Of course not. While they can neither prevent nor stop a civil war, much less guarantee the security of ordinary Iraqis, there is a reasonable chance that they can be successful in protecting the oil fields (though not the pipelines). My guess is that that will be their priority. After all, that's what they did when they first invaded.

Related post
No. Not some troops; all troops (9/25/05)


1The discourse concerning Iraq is losing all meaning. In what sense, may we ask, are conditions currently under control? [back]

2According to the same news report, "a Sunni group says at least 168 Sunni mosques have been attacked and 10 imams killed." [back]

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