Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Brian Whitaker on Civil War in Iraq

Ahem. My traffic improved today thanks to a link from the Guardian's Brian Whitaker. "Comment is free" is the Guardian's blog connection and Whitaker is the Mideast Editor. He notes that the term civil war is being used more often regarding Iraq.

Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, has become the latest public figure to warn that Iraq is teetering on the brink of civil war: "In fact," he said, "we are almost there."

Less than 24 hours earlier, the king of Jordan said in a TV interview: "We could possibly imagine going into 2007 and having three civil wars on our hands," the three being Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

There is an understandable reluctance on the part of politicians and large sections of the media to admit that civil war has broken out in Iraq. Instead they continue talking about "fears" of civil war and how it might be averted, but as far as most political scientists are concerned it's a civil war already.
Iraq is not only in the throes of any civil war but one of the bloodiest in recent history. "It's stunning; it should have been called a civil war a long time ago, but now I don't see how people can avoid calling it a civil war," Nicholas Sambanis, a political scientist at Yale university told the New York Times the other day. "The level of violence is so extreme that it far surpasses most civil wars since 1945."

Some people might argue that this is just a matter of semantics: violence is violence, whether you call it a civil war or not. The point, though, is that being honest about the nature of the conflict helps us to see its true nature more clearly - and possibly to have a better idea of what might be done about it.

Last September, James Fearon, a professor at Stamford university and one of the world's leading experts on civil wars, gave testimony to a committee on national security in the US House of Representatives. His remarks were largely ignored by the US media, though they were noted by a couple of bloggers (Abu Aardvark and Hootsbuddy).

After saying that "by any reasonable definition" Iraq is in the midst of a civil war, Prof Fearon pointed out that civil wars typically last a long time (more than a decade on average) and usually end with decisive military victories (in at least 75% of cases). "Successful power-sharing agreements to end civil wars are rare, occurring in one in six cases, at best."
I'm happy for the link, of course, but even more pleased that the reality of what is happening in Iraq is finally being openly discussed. Maybe it will result in a change of policy.

Something has to change. What's happening now ain't working.

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