This article linked at Aquol strives to make sense of the quagmire in Iraq. MSK says that "commumnalism" is a better term than "sectarian" when discussing the dynamics and shape of the socio-political scene there.
After the war , when the allied forces set up a new administration, the issue of communalism could have been addressed. The U.S. and allied leaderships could have promoted unifying, national groups and countermanded centrifugal forces in order to overcome the existing rifts and stem the sectarianist tide. Ethno-sectarian identities were strong, but it was still a far way from there to a civil war.
Instead, the American administration and their allies viewed the Iraqi population through the prism of ethno-religious sectarianism and adopted the notion that Iraqi society is fundamentally made up and thus characterized by a plethora of distinct sectarian groups. Hence, the members of the first Administrative Council were selected according to their ethno-religious identity, in order to achieve full representation of all groups. This cemented the communalist system in Iraq and enhanced the self-perception of Iraqi society as a sectarian one. Political groups working along communalist lines were free to propagate their views, non-communalist groups were sidelined, and those Iraqis who hadn't already subscribed to a sectarian worldview now came to take it up or were forced to follow and abide by this dominant trend. Many of those who did not want to go down that path emigrated.
Sound analysis, with a follow up at Aquol. This is not every one's cup of tea, but for the reader trying to get his head around the madness that continues to unfold in that part of the Levant we still insist on calling Iraq, it shines yet another light.
To expand on the article, first of all I would suggest that we start using the term "communalism" instead of "sectarianism". The latter always implies that the bones of contention between the various groups (dare I call them "sects"?) are fundamentally religious and unchangeable, as in "Sunnis and Shi'ites differ because they disagree on who the leader of the umma should be". Already in Iraq that matrix doesn't work at all: Kurds in Iraq are 90% Sunni & 10% Shi'ite yet there are no ties of solidarity between, say, Sunni Kurds and Sunni Arabs or any "sectarian conflict" between Sunni and Shi'ite Kurds. The Kurds in Iraq - Sunni OR Shi'ite - think of themselves as a distinct community based on ethnicity and language, not religion.
The same goes for Tajik vs. Turkmen vs. Pashtun in Afghanistan, Azeris vs. Persians vs. Lurs vs. Bakhtiaris in Iran, etc.pp.
Communalism is a better term because it goes at the heart of the issue: the development of primary identification not with a state or nation, but with a community based on a sub-or supra-national ethnicity or religion. In a sense, communalism can be a first stage of nationalism, i.e. the moment the "community" attains a state of its own it becomes a "nation".
The writer is not optimistic about what is currently unfolding.
Therefore, even if Gen. Petraeus manages to "pacify" large parts of Baghdad, that doesn't solve anything. First of all, he doesn't have the manpower to extend that "peace zone" to other parts of the country, and absent a political solution that includes a deal negotiated and accepted by ALL groups any "pacification" will only be temporary.
Anyone not already too fed up with reading about Iraq is urged to fit this one piece into your assignments. Clear thinking about a cloudy subject. As I said, this is not every one's cup of tea, but for those of us who eat a little International Relations with our morning cereal, it's good stuff.
As if to underscore the point, Mark Lynch's blog has a spate of posts also looking at developments in Iraq. They are too long to parse here, but briefly, a guest post by Greg Gause from the University of Vermont describes the Sunni-Shia tensions and another post surveys several other opinions and descriptions. Finally, Lynch weighs in with a few words of his own.
And no, I haven't ingested all that stuff myself. I've only scanned it. I link it here for general reference because in the end the conflict will still be concluded not by reasoned analysis but by power politics and military might. (And, uh, the elephant in the room is still petroleum. I sometimes think we tend to lose sight of why American kids are dying in conflicts in the Middle East and not in some other, less tractable part of the world. When Global Capitalism falls short of hegemony, the military has to step in and insure US "interests." 'Scuse me, please. Just my own jaundiced view.)