Iraqi Civil War

iraqq.jpgHere I go again. I know that a lot of folks, particularly those on “my side” don’t agree, but I think I need to point out that Iraq is, indeed, in the midst of a civil war. Today. Right now.

In March, I wrote:

For what it’s worth, I’m just not buying this “sectarian violence” bit. I know that it all comes down to definitions, but if you don’t count the terrorist acts of foreign terrorists and the insurgency’s attacks on US and Coalition forces, you’re left with mostly either gang-like criminal violence or civil war. Not a Civil War. A civil war.

Iraqis loosely affiliated with one another are waging war on other Iraqis. Not a war with tanks and artillery (other than mortars) and one side doesn’t wear uniforms. But it is a war, albeit a “low intensity” guerrilla war. It’s more than just angry Sunnis attacking their Shiite neighbors and vice versa. The Iraqi army is heavily involved. The insurgency aims to overthrow the Iraqi government. Some are loyal to the previous government. I just don’t see how you can call it anything other than a civil war.

Then in April:

I’ve written several times…that not only do I believe that Iraq is in the midst of a civil war, but that I think it’s been going on since the invasion in early 2003. Not only that, but that the current civil war is really only an extension of a civil war that has been raging (at various levels) for decades.

One issue regarding the various definitions of “civil war” that I’ve been struggling with is the fact that the opposition to the new Iraqi government is not a singular force but, instead, a collection of various groups with various agendas and goals. They all basically agree that the new government is bad and needs to be destroyed, but beyond that they’re not really allied with each other, in practice or in ideology. Which is a thing to be thankful for.

And in August I posted a comment I left over at Op-For. Here’s the meat of it:

The bad guys have taken the fight to the Iraqi military and police, and they’re backed and supported in the field by irregular paramilitary forces and terrorists.

A lot of the civilian-on-civilian bloodshed might not really count as a “civil war”, but just because there is civil strife, gang warfare, and terrorism doesn’t mean that a war isn’t being fought. Just because one side has no chance of winning doesn’t mean that they aren’t fighting.

We just need to own up to the fact that this is a lot more than gangs and angry neighbors.

Now, in response to a comment left today on the Darth Sadr post, I wrote:

I don’t disagree that this isn’t an “all out civil war”, but it is certainly a guerrilla civil war.

If guerrilla wars without formal declarations are wars, guerrilla civil wars are civil wars. This has been my point for quite some time, now.

Every time I mention it, someone comes along and (rightly, in some ways) corrects me on it. But it’s all about the definition of “civil war”, and our definitions for warfare are changing radically. Most wars these days are not “all out wars”, but we still call them “wars”.

Particularly in the case of the Mahdi Army, and with some of the other militias and terrorist groups in Iraq, you have sizable organizations with significant support and resources who are obviously at war with the government and mean to overthrow it and set their own up in its place.

I’m sick of all this hand-wringing over “will Iraq become a civil war?” and wish we’d just admit that it IS a civil war and that we had better help the Iraqi government win it. In many government-controlled parts of Iraq, our troops are basically peacekeepers. But not everywhere, obviously. There are parts of the nation that are hotly contested. Pretending that we’re merely fighting criminals and gangs (even though many of the individuals are exactly that) won’t help us win.

We need to face the fact that Iraq is fighting a civil war for the survival of the government (and, therefore, for the fledgling democracy starting to take root) against an array of foes with a common enemy. If we don’t, we run the risk of not taking things seriously enough because we don’t really understand what’s going on.

You can argue all day long about specific definitions of what does and what does not constitute an official “civil war” by this dictionary or that dictionary. This Iraqi civil war is guerrilla in nature because of the presence of US and coalition troops. If they were withdrawn, the full-on civil war, the one everyone frets about, would follow in short order as significant support began to flow in from the nations surrounding Iraq. As long as US troops stand in the way, no one is going to invest enough in the insurgency or send direct military aid (in the form of tanks, artillery, and men) to take the war to the “all out” stage.

The times, they are a-changin’. We need to recognize the multi-faceted, factionalized, dispersed fighting in Iraq for what it is: a guerrilla-level civil war that needs to be won by our side.


  1. Meh… Thats what many people in America think. We can ‘win’ easily. We just need to show the resolve and will to achieve it. Both of which America tends to lack.

  2. Im not buying the civil war bit, just yet. I could see retroactively calling the whole period as one, but at this point it just seems like more accurate terms are available. FWIW I don’t care that much either way, whats important, as you point out is our resolve.

  3. Guys, I have no doubts about Americas high regard for democracy ( aside from a little power projection, but what the hell, everybody else does that too ). But I think a fundamental point is being missed here. Iraq is not a country. Has never been and will never be. It was Sunni dominated under Saddam, the north has always be Kurdish and the south is Shia. We from the west tend to think in terms of nation states. This won-

  4. I know some Iraqis who don’t agree with you, Ianiv. Iraq has been a country for several hundred years at least, longer than a lot of countries that exist today. And they say that even thousands of years ago, the borders of modern-day Iraq were a sort of loose area surrounding people with much in common. Also there are plenty of cultures which were less well-suited to democracy than Iraq and still are (see: Africa). Many of them have overcome that. It just takes self-realisation, which is exactly what the terrorists are trying to prevent, by creating perceptions similar to yours. I don’t see the point of defeatism. It doesn’t align well with history. More backwards places have been democratised, it just took time. In many cases, decades. The Phillipines for example, is not exactly a model democracy, but it’s a relatively peaceful and prosperous place. It didn’t happen over-night.

  5. Pretty much. And I think Sunni militias control the roads leading to the west and east out of the capital, and are currently trying to seize control of the remaining roads out of Baghdad to the north and south. Most of Baghdad, however, is in the hands of the Shiite Mahdi Army, who apparantly told the puppet ‘president’ of Iraq to lift the blockade of Sadr City, and he ordered the American troops to take their checkpoints and leave, which the Bush administration had to allow, since if they didn’t then it would be a huge embarrassment, proving once again that the ‘Iraqi’ government is a puppet of the occupation. I think the other major city, Basra, is mostly Shiite militia-controlled too. And the vast Al Anbar province is a Sunni Rebel stronghold. And certainly worst in the eyes of this administration is the Iraqi oil infrastructure, especially pipelines, being constantly attacked, disrupting the flow of oil, meaning the real point of the whole thing is for naught without security for the oil industry over there, now in the pocket of Halliburton and others. Let’s face it: everything else they said leading up to this war was a lie except that Iraq is sitting on a lake of oil, being the world’s 2nd-largest oil producer. But Iraq is getting worse by the day I’m sure the average Iraqi feels like he’s in a civil war right now, and would be puzzled that we over here are fixated on the semantics of it. It’s a mess, any way you slice it, and it is George Bush’s baby. Congratulations. It’s a catastrophe.