Legitimate Stake? Civil War? How long is too long?

I left this as a comment over at Nonplussed in response to a post that included

Kevin Drum has an interesting post on how it might already be too late and provides an excerpt from an article prepared by a reporter who spent time with the one and only functional brigade in the Iraqi army. The reporter says the brigade does not self identify as a national guard but as essentially nothing more than a Shiite militia preparing for the inevitable civil war with the Sunni.

It’s the first time I’ve heard this angle and Kevin notes that it is just one report from one reporter. But it doesn’t sound all that far fetched to me and, if true, would be yet another reason to get out sooner rather than later. I’m not interested in spilling any more blood, American or otherwise, if an Iraqi civil war is inevitable.


We have no legitimate stake in assisting one internal Iraqi faction over another.

I posted the following in the comments section, and I re-post them here for your perusal:

A) The civil war in Iraq has been going on for two years already. A minority of the 20% of the nation that used to totally rule over the other 80% is unhappy that they aren’t unchecked rulers anymore, so they blow up stuff and people. The other 80% that used to be ruled by the 20% doesn’t like getting blown up. If the 20% continues to blow up the other 80%, the 20% is going to continue to have a rough time of it. The fact that much of the military and security forces are Shiite and loyal to great extent to Shiite values should come as no surprise, as the majority of Iraq is Shiite and many Sunnis insist on blowing Shiites up instead of contributing.

B) Since the 20% isn’t strong enough to win on their own, many of them have allied themselves, in many ways, with foreign terrorists who blow up pretty much anyone who doesn’t side with the terrorists. This irritates the 80% to no end, and practically guarantees that the 20% cannot win. The best they can hope for is total anarchy.

C) Alliances with terrorists are shaky things, and there are many reported instances of the 20%’s insurgents fighting the terrorists because the terrorists blow who THEY want to blow up, not who the 20% want them to blow up. This infighting doesn’t really irritate anyone all that much and can go on indefinitely, as far as I’m concerned.

D) There are two functional brigades in the Iraqi army, not one. They are both in the Iraqi 6th Division. Do not confuse “functional brigades” with “units capable of fighting”. “Functional brigade”, if it’s going to be used accurately, refers to the upper-echelon HQ and supporting organizations, not the combat forces. Brigades are usually composed of three or four maneuver battalions plus attached HQ and supporting units. There are about 115 functional battalions in the Iraqi army and security forces, despite excited headlines to the contrary, if “functional” means “able to function as a combat unit”. They are in various levels of training and readiness, with about a third of them currently operating without any US combat troops.

E) If the current civil war in Iraq were to erupt into full-scale military conflict (which would require the absence of US troops and air power plus the full, open military and political support of another nation, such as Syria), it would be a war between the 20% who want to rule Iraq and the other 80% who have “one person, one vote” on their side. How do you argue that we have no “legitimate stake” in that struggle? Pretend for a minute that the flow of oil wasn’t at risk. Aren’t we on the side of freedom? Don’t we support democracy? Don’t we have a vested interest in defending those unable to defend themselves against injustice and terror?

F) If a large number of Sunnis vote in tomorrow’s referendum, even if many of them vote AGAINST the proposed constitution, doesn’t that mean that democracy is at work and that a large part of the 20% is buying into the idea of freedom?

G) What if the constitution passes? Isn’t that a vote of confidence by the Iraqi people that things are on the right track? Will you change your mind about our “legitimate stake in assisting one internal Iraqi faction over another” if the constitution passes?


  1. I pretty much agree with you, but the whole 80/0 argument is a little too simplistic to describe the situation on the ground. I’d bet the embeded reporter’s assesment of the rank and file Shiite (or Kurdish) ING are close to the mark. The higher ups, though, have shown remarkable restraint in not promoting further sectarian violence. As long as the Shiite & Kurdish powers that be hold sway over their, ah, constituents, I’m still optimistic about the outcome. Also, know that the prevailing mindset in the region is that any outcome, whether it be to a political referendum or otherwise, that isn’t to the liking of the dissafected usually gets blamed on the Americans or -heaven forbid(!)- the Zionists… So the losers in a referendum won’t feel any more enfranchised than they did before. I almost wish the referendum would fail just to show the people in that neck of the woods that their voice can make a difference and the results aren’t prearranged (and thus, in their mindset, probably fixed)

  2. ‘Also, know that the prevailing mindset in the region is that any outcome, whether it be to a political referendum or otherwise, that isn’t to the liking of the dissafected usually gets blamed on the Americans or -heaven forbid(!)- the Zionists… So the losers in a referendum won’t feel any more enfranchised than they did before.’ You are totally right, and I certainly don’t expect the losers to cheer the workdings of democracy. But the same thing happens today in America — Bush wasn’t elected, he was selected…It was the electronic voting machines…John McCain is a traitor to the Republican cause…John F Kennedy used the mob to steal the election…and on and on. It has always been that way and it always will, but it doesn’t justify blowing up things. Iraq isn’t out of the ‘blowing up things’ stage yet, but that doesn’t mean that democracy isn’t at work. I’m not trying to look at things wearing rose-colored glasses, here. But so many of the criticisms of Iraqi democracy also apply to American democracy. No one’s claiming that American democracy is a failure because someone thinks someone else stole the election. Except some of the losers. Still, somehow, the struggle for democracy continues on.

  3. And yes, the 80/20 presentation of the insurgency/civil war is simplistic. But if you remove the basic tenets of my 80/20 presentation, you remove so much of the insurgency/civil war that you’re left with little more than Timothy McVeighs and Unabombers running around making trouble. Not good, to be sure, but not an insurgency or civil war.

  4. Being an optimist myself, I only hope (and pray) that you (we) are right. I’ve always maintained that we should judge the outome a success if the sovereign Iraqi government kicks us out. Let’s face it, they’re not going to hug us forever in a warm parent-child embrace. Better we leave Iraq a democracy that hates the US (for whatever unjustified reason) than a totalitarian state that loves us.