Michael Yon on the Iraqi civil war

“The Civil War did not start subsequent the invasion; it was already underway.”

I’ve written several times (most recently here) 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.

This puts me at odds with nearly all those who support the invasion of Iraq and even with the military’s own press releases. In the minds of many, calling the situation in Iraq a “civil war” is basically defeatist talk and surrender to the critics of the campaign, especially those calling for the withdrawal of our troops. I certainly am not one of “those” types, as regular readers will already know.

In his latest, Michael Yon writes at length about this issue. Here is the meat:

I’ll say it as clearly today as I said it more than a year ago from my perch in Baquba: the civil war is real. It is not abating, it is growing. And it’s growing in part because we have been spackling over the truth about where much of this violence derives, and not addressing the true nature of the enemy.

The kneejerk reaction would be to figure that Yon is dismissing the cause as lost. But, again, anyone who reads him regularly will know that he thinks nothing of the sort.

The Civil War did not start subsequent the invasion; it was already underway. The former Iraqi regime had slaughtered unknown thousands of civilians and buried many of them in mass graves that are still today being discovered and catalogued. If anything, the previous Civil War has merely changed shape, the advantage has clearly shifted, and now that Americans and Europeans are in the combat zone, the war gets more complicated.

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.

But Yon notes that the size and population of Iraq is not all that much different from that of Texas, and has this to say:

If a thousand people were killed by violence in Texas every month, and if the carnage was sustained over a period of three years, and was getting worse, and if Texans were destroying their own oil wells and pipelines, and killing as many police and National Guard as possible, we likely would not call that “civil unrest.” We likely could mentally factor in and factor back out that some of the killing would be due to criminal activity. But if we were losing a thousand Texans’ per month for three years, and its leaders and institutions where powerless to stop it, likely most of us would agree that Texas would then be in a state of civil war, even if there were few specifically definable sides wearing specific color uniforms whose leaders espouse specific goals.

In fact, if there were no definition of civil war that fit such a condition into a sub-category, we likely would amend our dictionaries.

The Iraqi civil war is here right now and needs to be won

Pretending today that Iraq is not in a state of civil war threatens to seriously undermine our efforts. If Iraq isn’t in a civil war, the risk isn’t as great. If Iraq isn’t in a civil war, maybe we can withdraw. (I’ve never, ever understood the “we have to withdraw if a civil war breaks out” thinking, by the way.) If Iraq isn’t in a civil war, I sure want to know why the reconstruction and democratic process aren’t farther along. If Iraq isn’t in a civil war and we finally succeed in helping build a stable nation, won’t the effort and expense seem too great for the end product?

The fact that Iraq is in a civil war and has been for quite some time not only explains a great many things, it underscores the need for us to remain resolute. Awakening folks to the fact that the Iraqi civil war is not some bogeyman out there waiting like some horrific jack-in-the-box but that it is here right now and needs to be won would do wonders for the big Iraq debate.

I just don’t understand how playing down the situation helps anyone.

And you should go read all of Michael Yon’s article. A lot of very, very good stuff. As usual.


  1. You are correct that playing down the situation in Iraq is undermining our mission there. However, I can see how the Administration could choose to, considering the screeching the anti-war left and anti-American left would do.

  2. Murdoc, Your point (and Michael Yon’s) about civil war in Iraq was best stated a month ago by Charles Krauthammer: This whole debate about civil war is surreal. What is the insurgency if not a war supported by one (minority) part of Iraqi society fighting to prevent the birth of the new Iraqi state supported by another (majority) part of Iraqi society? By definition that is civil war, and there’s nothing new about it. As I noted here in November 2004: “People keep warning about the danger of civil war. This is absurd. There already is a civil war. It is raging before our eyes. Problem is, only one side” — the Sunni insurgency — “is fighting it.” Indeed, until very recently that has been the case: ex-Baathist insurgents (aided by the foreign jihadists) fighting on one side, with the United States fighting back in defense of a new Iraq dominated by Shiites and Kurds. Now all of a sudden everyone is shocked, shocked to find Iraqis going after Iraqis. But is it not our entire counterinsurgency strategy to get Iraqis who believe in the new Iraq to fight Iraqis who want to restore Baathism or impose Taliban-like rule? Does not everyone who wishes us well support the strategy of standing up the Iraqis so we can stand down? And does that not mean getting the Iraqis to fight the civil war themselves? Hence the gradual transfer of war-making responsibility. Hence the decline of American casualties. Hence the rise of Iraqi casualties. — Read it all at http://www.townhall.com/opinion/columns/charleskrauthammer/2006/03/24/191137.html