Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Iraq Civil War and What To Do Next

A new report by policy think-tank, Chatham House, confirms what most already knew.


  • Iraq has fractured into regional power bases. The 'government' is just one of many players
  • There is not one 'civil war' raging but many.
  • Each of Iraq's major neighbouring state, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran has differing reasons for wishing to see the conflict continue.
  • Al Qaeda has now established a very significant power base in Baghdad and Kirkuk.
  • Any political solution now needs to engage with organisations possessing popular legitimacy and needs to be Iraqi-led not US-led.
  • The key issues to resolve are the Petroleum Law and Federalism


Wikipedia defines a civil war as

"a violent conflict within a country fought by organized groups that aim to take power at the center or in a region, or to change government policies". To qualify as a civil war, at least 1,000 people must have been killed in total, with at least 100 from each side. Other social scientists consider this casualty number rather low and prefer for instance a definition of an average of 1,000 people killed per year."

Under anyone's definition, Iraq is in the midst of a vicious Civil War.

Is the Surge working?

During March and April, the number of bombings remained constant and 1,500 civilians were killed in April alone. Although the number of civilian deaths has decreased in Baghdad, the overall Iraqi fatality rate has increased and the conflict has become more widespread. In addition, the number of fatalities amongst US troops has increased with 104 deaths in April alone. Net - things are certainly no better.

Who's Fighting Who?

  • Shias against Sunnis in Baghdad
  • Kurds and non-Kurds (now inspired by AQ) in Kirkuk
  • Sunnis against the US in the Centre and the North
  • Sadrists against the US in the Centre and South
  • AQ Sunni versus non-AQ Sunni in Anbar, Nineva and Diyala
  • Sadrist Shias against Badr Shias in Najaf and Basra
  • Rampant criminality across the entire country

What To Do

1. Bring a meaningful Sunni presence (though not AQ) back into the process.

2. Recognise the importance of Muqtada al-Sadr's popular movement.

3. Recognise Kurdish demands for autonomy under a federal structure.

The Regional Players and their Agendas

1. Iran - the most influential foreign power in Iraq. Views Iraq as a legitimate way of fighting the US and of draining US popular support for any future attakcs on Iran. Needs conflict to continue.

2. Saudi Arabia - terrified by the emergence of a Shia Crescent and the emergence of a Kurdish State. If the US withdew, Saudi is unlikely to stand by and watch.

3. Turkey - Needs to prevent the establishment of a separate Kurdish state centred around Kirkuk and its oil resources.

I don't pretend to know what the correct course of action is. But what i do know is that those who advocate withdrawl of our troops and to leave Iraq to a full blown bloody civil war without any Plan B, are no better than Rumsfeld and his neocon mates who took Iraq into the hell-zone in the first place. The surge is yet to work but at least it's a plan. It may yet work. The Chatham House recommendations may not be the answer, after all engaging with terrorists is political suicide, but at least they have thought through the issues and have come up with ideas. Good for them.