Thursday, July 27, 2006


Civil War

That Dan Froomkin would essentially describe the current situation in Iraq as a de facto civil war is not a surprise:

President Bush and national security adviser Stephen Hadley yesterday for the first time publicly acknowledged the momentous shift in the role for U.S. troops in Iraq, from fighting terrorists to trying to suppress religious violence.

This sea change was described in such understated terms that it was eclipsed by news about the crisis in Lebanon. Bush described a change in tactics; Hadley called it a repositioning.

But it's a historic admission: That job one for many American troops in Iraq is no longer fighting al-Qaeda terrorists, or even insurgents. Rather, it is trying to quell an incipient -- if not already raging -- sectarian civil war, with Baghdad as ground zero.

Arguably, that's been the case for quite a while. But having the White House own up to it is a very big deal.

But war supporter Ralph Peters coming to
the same conclusion is a depressing development:

For three years, the violence was about political power in post-Saddam Iraq. Sunni Arab insurgents and Shia militias may have been on opposite sides, but the conflict was only a religious war for the foreign terrorists. And the fighting wasn't between the masses of Sunnis and Shias - who were the victims of all sides.

Now it's different. The unwillingness of the Iraqi government to take on the sectarian death squads slaughtering civilians is polarizing Iraq (while the Kurds build up their own peaceful slice of the country as fast as they can).

Political violence with a religious undertone is becoming outright religious violence. The difference is crucial. The earlier fighting was over who should govern. Increasingly, it's about who should define Allah's will on earth. Nothing could be more ominous.

Political struggles may be resolved through compromise. Historically, only immense bloodletting and the exhaustion of one side or both leads to even a bitter, temporary peace in religious conflicts.

Leaders may bargain over who runs the ministry of health, but they won't horse-trade over conflicting visions of the divine. When men believe they hear a command from their god, they go deaf to other voices.

Meanwhile, other tensions grow in the north.

The challenge for the United States going forward is whether there will be sufficient continued support domestically for involvement of American forces in a conflict that is no longer about terrorism per se -- but about trying to keep religious forces from tearing a country apart.

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