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July 22, 2004

Civil War In Iraq?


by William S. Lind

Observers continue to ask, "Will Iraq descend into civil war?" The answer is that civil war is already underway in Iraq. Most people do not see it, because it is not following the Sunni/Shi'ite/Kurd fault lines on which we have been lead to focus. As is usually the case in war, we are the victims not of deception but of self-deception.

In Iraq's civil war, the most prominent faction is what America calls Iraq's "government." It is, of course, not a government, because there is no state. The "government's" goal is to recreate an Iraqi state and become a real government. What are its chances of success?

At the physical level, the "government" is undoubtedly the most powerful faction in Iraq's civil war. It has more money and more troops than any competitor. It also has the U.S. military behind it, as we have seen recently in Fallujah, where the Iraqi "government" has approved and even provided intelligence for American air strikes.

But at the moral level, the Iraqi "government" is probably the weakest faction, weaker even than the elements still fighting for Saddam. The reason is that it is an American creation and puppet - a Quisling regime, formed and propped up by a now-hated invader. If it is to have any hope of legitimacy, it must cut the strings to the American puppeteer. So far, it shows no ability to do that. Its one serious effort to date has been to hint at some sort of amnesty for anti-American resistance fighters, a move that could help split its opposition. But that move was stopped cold by the United States, in a way that demonstrates to Iraqis and the world who is really in charge. According to the July 18 Cleveland Plain Dealer:

"[T]he new U.S. ambassador, John Negroponte, disputed suggestions that a proposed amnesty for Iraqis who have opposed the U.S. occupation could include those who have killed U.S. soldiers. …

"'There may have been at one point some language that was ambiguous and led to the interpretation that somehow people would be given amnesty who assaulted U.S. troops,' he said. 'My understanding is that ambiguity is no longer there.'"

Not only does that let the puppet strings show like chemlights, it also renders any amnesty meaningless, since it does not apply to the people who are doing the fighting.

Fourth Generation war theory suggests that the Iraqi "government's" strength at the physical level and weakness at the moral level means it has already peaked. Physical strength plays its greatest role early, while the moral level works most powerfully over time. As has been true ever since Saddam fell, time is on the side of America's enemies, and time is a powerful ally.

What are the other factions in Iraq? Both the Sunnis and the Shi'ites appear to be splitting into smaller, mutually hostile elements. There are indications that among the Sunnis, the secularists, who are mostly Ba'athists, and the Islamists are starting to go at it. Several secularist militias recently made a public announcement that they want the head (severed or otherwise) of al-Qaeda's local rep, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Shi'ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr's recent war with the Americans had less to do with resisting the occupation than with positioning himself within the Shi'ite community. Fourth Generation theory says that once the fracturing begins in a post-state region, it continues.

The resulting civil war may still have Sunni vs. Shi'ite aspects; in fact, it is almost certain to include that fault line. But there will be many other fault lines as well, some within the Shi'ite and Sunni communities, some cutting across them. At the physical level, this works to the "government's" advantage, in that its relative power increases. But at the moral level, virtually all the other factions have greater legitimacy than the "government." And just as the strategic level trumps the tactical, so the moral level trumps the physical. That is one of John Boyd's more important insights into the nature of war.

Not all of King George's bombers nor all of his men can put Mesopotamia's Humpty together again. Since Sen. Kerry's policy on Iraq differs from President Bush's by only the finest of nuances, it is safe to predict that a future King John would fare no better.


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  • William Lind is Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation. He is a former Congressional Aide and the author
    of many books and articles on military strategy and war.

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