Juan Cole, professor
of Modern Middle East and South Asian History at the University of Michigan,
has lived in the Middle East and is fluent in Arabic, Persian, and Urdu. His
blog, Informed Comment, has earned its place at the
top of the list for people interested in understanding events in the Islamic
world outside of the typical mass media spin. While libertarians may object
to his positions on some issues, those who have been following his work have
unfortunately seen some of his early predictions
about the Iraq invasion pan out. To hear my July 16 interview of Professor Cole,
or [download mp3].
As longtime CIA asset,
executioner, and former puppet prime minister Iyad
Allawi said last
week, Iraq is on the brink of civil war, though it could be argued that
it has been a civil war since about the time George W. Bush declared "Mission
Accomplished" on May Day 2003. When Baghdad fell, many of Saddam's soldiers
went underground and kept fighting while others simply quit and went home. When
Viceroy Paul Bremer told
them to stay home, many of them found other work – killing American occupiers.
Take all the Iraqis who have joined the insurgency after losing a loved one,
add the foreign jihadists who have been radicalized
by the war in Iraq (only recently has Bush come to recognize a distinction between
the two), then add those who support or sympathize with them, and you have a substantial
percentage of the Sunni population resisting the occupation. This is why
Fallujah to "break the
back of the insurgency" last fall, the U.S. succeeded only in killing innocents,
destroying property, and recruiting
more people to the cause.
Kirkuk, the capital of Kurdistan, is, according to Cole, "a
tinderbox" ready to explode into violence. A traditionally Kurdish city,
Kirkuk was the subject of a massive social
engineering project by Saddam Hussein, who resettled thousands of Sunni
and Shia Arabs there in the 1970s and '80s to dilute the influence of the sometimes
loyal, sometimes treacherous
Kurdish factions lead by Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, the warlords
who are now the president of Kurdistan
of Iraq respectively.
Now that the U.S. has come and the Kurdistan-for-Kurds types have consolidated
their power, ethnic
cleansing has begun. Cole says tens of thousands of Arabs have already fled
south, and there are an incredible number of property disputes being fought
over right now. The Turkmen in Kurdistan have their own problems.
Kirkuk is a very valuable oil center [.pdf], and
the distribution of oil money could be a major point of contention in the future.
Were Kurdistan to break away completely, the possibility of further violence
as Kurdish populations in Syria, Turkey, and Iran try to join them would be
tremendous. Perhaps Ahmed Chalabi
will be able to work everything out. For some reason, I doubt it. What these
folks need is a belief in the individual and his inalienable right to property.
Unfortunately, violence tends to reinforce a collectivist, us/them outlook,
which only leads to more violence. Bush's "global
democratic revolution" has somehow failed to take
and property nor what
Iraq has now is the way it was supposed to be. Dick
Cheney and the neocons wanted
old friend of
Paul Wolfowitz and
Richard Perle, to be their
new puppet dictator. This fell apart because, contrary to his lies, no one in Iraq
who had heard of him held him in much esteem.
The new Iraqi constitution, which is being written by the victors of the Jan.
30 elections, is stuck on the first
sentence. Will Iraq be a federal system or not? The Shia, of course, want
federalism with a strong central government, the Kurds a very weak one, and
the Sunnis (those who are brave enough to show
up) a single sovereign state that they run. This great "democracy" that the U.S.
government has forced on the people of Iraq has been such a farce that War Party
propagandist Charles Krauthammer says
we ought to forget about drawing up an Iraqi constitution. After all, Britain
doesn't have one, and it's great. What's more, we have one that
doesn't mean squat. Point taken.
Down south where the Shia live, Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani is just
biding his time. The minority Sunni have no foreign power to back their
tyranny any more. The majority Shia, who hold the power in the constitution-drafting
process, are just waiting for us to leave. The level of violence to come in
this situation is hard to predict, depending mostly on the degree of control
over the Sunni the Shia attempt to exercise using the new government. The Shia
have proposed that their Badr
Brigades, and the Kurds that their peshmerga militias,
should be used against the Sunni insurgents since the American and Iraqi armies
haven't succeeded. The idea has so far been overruled by the U.S., but if the
Badr Brigades and
the peshmerga are unleashed
before or after we leave, the Sunni resistance will be destroyed, along with
a lot of innocent people.
According to Cole, if the U.S. leaves now, and an all-out civil war begins,
the chances of intervention by neighboring states on behalf of those of their
same ethnicity and religion will increase, threatening a catastrophic regional
war that could destroy the world oil market. Unfortunately, our time on the
radio was up before we had a chance to discuss his
proposal for internationalizing the occupation rather than plainly and immediately
withdrawing, which I favor, so I will not address that particular point here.
Practical rather than moral questions unfortunately prevail in debating whether
or not Americans have the right to kill one more person or spend one more dime
of other people's money in support of a war that was never
justified in the first place. The answers to such questions are clear: no
and no. Instead, leaving Iraq is usually a question of whether the mass slaughter
and destabilization left behind when we leave would be worse if we did it now
or later. The answer cannot be known for sure, but recent
that the resistance is gaining strength with each passing day. If we have what
amounts to civil war
now, with 135,000 American troops in the country, how large an insurgency (or
a crater) will we be leaving behind if we stay for another 12 years?