Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Beyond the brink

While politicians and large sections of the media are still reluctant to admit it, Iraq appears to be in the throes of civil war already.

By Brian Whitaker
The Guardian

"Last September, James Fearon, a professor at Stamford university and one of the world's leading experts on civil wars, gave testimony to a committee on national security in the US House of Representatives. His remarks were largely ignored by the US media, though they were noted by a couple of bloggers (Abu Aardvark and Hootsbuddy).

After saying that "by any reasonable definition" Iraq is in the midst of a civil war, Prof Fearon pointed out that civil wars typically last a long time (more than a decade on average) and usually end with decisive military victories (in at least 75% of cases). "Successful power-sharing agreements to end civil wars are rare, occurring in one in six cases, at best."

He then outlined a civil war scenario that strikes me as highly plausible:

As in Lebanon, effective political authority will devolve to city, region, and often neighbourhood levels, and after a period of fighting to draw lines, an equilibrium with low-level, intermittent violence will set in, punctuated by larger campaigns financed and aided by foreign powers.

As in Lebanon, we can expect a good deal of intervention by neighbouring states, and especially Iran, but this intervention will not necessarily bring them great strategic gains. To the contrary it may bring them a great deal of grief, just as it has the US.

The Lebanese civil war required international intervention and involvement to bring to conclusion. If an Iraqi civil war post-US withdrawal does not cause the formal break-up of the country into three new states, which it could, then ending it will almost surely require considerable involvement by regional states to make whatever power-sharing arrangements they ultimately agree on credible.

If Iraq is a bleeding sore in the heart of the Middle East for years (recall that civil wars typically last a long time), then its Sunni and Shia-led neighbours may have to come to a region-wide political agreement to be able to enjoy political and economic stability again. "

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