Staticide, Not Civil War in Iraq

News Abroad

Ms. Shields is an associate professor of Middle East and Islamic History at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. This year she is a Fellow at the National Humanities Center.

Calling the tragedy in Iraq a “civil war” is not only inaccurate. It is morally indefensible, laying the blame for the horrific violence and the destruction of a country and a society upon the victims of an illegal, aggressive war. It allows pundits like Thomas Friedman to claim that the country has been dysfunctional for a millenium, ignoring a long historical context of international support for Iraq’s brutal dictator, debilitating and murderous sanctions by the United Nations, and a catastrophic and unprovoked US-led invasion of a sovereign state. More important, if Americans believe that Iraq is in “civil war,” liberals would argue that the United States must remain in order to prevent an even worse outbreak of violence.

Iraq is not undergoing a civil war. The country is in the throes of an anti-occupation struggle. Having declared, with the installation of the current government, that Iraq is no longer occupied, the US government and media can hardly frame the current violence as a struggle against a continuing occupation. Nonetheless, what is being cast as civil war is the latest example in a long line of peoples' fighting against occupation, struggles in which those groups who collaborate with an occupier are themselves targeted by those seeking to end an occupation. Algerians fighting the French also attacked those indigenous forces who had allied themselves with France. Moroccans targeted the goumiers, local troops who worked with the French in suppressing a rebellion against foreign control. The Vietcong fought not only Americans, but also the Vietnamese who collaborated with the occupation.  Zulu Inkatha were targeted for working on behalf of South Africa’s white government.  Irish nationalists linked Protestants with the British occupiers.  The occupiers tried to present each as an example of the intrinsic and intractable violence of these societies, which provided yet another example of their continuing need for the benevolent protection of the occupation.

Framing the Iraq tragedy as civil war forces the US media to ignore the clear inconsistencies. Shi’ite forces under Muqtada al-Sadr attack the forces of a Shi’ite-led government. News reports day after day describe terrible attacks against civilian populations, with no coverage at all of violence against American forces. Where are our mounting casualties coming from? The BBC writes that eighty percent of attacks are against the occupation forces, not against civilian targets. Iraqi targets are often people either directly collaborating or trying to collaborate with the occupation (local police and military recruits), and people whose continuing work allows the current government to function. The apparent contradiction in which Iraqis would attack those who allow the hospitals, schools, and services to continue is comprehensible only in the context of an anti-occupation struggle where an insurgency tries to prevent the functioning of a government installed by an occupation army.

The United States exacerbated ethnic conflict in Iraq in order to refocus a growing anti-occupation insurgency, beginning with our arming Shi’ites to help us attack Sunni forces in Fallujah. Even then, some Shi’ites came to the aid of the Sunnis in a clear rejection of US efforts to divide the country. The militias introduced into the Iraqi Interior Ministry during the era of John Negroponte (accused of eliciting the same behavior in 1980s Honduras) have unquestionably engaged in sectarian killings. It is impossible to argue that sectarian violence has no history in Iraq; nonetheless, despite Saddam Hussein’s efforts to expel some Shi’ites during the 1980s, Sunnis and Shi’is continued to marry each other, to be members of the same tribes, and to live in the same neighborhoods.

Sectarian violence has increased dramatically during the United States occupation of Iraq. The occupation has only exacerbated the violence. The reasons are consistent with countless historical examples. Occupiers try to divide the country in order to keep their opposition weak. And those who would resist occupation invariably attack those who would collaborate with the occupation. Iraqis will only become more and more divided the longer the United States remains in their country.

The notion that we could stabilize Iraq and leave a viable government is absurd when looked at historically. Governments in power during occupation, collaborators with occupation forces, are most often overthrown when the occupiers leave. Whenever US forces leave, Iraqis will have to struggle to create their own state. The sooner we leave, the fewer people will have been compromised by their connection with our occupation.  Had we ended our occupation at the end of 2003 before the siege of Fallujah, or had we left Iraq in February 2006 before the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, Iraqis could have begun to reconstruct their own government and infrastructure without the horrific inter-communal violence that is now escalating daily. 

Our occupation has hardly prevented chaos and civil war, and leaving today would not miraculously end the violence that has been building over the past three years.  But our immediate departure would allow Iraqis to get on with reconstruction without the polarizing presence of a continuing occupation.  If we insist on staying, we will preside over the remainder of the annihilation of the state we have worked, for decades, to destroy.

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Elliott Aron Green - 12/23/2006

Arnold, could you be so good as to give me the thread and serial number and time of the comments that I made about Lenin, Bolsheviks, Russia, etc.? If so, then I could answer them. I don't recall at this point which comments of mine you are referring to.

Arnold Shcherban - 12/19/2006


Youd did not answer my request for any
documented proof of several of your
bold statements about Lenin, Bolsheviks, and Soviet Russia, in general I made in the last comments.
"Stay the course", as our President likes to say. Until we close those
issues I'm not going to wander around.

Elliott Aron Green - 12/19/2006

Oscar, it seems that the big problem with the present occupation of Iraq is that the USG does not seem to have had a clear plan of how to go about democratizing Iraq. Further, in order to democratize a Muslim society, it may be that very thorough, forceful --perhaps repressive-- measures might have to be taken in order to thoroughly change cultural-religious values [Yes, I know it sounds self-contradictory]. For many reasons, Bush, Blair & Co. may not have wanted to do that. So the democratization project was doomed to failure.

Another obstacle was that Iraq was not really a nation, what with several religious [Muslim-Christian], sectarian [Sunni-Shi`i], ethnic [Arab-Kurd-Assyrian, etc] divisions. On the history of this situation and present implications I recommend a recent paper by Ofra Bengio of the Dayan Center at Tel Aviv Univ.

Elliott Aron Green - 12/19/2006

Arnold, The discussion of Ukraine brings me back to the discussion of Zionism on another thread. My father's parents came from what is now southern Ukraine, the Odessa region. That area was only taken by the tsars in about 1780 [treaty of Kuchuk-Kainardji?]. The former Tatar population there, who had the distasteful habit of raiding more northerly areas for slaves to be sold in Constantinople, mostly left after the conquest, as Kamal Karpat explains. So the northern shore of the Black Sea was a Muslim Tatar khanate conquered by force by the tsars. The Tatars did not willingly join Russia.

The tsars, in order to settle that now mainly depopulated region, recruited settlers, colonists if you will. To get colonists to come, the Russian empire offered inducements, even to Jews, who suffered inferior rights to other imperial subjects, as you probably know. Anyhow, my father's
great-great-and so on-grandfathers were tempted to leave wherever they were living and migrate to near the north shore of the Black Sea, near Odessa, not yet a big city in 1780. Trotsky's forefathers too came on the same basis. Now, what right, by your lights, did my or Trotsky's forefathers have to come settle in that area? Do the Ukrainians today have a right to hold that territory?

Arnold Shcherban - 12/15/2006

The independent republics "emerged"?
But how did they "emerge"? They emerged, 'cause the local Soviets won
the popularity among the majority.
Lenin "liquidated" the independent republics of Ukraine and Transcaucasia? How Lenin with altogether 20 thousands party members in Russia, without practically any army (since it wasn't created yet that time) can liquidate the (alleged)will of millions to independence from Russia? Such an undocumented and ridiculous crap! Proof, please?
And you call yourself a historian?
I guess ideological maxims kill the last speck of professional honesty and elementary decency inside the heads of many on these boards.

mark safranski - 12/15/2006

"So there was no issue when Ukraine (which voluntarily became a part of Russia back in 17th century!)
or Belarus or Georgia to be part of the Tsars' Russia, but as soon as they comprised the Soviet state they
became Soviet "colonies" in the Western ideological terminology."

Ukraine or at least the Cossacks did voluntarily pledge loyalty to the Tsars. Georgia was forcibly incorporated into the empire and Belarus changed hands between Poland-Lithuiania and Muscovy.

Lenin liquidated the independent republics in Ukraine and Transcaucasia that emerged after the revolution. Stalin in turn liquidated the local Communist hierarchy and Russianized it and purged " pro-Minority" voices in the Bolshevik Party, like that of Sultan-Galiev.

The " colonial" presence of Soviet officialdom became more pronounced as you ventured East into Muslim Central Asia but Ukranians also chafed under chauvinistic Soviet policies.

N. Friedman - 12/15/2006

And likewise.

Arnold Shcherban - 12/15/2006

Nobody knows what happens in politicians' or any other head.
The historical and logical unbiased analysis of their DEEDS is used for that.

Arnold Shcherban - 12/15/2006

A lot, you clown.

Oscar Chamberlain - 12/15/2006

Thank you. Although we have often disagreed--particularly over the aggressiveness of Islam vis-a-vis other religions and cultures--I always appreciate your civility and your fact-based approach to these important issues.

N. Friedman - 12/15/2006


A very interest comment. You make very good points.

Yehudi Amitz - 12/15/2006

How many of your female relatives you already killed?

Yehudi Amitz - 12/15/2006

If you, in any way, have anything to do with the history profession, ask for a refund and limit yourself to thuggery and apology of totalitarian regimes.
USA has a very big propaganda machine but no one is forced to listen to anything, one can freely change the communication channel or not use one at all. The extreme left and right propaganda machines forced the population to ingest the propaganda, as described by Orwell in "1984".
You even don't know your Marxism, don't you remember the very simple Marxist slogan "capitalism is headed to the dustbin of history".
The attacks of Finland and Poland by the Soviets are clear acts of aggression. Russia still has territory conquered from Finland and Poland. Poland has been moved to the west by the soviets, they got German territory to compensate for the soviet grab and the Poles ethnically cleansed the Germans from it.
The cold war began when Stalin begun to organize fake elections bringing the communists to power in the occupied countries and when he grabbed more than what was agreed with USA and UK (Czechoslovakia for example)
Your sub-intellectual KGB style thuggery is shameless and worthy of your agitprop lady from Chapel Hill.

Arnold Shcherban - 12/15/2006

The US official propaganda machine by
its size, reach, budget, and the number of lies, semi-truths, and misinterpretentions 100 times exceeded red, black, and brown propagandas combined decades ago.
Then you "forgot" that Nazis and Italian fascists and all other fascist regimes after them were capitalists, too!
However "reds" never said that there is no big difference between just a capitalist and a Nazi capitalist, no sirree. And "reds" never commit or even tried to commit a military agression against Western countries, while Nazis did - huge strategic and political difference!
Then again, the Cold War was announced
by Churchill and started by the West, primarily, by UK and US, by installing
the fascist (thank you for reminding me) regime in Greece with "reds" responding in Poland, and Hungary.
(Churchill himself explicitly mentioned that Kremlin did not do anything in Greece, in case you purport to such an argument).
Since then, the US more than any other country in the world sponsored
and supported a number of fascist regimes in Central and South America -widely known fact.
So, I would definitely separate the US
from "reds", i.e. any left regime that
does not play ball with the corporate
America, but I would not separate them
so distictly with fascist regimes that
they support with great enthusiasm and money against any more or less
popular, not right-wing leader.

Yehudi Amitz - 12/14/2006

In the "great" tradition of Jdanov on one side and Goebbels on the other this propfessor spews cheap propaganda using one of the oldest lines in the red fascist book "blame USA first".
Chapel Hill is one of the finest institutions of higher education in the USA and I don't understand why it needs an agitprop section?!
Both fascist extremes, left and right, use/used the strawman argument to cover up the crimes they perpetrated, one side said that "capitalists are guilty for all the bad in the world" and the other that "commies are guilty for all the bad in the world".

Oscar Chamberlain - 12/14/2006

I've always found the post WWII comparisons to the situation in Iraq a bit strained, no matter which side was using them.

First of all, the situations in Germany and Japan were entirely different. Each had been thoroughly defeated militarily, and we were entering as conquerors not liberators. We had far greater freedom of action as a result.

Second, each country had some experience in representative government. Japan had never been democratic, and as many people have pointed out, Weimar failed, but something is better than nothing.

Third, neither country was tribal. As a former Ho Chunk tribal leader said to me the other day, neither the United States government nor the majority of its citizens has ever really understood tribal-based societies. That has haunted us in Iraq.

German unification and Japanese westernization had both developed political cultures in which the people thought of themselves as a nation. Although Iraq had moved in that direction, tribal loyalties (and the tribal "support systems" that helped out members in need) remained strong in Iraq under Saddam and seem to have grown stronger since our invasion.

Postscript on de-Nazification: I know that it stopped well short of perfect justice, but along with our other actions, it seems to have been sufficient to change the culture pretty radically without having the country fall apart a second time. That looks better and better every day.

N. Friedman - 12/14/2006


I was not sure I understood what you had in mind.

Good point regarding Weimar.

"We" = US

I am definitely without expertise on post war Germany so I would differ to someone with a background sufficient to address your point.

Elliott Aron Green - 12/14/2006

Sarah & Hala,
Up to 1929, a sizable Jewish population was living in Hebron. In the summer of that year, local Arabs turned on the Jews. Jews were sometimes killed and mutilated by their own neighbors with whom they had been friendly beforehand [although some Arabs did try to save Jews]. The British police in Hebron did nothing to stop the massacre. Afterwards, many Jews and some Arabs blamed the British for the massacre. Pierre van Paassen, a famous journalist at that time, also blamed the British. Albert Londres, a famous French journalist, blamed the British for the pogrom against the Jews in Safed [see "Le Juif errant est arrive'"]. So would you too blame the British entirely for the 1929 Hebron massacre that murdered 68 Jews?
Would you, now that British guilt has been established for the massacre, invite the Jews to come back to Hebron and would you urge the local Arabs to restore to them the Jewish-owned real estate there that was appropriated under Jordanian rule, including the so-called "Wholesale Market" that was built on the ruins of part of the Jewish Quarter? By the way, if you are not aware, the surviving Jews in Hebron were evacuated by the British and were essentially not allowed to return by them, although one family did return for a few years. In Jewish tradition, Hebron is regarded as one of the four Jewish holy cities in the Land of Israel. Do you believe that any Jews have any right whatsoever to live there? Or do you follow the British policy practiced during the Mandate years of driving Jews away from Jewish holy cities and holy places [using the Arabs as instruments]?

Elliott Aron Green - 12/14/2006

Really, Howard, Germany was inclined toward democracy? Weimar lasted only about 12-13 years. The pre-WW One parliament was not all that democratic. In any case, the Western Allies had to push the Germans toward democracy, etc. The Allies found Adenauer. Many old Nazis were allowed to work in the Federal Republic's civil service and judiciary, likewise in the GDR. Do you know about "denazification," which was much too mild in my opinion?

Elliott Aron Green - 12/14/2006

Arnold, aren't you aware that the Palestinian Arab leadership was pro-Nazi before and during WW Two? Since you are so interested in Yugoslavia, are you aware that the chief Palestinian Arab leader, Haj Amin el-Husseini, spent most of the war years in the Nazi-fascist domain and collaborated in the Holocaust? Nasser and Sadat too were Nazi collaborators. See my http://www.think-israel.org/green.nazis.html
This article contains relevant bibliog.
Now, this same Husseini helped organize the Handschar SS division that slaughtered Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies in Yugoslavia. So when you seem to assert that Arabs are innocent and not Nazi-like in anyway, you are forgetting the WW2 Nazi collaboration of the Arabs and their post-WW2 indoctrination of their populations with Nazi ideas.

Elliott Aron Green - 12/14/2006

Arnold, if you don't support Hamas/Hizbullah et al. --either their actions or ideology--, please state that very clearly. If so, then congratulations to you.

Howard C Berkowitz - 12/13/2006

I mean that with the Nazis out of power, Germany moved rapidly to democracy. As opposed to Iraq, they had the cultural context for democracy. Germans, for all their problems, had had democracy in Weimar and lost it. The Iraqis, if one really can speak of an Iraqi identity, don't have the experience, even of the former Warsaw Pact countries.

To what did you refer when you say "we" were trying to create a tolerant society?

To come back to a point upthread, I'd like to see evidence of any appreciable Nazi resistance by late 1945. Earlier in that year, the Nazi leadership ran, or committed suicide, or fought individual battles. The Werewolves never were a serious reality.

Arnold Shcherban - 12/13/2006

But I would definitely love to see
the KGB get you for spreading ethnic and ideological hatred.

Yehudi Amitz - 12/13/2006

This article is shameless propaganda with no basic regard to facts and present and historic truth. Iraq was/is a dysfunctional country created by colonial powers. During the Saddam regime less than 20% of the population controlled the rest of the population through killings and all the other means of oppression in the totalitarian manuals. I guess in the red fascist minds a dictator modeled after Stalin represents the highest level of functionality.
Normally all the KGB loving thugs writing here expressed their delight reading this piece of cheap propaganda.

Arnold Shcherban - 12/13/2006

The occupation of Germany, Austria, and Japan by the Allies and the WWII cannot be compared either ideologically or politically with the war and occupation of Iraq.
The countries/nations been occupied then INITIATED the wars of outright AGGRESSION and themselves PERMANENTLY occupied foreign countries, exterminating millions of civilians in Europe and SouthEast Asia just on the basis of racism and ehtnic cleaning. Moreover (perhaps, the most important factor), the Allies themselves had been the victims of those aggressions! (In case of the USSR, to say it was just a victim would be a great understatement).

Nothing even remotely close to that was done by Iraqi nation/country, though the internal regime of Saddam Hussein was brutal, but many other regimes, some of which are still in power had been much worse. Besides,
the threat hapless Iraq posed in 2003 not only to the rest of the world, but to its neigbors was miniscule by any comparison.

Actually, I should not even respond to such a redundant and obsolete arguments as yours.

Arnold Shcherban - 12/13/2006

Mr Green,

1.Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, and some others, except former Baltic republics
and, perhaps, Moldavia have been territories of the Tsarist Russia (including Poland, Finland, Latvia). One of the first things the Soviets (under Lenin) did is to return independence and soveriegnty to Poland, Finland, and Latvia.
So there was no issue when Ukraine (which voluntarily became a part of Russia back in 17th century!)
or Belarus or Georgia to be part of the Tsars' Russia, but as soon as they comprised the Soviet state they
became Soviet "colonies" in the Western ideological terminology.
Now about their status as nominally independent states within the UN.
After the WWII, in recognition of the
enormous sacrifice the Ukranians and
Belarussians placed on the altar of the victory in WWII the UN provided those nations with the state status on top of their status as the Soviet republics, not as a denial of their latter status (read relevant UN documents)! (The similar way and on similar reasons the state of Israel
was instituted by the UN.)

2. The fact that CIA backed KLA and flew Islamic "fighters" into Kosovo
to help the former months before the NATO bombing campaign began was not, of course, widely advertised, so speak, but is well known NOW to the interested observers. As well as the fact that it is the KLA that was responsible for the majority of the episodes of ethnic cleaning and killings that was offically declared as the main reason of the attack against... Serbian government.

3.Finally, you have to pay more respect to your opponents. Where did you get from that I "support Hamas and Hizbullah" (provided you meant their terrorist activity against unarmed civilians - Israelis or non-Israelis)?

N. Friedman - 12/13/2006


You write: "Not all Germans were Nazis, and Germany, freed of the Nazis, moved toward liberal democracy."

What does that mean? Are you saying that since not all Germans were Nazis, we had no business trying to create a tolerant society? Please explain yourself.

N. Friedman - 12/13/2006


You write: "Not all Germans were Nazis, and Germany, freed of the Nazis, moved toward liberal democracy."

What does that mean? Are you saying that since not all Germans were Nazis, we had no business trying to create a tolerant society? Please explain yourself.

Howard C Berkowitz - 12/13/2006

"Assoc Prof Shields, do you recall that after WW Two, the USA occupied Japan, while the USA, UK, USSR, and France occupied Germany and Austria? There were those in Germany who resisted the occupation, and favored the old, indigenous regime, that is, the Nazis. Were those resisters the good guys?"

Please document what significant resistance, after the surrender, was experienced by the Allies occupying Germany. Yes, the Nazis planned to have the Werewolves, but they never materialized as more than individuals. The National Redoubt was a chimera.

I ask again, what specific, significant resistance? Willy Brandt?

"All four powers occupying Germany tried to remake Germany, change its regime, suppress certain undesired [by the occupiers] cultural and political traits of the native population."

So you are saying Germany had no experience with democracy, or with elections taken over by totalitarians?

"Were they wrong to do so? Was it evil oppression to suppress the Nazi party, or were the occupying powers too soft on the indigenous Nazis?"

Not all Germans were Nazis, and Germany, freed of the Nazis, moved toward liberal democracy.

What do you think, Assoc Prof Shields?

Oscar Chamberlain - 12/12/2006


I am not sure what Bush--or the people around him--had in mind. But many people outside the Administration did support the war in the sincere hope that it would liberate the Iraqis.

Oscar Chamberlain - 12/12/2006


At several points after our invasion, I thought that, for all the mismanagement, something better would emerge for the Iraqis. However, the violence has created a situation in which the majority of Sunni Iraqis are far worse off. The situation in the Kurdish regions has improved marginally. For the Shi'a it seems to depend upon location.

If a better life for the majority of Iraqis does emerge from this, it will probably be at the expense of strengthening Iranian influence. I might stomach that (though the current Holocaust conference gives me pause). Do you?

Elliott Aron Green - 12/12/2006

Assoc Prof Shields, do you recall that after WW Two, the USA occupied Japan, while the USA, UK, USSR, and France occupied Germany and Austria? There were those in Germany who resisted the occupation, and favored the old, indigenous regime, that is, the Nazis. Were those resisters the good guys? All four powers occupying Germany tried to remake Germany, change its regime, suppress certain undesired [by the occupiers] cultural and political traits of the native population. Were they wrong to do so? Was it evil oppression to suppress the Nazi party, or were the occupying powers too soft on the indigenous Nazis? What do you think, Assoc Prof Shields?

Elliott Aron Green - 12/12/2006

Joe, I agree with your point that Shields bizarrely overlooks the evidence that all along the victims have overwhelmingly been civilians --Shi`ite civilians. The Sunni-Shi'ite conflict or dispute, if you like, goes back to the mid-7th century CE. Uncle Sam did not create it. Not even George W Bush created it. Of course, if US intelligence did not take account of the ferocious hatreds on both sides --which the Sunni Saddam had repressed by ferocious and bloody repression of the Shi`ites-- then US intelligence was very ignorant or not very intelligent. In this vein, I read that Rep. Reyes, now head of the House Intelligence Comm. or sub-comm, thought that al-Qa`ida was Shi`ite. Yes, Iraq was under control of the Sunni minority even before the Ottoman empire took over the country. Indeed, there is no Iraqi nation or people. A population, maybe, but not a people. Shields might disagree, but in that case, we ought to ask Captain Kirk to help her beam down for some recon of Planet Earth.

Elliott Aron Green - 12/12/2006

Arnold, thanx for always stimulating a reaction from me. You say that the USA was always meddling in the USSR's internal affairs, trying to get Ukraine & Belarus to break away. Well, maybe, but if Ukraine and Balarus rightly formed part of the USSR then why did they have the status of independent states at the UN from 1945? If they were independent states, then why was the US meddling in Soviet "internal" affairs?

Then, you say that the US --that is, the Clinton administration-- was encouraging Islamic terrorists in Kossovo [why not Bosnia too?]. But if they were encouraging Islamic terrorists in Kossovo, couldn't they have also been doing the same thing concerning Muslim terrorists against Israel, like Hamas? But don't you support Hamas and Hizbullah? Aren't you thereby contradicting yourself?

Yehudi Amitz - 12/12/2006

Talking about hatred.

Yehudi Amitz - 12/12/2006

Exactly what's expected from a low life like you!

Arnold Shcherban - 12/12/2006

Ah, good catch, Hala!

We know who commonly organize and support (financially and operationally) those death squads around the Third World countries, don't we?
I think that's the main cause of the
Civil War in Iraq, since otherwise it is unimaginable how would Saddam manage to keep the Shiite-Sunni hatred at bay, provided he oppressed Shiite majority(!), as we are told by the official Western propaganda.

Arnold Shcherban - 12/12/2006

Oh shut finally up you fanatical, despicable cretin with a single neuron that spits hatred.

Arnold Shcherban - 12/12/2006


Your comments, as usually, are logical, calm, and insightive (no ass kissing). But I think you're mistaken
suggesting that "the original vision of the war" was liberation. On the contrary, I'm convinced that the vision (of the Washington elite) was
anything but 'liberation' in the original meaning of that concept. I don't even think you really believe
in the vision mentioned, since I remember your recent and absolutely justifiable remark that this country's governments foreign policies are based on self-interests,
not on interests of the people they
allegedly care so much of. It is true that sometimes, though rarely, those interests happen to coincide, but mostly they are quite opposite (if one does not consider the interests of 5% of those assaulted nations as representative of the national interests).
The vision of the Iraq war was undoubtedly (as it's been confirmed by
miriad of facts, including the so-called "mistakes" made in handling of the "peace", not of the war) the tightening of the US grip on the MidEast region, in general, and the countries surrounding Iraq, in particular, and expanding the US military presence and control of the oil there. It is for that goal the change of the Saddam Hussein regime
was made, not vice versa. Do the US
policy-makers want real democracy in Iraq or elsewhere in the region?
Of course, not! Otherwise they could have promoted it peacefully for decades. What they did instead is promoting tyrant, oppressive, corrupt, and religion-based regimes, by that creating much of the extremism and hatred against themselves. And don't forget how they
protected and encourage Islamic terrorists during Kosovo conflict to commit terrorist acts against Serbs, inflicting the reverse reaction, then claiming themselves the liberators from the Serbian oppression. Why?
Not 'cause Milosevitch was a war criminal, which he was, but 'cause he was fighting the decay of his country - Yugoslavia.
The same way they plan now for the separation of one more sovereign state - Iraq - into three independent states, what I predicted two years ago
as their eventual goal. As they were meddling for decades with the former USSR internal affairs provoking such former republics as Ukraine, Bellorussia, Georgia, and others to split the nation, that in its turn
tremendously hurt the common folks, but enriched their collaborators in those new countries.
This is the exact replica of the strategy and tactics of the former British Empire: divide and conquer.
I'm amazed that such an insightful commentator as you're doesn't see it.

Howard C Berkowitz - 12/12/2006

"The idea that such atrocity is simply run of the mill warfare, is evidence of the author being utter naive or pathetically unguided by anything resembling morality."

Did you mean to say that there is some universal moral standard by which the author should judge? Remember, such a standard is universal only if all parties recognize it. Those that do not will not be motivated by any protestations of adherents of other moralities.

This is not uniquely Islamic. Any number of theorists of guerilla warfare, from ideologies as different as Marighella and Grivas, speak of attacks on innocents as a specific tactic. The tactic has various goals, such as causing loss of confidence in the central government, having that government overreact and produce anti-government sympathizers, or simply deter neutrals from criticizing the insurgents.

Lenin put it that "the purpose of terror is to terrorize." It is actions, actions relevant to desires of the populace at least for security, that motivate defeat of terrorism -- not pronouncements of morality.

Oscar Chamberlain - 12/12/2006

"More or less violence?"

In the short run (first 6 months to year) almost certainly more. Beyond that, however, it's anyone's guess. As an example, the continued presence of the United States might inhibit some violence on one hand while prolonging the occurence of violence on the other. Which would be bloodier? I don't know. Do you?

I also don't know if the original vision of the war--as a form of liberation--could ever have been achieved. This administration's incompetence in pursuing that aim has been so staggering that it might have turned a winnable war sour. Or not .

Either way, we are stuck with the same president as commander-in-chief for two more years, and that makes it pretty hard to believe that any policy that we decide upon will be managed well.

As I've said off and on for three years. Wars are not fought theoretically; they are founght by the leaders and the people at hand. I fear a pull out will be as bad as some have claimed. But because of our leadership, I also fear that the alternative might be worse.

Yehudi Amitz - 12/12/2006

Because Arabs killing each other is considered NORMAL in the Arab World. Only a few Palestinian officials gave the usual lip service.

Yehudi Amitz - 12/12/2006

Did anyone here kill a female relative, lately, for having an intimate boyfriend or for being raped?
One of the most stupid arguments of this article is: "Sunnis and Shi’is continued to marry each other, to be members of the same tribes, and to live in the same neighborhoods". I am sure the same happened in Chechnya and the surrounding areas and in Darfur and many other places, between different groups living in the same area.

mark safranski - 12/12/2006


You, the author and George W. Bush may be the only three people on the planet who are denying Iraq is in a civil war.

Here are some folks who disagree with you:

Juan Cole

Foreign Policy



Kofi Annan

What will happen when the troops bug out Arnold and the militias and insurgents can move openly and freely? More or less violence ?

Jason Blake Keuter - 12/12/2006

well put...

Jason Blake Keuter - 12/12/2006

That's right Sarah. There's no genocide in the Sudan either and if the United States goes in there, every unpleasant image CNN broadcasts about the whole thing can be explain by an illegal act of imperial aggression.

All of the problems between the Shia and Sunni that existed during Sadaam's SUNNI dictatorship existed because of UN sanctions spearheaded by the US that was wrong to invade Iraq without UN authorization. The gassing of the kurds received tacit approval from the US because I have a photo of Donald Rumsfeld talking to Sadaam Hussein (if only he'd continued doing that, then the war never would've happened!)

As for the annihilation of the "state", that is indeed far worse than the preservation of the state in which only one faction ruled over all the other nations within that state. Like you, I prefered Iraq when it was a criminal Empire run by a small minority of the Sunni at the expense of the Kurds and Shi'ites. I join you in your sanctification of the "state". Long live the state! Long live the state!

Hala Fattah - 12/11/2006

I thank Sarah Shields for this lucid piece. Let me add a small detail to her commentary. A Sunni Iraqi living in a mixed Baghdadi neighborhood, Al-Sulaykh, recently arrived in Amman.I queried her as to what was going on in the area where she lives and she answered that while the violence in al-Sulaykh may have started as a tit-for-tat Sunni-Shi'a struggle, it quickly morphed into organized and systematic ethnic cleansing, led by people neither Sunnis nor Shi'a could really claim as their own. Obviously, death squads similar to the Honduran example are alive and well in Baghdad, and aiding and abetting those small groups agitating for civil war in Iraq.

Arnold Shcherban - 12/11/2006

The first one who called the US invasion to Iraq as it is according to any international (and cynically agreed on by this country as well) definition of such an act - agression.
And as such it will enter the history books... in any other country (even UK), but this one.
Who is the major threat to the main paper principles of Western civilization? The US ideological and political elite - the worst imperialists and agressors of the 21st century.

Arnold Shcherban - 12/11/2006

Mr Hmmmm,

Are you willing to put your money where your mouth is?
How can you (alleged serious observer) assert without any factual and logical justification that
if "we" (by "we", I guess, you meant your dear war criminals in Washington)
leave, the violence will tremendously escalate? Why? Cause that what ala-Bush or so-called liberals say?
Now, I'm far from being that assertive
in the sense that the violence will
stop as soon as "we" leave, or even
that it won't be escalating for a short while after, but the presence
of the US troops in Iraq is, as many polls among Iraqis indicated, and many US politicians and observers concluded is the major cause of that violence.
Therefore, it is ridiculous to refuse
to eliminate that major cause on the reason that the withdrawl will not eliminate the other causes. The arithmetic is the simplest - it will be one cause less.

Besides, as absolutely justifiably the author of the commented on article indicated, this war is the war of agression, regime change and occupation according to any pertained
international law and definition.
Therefore the question is not whether there is a civil war or not and whether there will be the one should we leave, but "we" MUST leave and now ... unless "we" insist that because the US is the most democratic country in the world ("we" are right and "they" are wrong) it is not bound by any law, even its own.

Joe Devere Rowan - 12/11/2006

What nonsense. To hear such an obvious political fantasy spouted by a someone who claims to be a serious scholar is frightening.
The mounting civilian death toll of the war is a clear tonic Shields rather propagandic piece. The massive bombing of market places, public squares, and even mosques are obvious evidence that the Sunni insurgency targets civilians in great number who have no connection with authority. The Shia backblast, which at least in Baghdad has taken on a true vigilanty modus oprendi, has taken to executing Sunnis at mass with hideous method of torture... by using electric drills on their faces.
The author contents that the continuing rise in American casualties shows that the occupation is taking the brunt of the attacks. Alas, the rise in Iraqi civilian casualties is far greater, and the vast increase in them since Feb. has come from massive bombings and killings against non-combatants. The huge increase in Feb. obviously stemmed from the Golden Mosque bombing in Samarra, which finally ignited the Shia fury seen in the streets today. The author barely mentions that fact late in the piece, but then dismisses it absent-mindedly as simply something that could have been avoided if only the US had withdrawn earlier. To avoid such an obvious cassus belli is absurd. To suggest that such an event only occured because of continued American precense is quite a leap of logic.
The accusation that American forces have deliberately attempted to sow sectarian violence is at best, utterly devoid of any evidence. Since the first day of occupation, the American authority has desperately tried to bring all parties to the table to negotiate and resolve the ongoing conflict. This continued despite several actual and threatened Sunni walkouts on the fledgling government committees. Moqtaba Sadr has often used the same tactic from the Shia side.
The sad fact was that the Sunni insurgency rose as a reactionary force attempting to retain complete Sunni control of the government and social life, a status quo that has been in place since the Ottoman period. The multiple attempts to drag the Shia into ethnic conflict finnally succeeded last Feb. It is a real question if the US can broker some kind of truce out all this madness, because, both parties appear uninterested in any compromise. The idea, that the waters will part following a US withdraw and the peace will be at hand will prove as shortsighted and delousional as they were in South East Asia forty years ago.
The idea that most civilian murders have resulted from being collaborators is pathetic and immoral. It is interesting that the author brings up several contemporary insugencies from the last half century. Many of these she mentions, like Algeria, for instance, were filled with horrific massacres by insurgents against innocent people who were in no ways collaboraters, but simply uncooperative with insurgent goals or simply refused to allow insurgents to steal from them or exploit them. The idea that such atrocity is simply run of the mill warfare, is evidence of the author being utter naive or pathetically unguided by anything resembling morality.

mark safranski - 12/11/2006

So, Sunni radical insurgents are only targeting "collaborators" ? Ok, so if the Mahdi militia targets Maliki government figures AND Sunnis then they are doing what exactly ? Or when the Mahdists join the ranks of the Iraqi police ? What then ? Or fight with Badr brigade members ?

Iraq is having a civil war during American occupation. If we leave, it will simply escalate by several orders of magnitude.