"Experts" from Rand & Brookings agree: it's a civil war

Monday, December 18, 2006 at 05:16 PM

The right wing die-hards may still want to quibble about definitions when it comes to Iraq, but two "experts" from opposite ends of the think tank spectrum think quibbling time is over: it's a civil war in Iraq.

And the discussion appears on the Voice of America web site, of all places.
VOA's Brian Padden recently talked to two political analysts who say,  "Yes, Iraq is definitely in a civil war," and they say this new reality should alter American expectations and strategies in Iraq.

In the last year the sectarian violence in Iraq has claimed more than 1,000 lives in fighting between two or more factions in the country.  This sustained level of violence fulfills the academic definition of a civil war, says Seth Jones, a political scientist with the Rand Corporation.  This is important to understand, he says, because civil wars can last longer and are more difficult to resolve than interstate wars.

"In civil wars there generally is no territorial retreat.  Once a war is over, actually civil wars are often likely to restart again even once there is a negotiated settlement.   Because you often will have those people that remain in the country. "

Michael O'Hanlon, an Iraq policy expert with The Brookings Institution says it is important to understand that Iraq is not only in a civil war, but in an ethnic based war between Sunni and Shia. He says that can help determine possible strategies to end the violence.

"Generally when you have ethnic conflict you do have in some cases the possibility of resolution based on partition or a soft partition, because people are not really operating off an ideology where they the feel an absolute need to convince everyone in their country that they are right, and make everyone live under a certain system.  They primarily are seeking advantage for their own group," says O'Hanlon.

Given the tenor of the discussion in the District of La-La Land these days, it's worth reiterating that direct military interference in civil wars generally has a poor record.  Except for cases where the military intervened until a partition or the like could be effected.

Except here, there are damn few in the Middle East who really want to see a partition of Iraq.  Objections range from Turkey and Iran not wanting an officially sovereign Kurdistan on their borders, to Sunni fears of abject poverty given the lack of resources in the Sunni areas of Iraq, to Shia objections to losing power over the full territory of the current Iraq just as they are on the brink of coming to the power to which their majority would seem to entitle them.