Saturday, April 28, 2007


Sectarian Conflict in Iraq: Inevitable?

A point I've made elsewhere, but wanted to recapture, came to mind on reading this terrific Daniel Larison post.

Larison continues to hold unaccountable, deceitful war supporters to account, in this case Christopher Hitchens for his unconscionable, blithe assertion that Iraq's sectarian conflict was inevitable. In Larison's counterargument, he highlights part of Riverbend's final post:

I remember Baghdad before the war- one could live anywhere. We didn’t know what our neighbors were- we didn’t care. No one asked about religion or sect. No one bothered with what was considered a trivial topic: are you Sunni or Shia? You only asked something like that if you were uncouth and backward. Our lives revolve around it now. Our existence depends on hiding it or highlighting it- depending on the group of masked men who stop you or raid your home in the middle of the night.

This description from Riverbend raises an important point about our culpability for the situation in Iraq today.

Imagine if we removed all civil authority from, say, Washington DC, or New York, or Cleveland.

I submit that race would rapidly become a much more salient issue in the minds of the city’s residents. When there is no civil authority, and crime becomes rampant, you turn to whatever you can to try to achieve some measure of security. And it’s not that hard for such a situation to spiral into an escalating series of reprisals, making tension among groups all the more intractable.

Of course, if this happened in the post-civil authority US, you’d be able to go back and point out that the US had always had racial tensions, and assert that this unpleasantness was all just their natural conclusion.

That would be false.

Not all social conflict, as Larison points out, escalates to its “natural conclusion,” i.e., an all-out bloodbath.

Of course there were fissures in Iraqi society– show me a society without any! Our failure to plan for the aftermath guaranteed that there would be chaos in Iraq. Chaos in Iraq, unsurprisingly, led to escalating tensions among ethnic groups.

The self-serving slander of Iraqis tossed about by some unrepentant war supporters, that Iraqis want, deserve, and were predetermined to live in the cauldron they endure today, must be challenged and refuted wherever it emerges.

As to what to do about it now that the genie of violence is out of the bottle, I would support a continued, open-ended US presence if it were preventing a civil war and hastening a political accommodation. There is scarce evidence, however, that either is the case.


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