Wednesday, June 21, 2006

What's In A Name(s)?

A while back, Nadezhda (on American Footprints) made an excellent point regarding the "insurgency" in Iraq. Namely that it wasn't really "an" insurgency in the singular sense, but rather multiple insurgencies - each with its own distinct, and often conflicting, set of goals, motivations, objectives, strategies and tactics. I've tried to incorporate that fine point in my thinking and analysis.

Through this clarification, it becomes easier to appreciate the true state of affairs and posit solutions or at least means for damage control that better comport to reality. Among them, a counter-insurgency strategy involving the coopting and peeling off of layers of the insurgencies, while marginalizing and eliminating others. Even with the proper linguistic framework, easier said than done.

In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, there is a five-person roundtable of pundits organized around the central question of "What to Do in Iraq?" (actually four of the authors are commenting on Stephen Biddle's article - discussed here and here - and Biddle is given a rebuttal). While I hope to provide some more in-depth analysis of the various solutions proffered by the various authors (no magic bullets mind you), I did want to highlight one passage from Chaim Kaufmann that might tell of yet another useful linguistic distinction:

Three different civil wars are now raging in Iraq: the first between U.S.-led coalition forces and antigovernment insurgents, the second between the Kurds and other communities in northern Iraq, and the third between Sunni Arabs and Shiite Arabs in the center of the country. The last is the most important because it represents the greatest potential for humanitarian disaster as well as for long-term instability in Iraq and in the region.

So instead of describing Iraq as being embroiled in a low-level civil war, it might be more accurate to say that Iraq is beset by many civil wars - with all of the related implications. Then again, Anthony Shadid might argue that Kaufmann fails to appreciate the many ways that Kaufmann's version of the multiple civil wars could be expanded in scope when considering the additional variables that lurk underneath the surface:

This question of civil war is really pressing, and I think it is actually important to say whether one is under way or not. I believe it is, but maybe not in the way we've fashioned it in the past: Sunni, Shiite and Kurd. When I think of the civil war in Iraq, I'm struck by the fault lines that are getting less attention. There is the sometimes explosive rivalry between Hakim's Badr milita [sic] and the Sadr forces. We've seen time and again the flaring of differences in western Iraq between insurgent groups. (As far back as last year, I heard an Iraqi guerrilla from Fallujah, of the nationalist variety, vowing to shoot any Arab expat trying to give him orders.) We should be careful in not minimizing differences between the two Kurdish parties. Understandably our attention is focused on Zarqawi's threats to wage an unrelenting campaign against Shiites. But in the long run, it's the intra-communal battles that I think are more decisive and worrisome.

Speaking of which, might not the contested city of Basra exemplify the current state of the internecine civil wars warned about by Shadid? In today's Guardian (via Juan Cole), we see that British military officials on the scene - in particular Lieutenant General Nick Houghton, Britain's chief of joint operations - aren't exactly optimistic about the deteriorating situation:

"There is a worrying amount of violence and murder carried out between rival Shia factions," he said. "The security situation in Basra has no doubt got worse of late due to the protracted period of talks to form the government." That, he said, allowed "a period of time in which politics that should have been conducted more appropriately, actually were conducted through violent means on the streets". Gen Houghton continued: "There has been inter-faction rivalry, much of it then reflecting in non-judicial murder between rival Shia factions struggling for political and economic power."

It's going to be a long, hot summer in Iraq. Or should I say summers. Let's hope it's only one. I don't know how many more plurals Iraq can take.

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