Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Iraqi Civil War

Sometimes I seem behind other bloggers on dealing with issues. For example, a blog search of the terms Iraq Civil War came up with 200,327 results. (OK, I did write about the civil war in Iraq back on February 21st, but that was before using those words in relationship to Iraq was politically correct). Now the observation that Sunnis murdering Shiites and Shiites murdering Sunnis can be called a civil war is being made by more and more of those “in the know,” including Former Secretary of State, General Colin Powell.

I have long believed that only a person unknowledgeable about Muslim and Arab history would have rejected the conclusion that what has been happening in Iraq—this so-called “sectarian[1] violence”—has been anything but a civil war. Of course, when one perceives that Sunni and Shiite Muslims have been killing one another since within a decade after the death of Muhammad, it is no surprise that they are still committing fratricide. That’s a long history of sectarian hatred and violence, even longer that the Christian wars between Roman Catholics and Protestants.

One must also consider that Iraq has never, in modern times, been a true “nation.” From 1534 to 1918 Iraq was a province of the Ottoman Empire—a province that was geographically dissimilar to the modern boundaries of Iraq. On March 11, 1917, a British army entered Baghdad and an administration, staffed largely by British and Indian officials, replaced the Ottoman provincial government in occupied Iraq. The British created an Iraqi state by merging three Ottoman provinces (Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra) into one political entity. This created of a nation of the diverse religious and ethnic elements which perhaps should never have been combined. The British more or less controlled Iraq until 1932, when Iraq was admitted to the League of Nations as an independent state.

Since 1932 one can describe the political situation of Iraq as one of political instability. The first incident was an uprising by the Assyrians, a small Christian community living in Mosul province, in 1933. In clashes with the Iraqi troops, several hundred Assyrians were brutally killed. Iraq had five government changes between 1932 and 1934, mostly the result of military conspiracies. The army basically controlled internal Iraqi politics until 1941, when it was defeated in World War II by Britain.

Since World War I, Iraq had been a constitutional monarchy, patterned after that of Great Britain. On July 14, 1958, a brigade of the Iraqi army instigated a revolution, captured Baghdad, declared the downfall of the monarchy, and proclaimed a republic. The leading members of the royal house, including the king and crown prince, were executed. A provisional constitution declared that Iraq formed an integral part “of the Arab nation” and that “Arabs and Kurds are considered partners in this homeland.” Iraq was declared a republic and Islām the religion of the state; all executive and legislative powers were entrusted to the Sovereignty Council and the Cabinet.

Of course, this being Iraq, the new government didn’t last: there were recurring military coups from 1963–1968. On July 17, 1968, the government was overthrown by the army, in conjunction with the Ba’th Party. addām Hussein, a leader of the Ba’th Party, began to assert open control of the government in 1979.

As I have noted, Iraq has never been a stable nation. However, due to Hussein’s extensive use his secret-police to suppress any internal opposition, sectarian violence was almost non existent. Until, of course, the U.S. invasion. As with the break-up of Yugoslavia, without a powerful central government, long standing hatreds flared up and murder came to rule the streets.

I did this research in order to focus my own thoughts on the civil war now going on in Iraq. This thumbnail indicates to me that civil war between Sunni and Shiite Muslims was inevitable. And I have not included the issue of the Kurds and their desire for a national homeland!

[1] sec·tar·i·an: (1) relating to or involving relations between religious groups or denominations; (2) dogmatic and intolerant: rigidly adhering to a particular set of doctrines and intolerant of other views


  1. Hi, Nick. I was going to leave this on yesterday's post but it seems to fit here, too.

    Blessed be the peacemakers, sweet Nick, of which you are one.

  2. This is one of the most useful things I've read about Iraq in a long time. Thanks for researching and posting!

  3. Please stop researching complicated issues and then providing well-reasoned opinions. Thanks to today's media, I'm used to uninformed opinions shouted at top volume, and you're confusing me.

  4. Thanks. I agree that the Muslems in Iraq are fighting a civil war. Why is President Bush so determined to have us believe that they are not?

  5. Very cool. Thank you so much for your research. I am indebted as usual.

  6. Do you think this means our army will be there forever?

  7. "Since 1932 one can describe the political situation of Iraq as one of political instability. The first incident was an uprising by the Assyrians, a small Christian community living in Mosul province, in 1933. In clashes with the Iraqi troops, several hundred Assyrians were brutally killed. Iraq had five government changes between 1932 and 1934, mostly the result of military conspiracies. The army basically controlled internal Iraqi politics until 1941, when it was defeated in World War II by Britain".

    Actually the Assyrians didn't have an uprising but this is the deceit that the British fed the world and they still implement the same policy.It was the British army which caused the Assyrians to be brutally massacred between August 01-07 1933 but precisely it was August 07 1933 when Assyrian women, children,elderly and men who were un armed were gathered in the Assyrian village of Simeleh (Simel) and 7000 were massacred while the British planes circled the area taking pictures.

    It was the British government which betrayed the Assyrians and falsely promised them a land of their own which was and still is their right on their historical lands in Iraq being the indigenous people of the land.However, the British betrayed the Assyrians and instigated the massacres which befell them during WWI losing up to 750.000 Assyrians in addition to the Armeniand and Pontic Greeks then in 1933.

    The simple fact is that the British made promises to the Assyrians, then they betrayed and instigated the massacre of the Assyrians who were the allies of the British.

  8. Definition of Civil War: "A war between factions of the same country; there are five criteria for international recognition of this status: the contestants must control territory, have a functioning government, enjoy some foreign recognition, have identifiable regular armed forces, and engage in major military operations."

    I have heard the latest trend of saying that Iraq is in a Civil War. I don't really see yet how it falls in that category. The Civil War in the United States I think is the best example of this type of conflict. I do not believe that Iraq is at that point at all.

  9. Published on Thursday, January 22, 2004 by Knight-Rider:

    CIA officers in Iraq are warning that the country may be on a path to civil war, current and former U.S. officials said Wednesday, starkly contradicting the upbeat assessment that President Bush gave in his State of the Union address.

    The CIA officers' bleak assessment was delivered verbally to Washington this week, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the classified information involved.

    The warning echoed growing fears that Iraq's Shiite majority, which has until now grudgingly accepted the U.S. occupation, could turn to violence if its demands for direct elections are spurned.

    Tens of thousands of Shiite Muslims protest in the streets Baghdad, Iraq. The protesters are demanding a fair election process for Iraq. (Photo/ Tom Pennington)
    Meanwhile, Iraq's Kurdish minority is pressing its demand for autonomy and shares of oil revenue.

    "Both the Shiites and the Kurds think that now's their time," said one intelligence officer. "They think that if they don't get what they want now, they'll probably never get it. Both of them feel they've been betrayed by the United States before."

    These dire scenarios were discussed at meetings this week by Bush, his top national security aides and the chief U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, said a senior administration official, who requested anonymity.

    Another senior official said the concerns over a possible civil war weren't confined to the CIA but are "broadly held within the government," including by regional experts at the State Department and National Security Council.

    Top officials are scrambling to save the U.S. exit strategy after concluding that Iraq's most powerful Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al Husseini al Sistani, is unlikely to drop his demand for elections for an interim assembly that would choose an interim government by June 30.

    Bremer would then hand over power to the interim government.

    The CIA hasn't yet put its officers' warnings about a potential Iraqi civil war in writing, but the senior official said he expected a formal report "momentarily."

    "In the discussion with Bremer in the last few days, several very bad possibilities have been outlined," he said.

    Bush, in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, insisted that an insurgency against the U.S. occupation, conducted primarily by minority Sunni Muslims who enjoyed power under Saddam Hussein, "will fail, and the Iraqi people will live in freedom."

    "Month by month, Iraqis are assuming more responsibility for their own security and their own future," the president said.

    Bush didn't directly address the crisis over the Shiites' political demands.

    Shiites, who dominate the regions from Baghdad south to the borders of Kuwait and Iran, comprise some 60 percent of Iraq's 25 million people.

    Several U.S. officials acknowledged that Sistani is unlikely to be "rolled," as one put it, and as a result Bremer's plan for restoring Iraqi sovereignty and ending the U.S. occupation by June 30 is in peril.

    The Bremer plan, negotiated with the U.S.-installed Iraqi Governing Council, calls for caucuses in each of Iraq's 18 provinces to choose the interim national assembly, which would in turn select Iraq's first post-Saddam government.

    The first direct elections wouldn't be held until the end of 2005.

    In an interview with Knight Ridder on Wednesday, a top cleric in the Shiite holy city of Najaf appeared to confirm the fears of potential civil war.

    "Everything has its own time, but we are saying that we don't accept the occupiers getting involved with the Iraqis' affairs," said Sheikh Ali Najafi, whose father, Grand Ayatollah Bashir al Najafi, is, along with Sistani, one of the four most senior clerics. "I don't trust the Americans - not even for one blink."

    If the United States went ahead with the caucus plan and ended the military occupation, the interim government wouldn't last long, he said.

    "The Iraqi people would know how to deal with those people," he said, smiling. "They would kick them out."

    U.S. and British officials hinted Wednesday that they might bow to the demand for some kind of elections, after saying for weeks that holding free and fair elections in time for the handover of sovereignty would be impossible.

    "We've always favored elections," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said after he and other top Bush aides briefed senators. "The only question is - the tension was, if your goal is to get sovereignty passed to the Iraqis so that they feel they have a stake in their future, can you do it faster with caucuses or can you do it faster with elections?"

    Rumsfeld was responding to comments by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who opened the door Wednesday to elections in Iraq earlier than planned.

    "The discussion, which has been stimulated by Ayatollah Sistani, is whether there could be an element of elections injected into the earlier part of the process," Straw said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

    "We have to work with great respect for him and similar leaders," he said. "We want elections as soon as it is feasible to hold them."

    Shiite clerics have become more forceful in their denunciation of the caucus plan and have organized increasingly large, albeit peaceful, demonstrations demanding elections.

    State Department officials said no changes to the Bremer plan are being formally considered. They said much depends on the findings of a U.N. assessment team that the Bush administration has asked U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to send to examine the feasibility of elections.

    One option being informally discussed is to delay the transfer of power until later in 2004, which might give the United Nations time to organize some sort of elections, said one official.

    But that is almost certain to be opposed by White House political aides who want the occupation over and many U.S. troops gone by this summer to bolster Bush's re-election chances, the official said.

    "It's all politics right now," he said.

  10. I heard an interview on the BBC tonight in which 3 Iraqi government officials said that they believe they are in the midst of a civil war. I still do not understand why the Bush administration continues to deny the obvious.