العراق واقع في الحرب الأهلية؟
الشرق الأوسط - صيف 2007
نحن لا نقاتل الإرهاب في العراق
بل نحن نقاوم الحرب الأهلية
Iraq in a Civil War?
David A. Patten
politicians have determined Iraq to be in a civil war.
"We're not fighting terrorism in Iraq," Rep.
John Murtha (Democrat-Penn.) said on January 27, 2006,
"We're fighting a civil war in Iraq." He is
not alone. On November 27, 2006, NBC sparked media and
political debate when it announced it would henceforth
label the violence in Iraq a civil war. Such a
designation is significant. Major-General William Nash
(ret.) explains failure to acknowledge that a civil war
exists "means that our counter-measures are
inadequate and, therefore, dangerous to our long-term
interests." A March 2007 Pentagon report
augmented the debate. "Some elements of the
situation in Iraq are properly descriptive of a ‘civil
war,' including the hardening of ethno-sectarian
identities and mobilization, the changing character of
the violence and population displacements," it
said. However, the debate should not be political.
Precision matters. If Iraq is not in a civil war, using
the term for U.S. domestic political reasons might
undercut efforts to restore stability.
the Sunnis and Shi‘a are fighting for control of Iraq,
then the U.S. is caught in a sectarian civil war. This
would require a paradigm shift in understanding the
conflict: Are government security forces legitimate
instruments of the Iraqi people's will or simply agents
of Shi‘i political parties? Are attacks against Iraqi
police factional acts or terrorist acts against a
democratic government? Are coalition forces engaged in
stabilization operations, or are they allies of one
Iraqi faction seeking to dominate another? If so, should
the U.S. military support a single faction or withdraw?
U.S. strategic interests are at stake. The Bush
administration has made the establishment of democratic
regimes a cornerstone of the U.S. national security
strategy. Because the Shi‘a are the majority in
Iraq, a democratic Iraq is equivalent to Shi‘i
empowerment. Shi‘i empowerment and effective Sunni
participation need not be mutually exclusive, though.
However, should the Shi‘i-dominated central government
use state security services to dominate the Sunni, then
the United States is no longer fighting to spread
democracy but rather supporting one side in a sectarian
Iraq is in a sectarian civil war, then U.S. insertion in
a civil war would mean alliance with either the Shi‘a
or Sunni. If U.S. policymakers support the Iraqi
Shi‘a, they risk alienating Sunni Muslims worldwide.
Many Sunni officials outside Iraq might depict a
U.S.-Shi‘i alliance as crusading because, they would
say, the Iraqi Sunni Arabs had not previously posed a
significant terrorist threat to the United States.
Further, because Salafis—those Sunnis who believe
their own fundamentalist interpretation of the Qur'an is
the only legitimate one—depict Shi‘a as apostates,
U.S. support for the Shi‘a would provide further
motivation to Sunni jihadists. Lastly, if Iraq's Shi‘a
emerge victorious in a civil war, as opposed to
increasing their power by means of the U.S.-backed
political process, Iranian strategic interests might
advance at the expense of U.S. interests. If Iraq is
embroiled in a sectarian civil war, it may be unwise for
the U.S. government to support Shi‘i parties or a
does not mean an alliance with Iraqi Sunni Arabs would
be in U.S. interests, either. Iraqi Shi‘i officials
would interpret overt support for the minority Iraqi
Sunni Arabs as abandonment of democratization. Even if
this were not a concern, the U.S. government has no
clear allies among the various Sunni groups. The most
secular groups are affiliated with the former Baathist
regime, which, when in power, demonstrated themselves to
be a threat to international stability on numerous
occasions. Empowerment of the Sunni insurgency's
jihadist elements would be inimical to U.S. and broader
Western interests. Overt U.S. support for any Sunni
element would also enable Tehran to rally Iraq's
majority Shi‘i population around it and against
Washington. The problems involved in any such choice
lead many political leaders to judge withdrawal to be
prudent. After the bombing of the golden-domed Al-Askari
Mosque in Samarra on February 22, 2006, Rep. Maxine
Waters (Democrat-Calif.) said, "We cannot expect
our soldiers to try to sort out which side is which in
this civil war, and we should not take sides."
argue that U.S. involvement is necessary to prevent
further spread of conflict and destabilization beyond
Iraq's borders. The fact that Iraq's sectarian makeup
is reflected beyond its borders creates a danger of
spill-over. Georgetown professor Daniel Byman and
Clinton-era National Security Council staffer Kenneth
Pollack suggest tripling the number of U.S. troops in
Iraq to 450,000. That these experts propose tripling
U.S. military presence as a result of a change in their
understanding of the conflict underlines the centrality
of the question of civil war.
Is a Civil War?
often, underlying claims that Iraq is in a civil war are
political posturing and imprecise definitions. Even
among specialists, there is little consensus about
definitions. Any such determination, however, requires
precise criteria that establish what a civil war is. The
U.S. Army uses five criteria to recognize civil war: 1)
The contestants must control territory; 2) there must be
a functioning government; 3) each side must enjoy some
foreign recognition; 4) the sides should have
identifiable and regular armed forces; and 5) they
should engage in major military operations. At
present, only the first of these five criteria is met in
Iraq. Jihadists control territory in Anbar province and
some areas on Baghdad's outskirts. But the jihadists do
not have a functioning government anywhere in Iraq, nor
do they have regular armed forces that engage in major
U.S. Army's definition is not universally accepted,
however. Former national director of intelligence John
Negroponte defined a civil war as "a complete loss
of central government security control, [and] the
disintegration or deterioration of the security forces
of the country." J. David Singer, political
science professor and former consultant to the U.S.
Department of Defense and State Department, and his protégé
Errol A. Henderson define civil war as "sustained
military combat, primarily internal, resulting in at
least 1,000 battle-deaths per year, pitting central
government forces against an insurgent force capable of
effective resistance, determined by the latter's ability
to inflict upon the government forces at least 5 percent
of the fatalities that the insurgents sustain."
Such criteria justify the civil war label, but by
Henderson and Singer's definition, Iraq has suffered
seven separate civil wars in the last forty-five years.
claim that Iraq is in a civil war not only implies high
levels of sustained violence but also that the Iraqi
government is too weak to defend its citizens. To
conclude that a civil war exists in Iraq implies a
fundamental change in the nature of fighting. In March
and April 2003, the U.S. military confronted an enemy
regime's military in conventional combat. Between April
2003 and January 2005, the U.S. military supported a
transitional government to preserve stability.
Throughout 2005, U.S. and coalition forces were
protecting a fledgling democracy in Iraq. In October
2005, Iraqis voted to approve a constitution; two months
later, they voted for a new government that Shi‘i
parties dominate. If subsequent violence is an effort by
Sunni Arabs in Iraq to overthrow what they perceive to
be an oppressive Shi‘i regime, then Washington is no
longer fighting the same conflict it was eighteen months
the Samarra mosque bombing, former interim prime
minister Ayad Allawi said, "We are losing each day
an average of fifty to sixty people throughout the
country, if not more. If this is not civil war, then God
knows what civil war is." Such pronouncements
should be taken with a grain of salt. Allawi sought to
make a political comeback on a law-and-order platform
and, at any rate, defining civil war on the loss of
sixty Iraqis per day is questionable.
as in the United States, the Iraqi debate about civil
war has ramifications. When Iraqi politicians speak of
civil war, they undermine the legitimacy of the
Shi‘i-led government and, also, imply that the Iraqi
government should provide further concessions to
minority parties. Salafi jihadists often seek civil war
as a political aim. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the late
leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, introduced talk of civil war
into the public discourse when he declared war against
the Shi‘a on September 14, 2005.
both the Iraqi and Western determination of civil war
and state failure are questions over the viability of
the Iraqi central government. Do the Iraqi people
perceive political participation to be the most
effective means of satisfying their needs and interests,
or do they turn to nongovernmental agents for services
the government fails to provide? Many of the Shi‘i
political parties are replicating Lebanon's Hezbollah
model. Amar Hakim, son of Abdul Aziz Hakim, leader of
the Supreme Council for Islamic Republic in Iraq
(SCIRI), runs the Shahid al-Mihrab Establishment for
Promoting Islam throughout the towns and villages of
southern Iraq. He trades material welfare for support.
the Iraqi government distributed ministries, Muqtada
al-Sadr's supporters seized upon the social service
ministries to expand their networks. Through the Maktab
ash-Shahid as-Sadr (Office of the Martyr Sadr), they
offer community services, and with the Jaysh al-Mahdi
(Mahdi Army), they offer security. In many
neighborhoods, the Sadrists substitute their own order
for the central government's. But neither SCIRI's
supporters nor the Sadrists reject the political
process. Rather, they form perhaps the two most
important blocs within the central government and, also,
play dominating roles in the provincial councils of
southern Iraq. It is unclear whether the Sadrists would
want to monopolize the government. At present, they
thrive by claiming responsibility for all that is good
in the individual's life while blaming all that is bad
on the official government. With unquestioned
accountability, they might lose their appeal.
while many Iraqi Kurds might harbor some separatist
tendencies, rather than eschew the central Iraqi state,
they have sought to integrate themselves into its
management. Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic
Union of Kurdistan, is president of Iraq. Masoud
Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government,
nominated his cousin and top aide, Hoshyar Zebari, to be
Iraq's foreign minister. Many Kurdish leaders have
calculated that, whether for a larger share of Iraq's
oil revenue—the southern Iraqi oil fields are far
richer than those in northern Iraq—or for defense
against the meddling of Iran or Turkey, their interest
lies in support of the central government. Like the
Sadrists, the Kurds offer a limited alternative to the
political process but do not seek its breakdown.
Sunni Arabs did seek to stymie the democratic process
from taking hold and boycotted the January 2005
elections, but upon realizing that a boycott would not
work, they reconsidered their strategy and participated
in the October 2005 constitutional referendum and the
subsequent elections. While most Sunni Arabs dislike
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government, few have
shown a willingness to abandon the political process
completely. They might engage in violence and even
terrorism, but they do this to win political
concessions, not to overthrow the existing order. They
often negotiate with the same government whose security
forces they attack. Should they provoke all-out civil
war, they would likely enable the establishment of a
Shi‘i theocracy, an outcome that most Sunni leaders
recognize would not be in their communal interests. The
central government may be weak, but it does not appear
in danger of collapse.
population displacement and refugee outflow are cause
for concern. Proportionately, however, the current
strife in Iraq does not compare with other recent
crises. During the Bosnian civil war, half the country's
population became displaced. In Kosovo, perhaps
two-thirds of Kosovar Albanians fled the country. This
would be equivalent to perhaps thirteen million
displaced Iraqis; the actual number of displaced
Iraqis is only about one-seventh of that number.
This is not surprising given that most of Iraq is
relatively stable. The Shi‘a in Iraq's nine southern
provinces face more risk from vigilante morality squads
than from Sunni Arabs. The Kurds fear arbitrary arrest
or extortion by their political leaders' security
services more than attacks by other ethnic militias.
is true that areas of mixed populations have become
battlegrounds. In Baquba, the capital of the Diyala
province, for example, both Sunnis and Shi‘a have fled
violence. Such internal displacement, however, has not
led to a significant humanitarian crisis, perhaps
because those who fled their homes could rely on larger
family or tribal security nets. The situation would need
to worsen exponentially to achieve "civil war"
levels. Given that most of Iraq was divided along
sectarian lines to begin with, there seems to be very
limited potential for the internal displacement
situation to worsen beyond control, regardless of how
intense and brutal the sectarian conflict becomes.
the most important determiner of a civil war is the
purpose for which violence is perpetrated. As the
Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong wrote, "Without a
political goal, guerrilla warfare must fail, as it must
if its political objectives do not coincide with the
aspirations of the people and their sympathy,
cooperation, and assistance cannot be gained."
It makes little sense to describe the situation in Iraq
as a civil war if the combatants do not have clear
political agendas. Vague notions such as "a return
to a Sunni-dominated Iraq" are insufficient. In
order to galvanize the support of the Sunni Arab
population, Sunni fighters would need to delineate a
practical program. While some Salafists do propose an
alternative to democracy in Iraq, their vision of a
Taliban-like Islamic emirate has negligible support,
even among Sunnis. Shi‘i-provoked violence is more
problematic. The militias conducting attacks against the
Sunnis are affiliated with major Shi‘i political
parties. While these fighters do not threaten the Iraqi
government directly, they pose a significant threat to
the government's legitimacy and long-term stability.
Should any future Iraqi government pursue a course
contrary to that advocated by the militias' parties, a
real civil war could erupt.
while the deaths of perhaps 100 Iraqis daily is
tragic, the motive for their murder should be an
important factor in determining whether a civil war
exists. Today, different groups perpetrate violence for
disparate reasons. The Jaysh al-Mahdi and Badr Corps
justify their detention, torture, and murder of Sunni
Arabs as defensive measures against alleged terrorists.
They do not generally target the government or security
forces, nor are their attacks against Sunni Arabs
indiscriminate. They kill or kidnap Sunni civilians in
response to attacks against Shi‘i civilians, and they
aggressively pursue Sunni Arab insurgents. The ethnic
cleansing that is alleged to be taking place in certain
mixed neighborhoods does not appear to be part of a
general policy of ridding Iraq of Sunni Arabs. There is
no ideological commitment on the part of any Shi‘i
political party to a pure Shi‘i state. Rather, it
appears local branches of Shi‘i militias are
retaliating disproportionately for attacks against
Shi‘a in those neighborhoods. Much of the killing is
personal, not political.
of the violence is also criminal rather than political.
The Iraqi police are often ineffective. Many young Iraqi
men join the insurgency for a paycheck. They receive
cash for placing improvised explosive devices along the
roadside. Others kidnap hostages for ransom.
is no dispute about the dire situation in Iraq.
Insurgents, militias, terrorists, and death squads are
killing civilians at an alarming rate. Security forces
are unreliable, and the Iraqi government is not meeting
the needs of the people. Iraq is in a worse state than
U.S. policymakers expected it would be three years ago.
it does not follow that Iraq is in a civil war. While
the government is weak, there is no political force
presenting it with a serious challenge. Iraq is, indeed,
an unstable nation, but there is little danger of regime
change, the ultimate purpose of a civil war. The armed
groups most likely to participate in an eventual civil
war lack both the capacity and the will to enter into
such a conflict in earnest at the present time.
does not mean that violence will decline; quite the
contrary, as the referendum on the future status of the
disputed city of Kirkuk nears, violence may increase.
Nor does the central government appear able to
consolidate power in the short term. Its inability to
provide security and basic services will lead local
officials, including unelected leaders of religious
factions, to assume more power. But, in the long term,
the central government will survive and take on a more
significant role in keeping Iraq unified. For U.S. and
coalition policymakers, assisting Iraq's transition to
democracy will require patience, diplomacy, and
unfounded concerns over a civil war erupting could
prompt an overreaction from U.S. policymakers. Should
they conclude that Iraq is in a civil war—even if they
base their determination on political expediency and no
clear criteria—the most likely response would be a
demand for withdrawal. A premature withdrawal of
coalition forces could motivate the Sunni Arab
insurgency to unify behind a political program; Sunni
Arab civilians would likely lose any remaining
confidence in the security forces, and many more would
flee their homes. The Jaysh al-Mahdi undeterred would
expand its influence and become the government's rival
for the people's loyalty. Premature withdrawal could
lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy, creating the
conditions for a civil war that do not currently exist.
A. Patten is a sergeant with the 3rd Infantry Division
in Baghdad. He holds a doctorate in philosophy from
Stony Brook University. His views do not necessarily
reflect those of the United States Army.
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Jan. 27, 2006.
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Stability and Security in Iraq, U.S. Department of
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Strategy for Victory in Iraq, National Security Council,
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inaugural address, Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2005.
Waters, "The Deteriorating Situation in Iraq,"
statement, U.S. House of Representatives, Feb. 16, 2006.
L. Byman and Kenneth M. Pollack, "What Next?"
The Washington Post, Aug. 20, 2006.
and Definitions," Military Operations in Low
Intensity Conflict, U.S. Army Field Manual 100-20, Dec.
Washington Post, Mar. 1, 2006; CNN.com, Mar. 1, 2006.
A. Henderson and J. David Singer, "Civil War in the
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Telegraph (London), Mar. 20, 2006 ; CNN.com, Mar. 20,
(Doha), Sept. 17, 2005.
and Pollack, "What Next?"
Appeal Iraq Situation Response (New York: The United
Nations Human Rights Council, Jan. 2007), p. 2.
Tse Tung, On Guerrilla Warfare, trans. Samuel B.
Griffith II (Champaign: University of Illinois Press,
1961), p. 43.
percent of Sunnis in Iraq supported an Islamic state in
Iraq: "Iraq—Where Things Stand," ABC News
poll, Dec. 12, 2005; 94 percent of Iraqis, including 77
percent of Iraqi Sunnis expressed disapproval for
Al-Qaeda: "The Iraqi Public on the U.S. Presence
and the Future of Iraq," WorldPublicOpinon.org
poll, Program on International Policy Attitudes, College
Park, Md., Sept. 27, 2006.
of the Secretary-General pursuant to paragraph 30 of
resolution 1546 (2004)," The United Nations
Security Council, Sept. 1, 2006, p. 12; The New York
Times, July 18, 2006.
 Michael Eisenstadt and Jeffrey White, "Assessing Iraq's Sunni Arab Insurgency," Policy Focus #50, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Washington, D.C., Dec. 2005, p. 14.
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