Q&A Friday #34: What If There Was A Civil War In Iraq?

Question: “If Iraq were to really fall into a full-blown “civil war” (like the media keeps pining for), how do you think that Bush, Blair, and the rest of the world would react?

With Bush’s “declining popularity” and world-wide animosity to any American foreign intervention, do you believe that the US can/should intervene in any Iraqi civil war?” — RepublicanPig1

Question: To follow up on Republicanpig1’s question:

What would be the worst case scenario if a full blown civil war breaks out in Iraq? For us and the Iraqi people? Do you see a possible divided Iraq like two Koreas? Would that be a preferable solution over trying to unite the whole of Iraq?” — libliever

Answer: Practically since the moment we arrived in Iraq, the media has been prattling on about how the situation in Iraq is, “constantly worsening,” and about how “civil war” is right around the corner. Yet, the Iraqis have had 3 successful elections, Saddam has been captured and is being tried, the Sunnis have joined the political process, the economy has improved significantly, the Iraqi military has moved light years forward, etc., etc., etc.

In short, the media has been saying the exact same thing they’re saying today for 3 years, they’ve been wrong the entire time, and they look to be just as wrong right now.

The fact that you’re seeing Sunnis and Sunni mosques being attacked, right after the Golden Dome bombing, isn’t surprising. But some militia and vigilante attacks that the government is taking serious steps to prevent don’t constitute the start of a revolution.

If you want to watch for signs of a real civil war, here are some things to look for from Bill Roggio, a very sharp guy who has been embedded with the American military in Iraq:

• The Shiite United Iraqi Alliance no longer seeks to form a unity government and marginalize the Shiite political blocks.
• Sunni political parties withdraw from the political process.
• Kurds make hard push for independence/full autonomy.
• Grand Ayatollah Sistani ceases calls for calm, no longer takes a lead role in brokering peace.
• Muqtada al-Sadr becomes a leading voice in Shiite politics.
• Major political figures – Shiite and Sunni – openly call for retaliation.
• The Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party and Muslim Scholars Association openly call for the formation of Sunni militias.
• Interior Ministry ceases any investigations into torture and death squads, including the case against recently uncovered problems with the Highway Patrol.
• Defense Minister Dulaimi (a Sunni) is asked to step down from his post.
• Iraqi Security Forces begins severing ties with the Coalition, including:
o Disembeddeding the Military Transition Teams.
o Requests U.S. forces to vacate Forward Operating Bases / Battle Positions in Western and Northern Iraq.
o Alienates Coalition at training academies.
• Iraqi Security Forces make no effort to quell violence or provide security in Sunni neighborhoods.
• Iraqi Security Forces actively participate in attacks on Sunnis, with the direction of senior leaders in the ministries of Defense or Interior.
• Shiite militias are fully mobilized, with the assistance of the government, and deployed to strike at Sunni targets. Or, the Shiite militias are fully incorporated into the Iraqi Security Forces without certification from Coalition trainers.
• Sunni military officers are dismissed en masse from the Iraqi Army.
• Kurdish officers and soldiers leave their posts and return to Kurdistan, and reform into Peshmerga units.
• Attacks against other religious shrines escalate, and none of the parties make any pretense about caring.
• Coalition military forces pull back from forward positions to main regional bases.

Iraq has yet to encounter any of the problems stated above. The Sunni led Iraqi Accordance Front has suspended talks to form a government, but have not withdrawn from the political process. The Iraqi Security Forces have taken appropriate measures and suspended all leaves, but there are no indications they are cooperating with militias or abetting the violence in any way.

So, civil war DOES NOT appear to be right around the corner.

But, I don’t want to dodge the question. What if there were a civil war, what then? Make no mistake about it: it would be a catastrophic mess.

There’s a lot of bad blood in that country and since the Shias and Kurds have their hands on the levers of power now, they would be looking for a lot of payback for all the abuses they suffered at the hands of the Sunnis when Saddam was in power.

The country would also probably split into three parts, Sunni, Shia, and Kurd. The Kurds could face military incursions from Turkey and the Iranians would probably wield inordinate influence in the Shia mini-state. Who even knows what sort of terrorist enclave the Sunni area would turn into.

An Iraqi civil war would also be an enormous victory for Al-Qaeda, a severe blow to America’s prestige and influence in the region, and severely damage the chances of Democracy flowering in the Middle-East in the immediate future.

As far as whether we’d intervene or not goes, it depends on how widespread the problem was. If the Badr Brigade or Al-Sadr’s boys got out of hand and the government asked us to team up with Iraqi troops to go in on a massive offensive against them, you’d have to think we’d do that.

But, if the government asked us to leave or we came to the conclusion that the majority of Shias actually wanted a civil war, I think we’d shrug our shoulders, figure we’ve done all we can do, and then we’d withdraw.

What it all comes down to, even though most people don’t seem to realize it yet, is that the training wheels are about to come off in Iraq. At some point in 2007, maybe early in the year, maybe later, it’s likely that a lot of our troops are going to go home, the Iraqis are going to take over most of their own day to day security, and from that point on if there’s some sort of massive revolt, the Iraqis will bear the primary responsibility for dealing with it. Once we get to that point, it seems unlikely that we’d ramp back up militarily in Iraq, whether there was a civil war or not.

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