About that "Civil War" in Iraq

When we passed the third anniversary of the invasion of Saddam Hussein's regime, there was much talk about sectarian violence in Iraq.  However, a strange thing happened on the way to that predicted civil war: it failed to materialize. 

The repetitious headlines about internecine warfare go back to the summer of 2003 when the Ali Mosque was bombed in Najaf, resulting in the death of SCIRI leader Sayed Al Hakim, one of the most revered Shiite clerics.  The importance of that particular religious site is similar to that of the Golden Mosque recently destroyed in Samarra.  The bombing of the Ali Mosque was preceded ten days earlier by an explosion resulting in the death of UN representative Sergio de Mello, and the bombing of the Jordanian Embassy, all in the month of August, 2003. 

The terrorists failed in their attempts to place responsibility for each of the bombings on the Coalition, and they failed to ignite a civil war at that time.  Although Iraqi public trust was still somewhat tenuous during that period, the people were able to see through the terrorist information campaign and realize who the culprits were.  Since then, their trust in the Coalition and a new government has grown, while support for the terrorists has waned.

There are two primary reasons why the civil war has not occurred, and why it is unlikely to become a reality.  The first is that the terrorist strategy and tactics have failed.  As General Camillus defended Rome against the Gauls during their invasion nearly 2500 years ago, he made the following observation,

'Always they bring more smoke than fire — much terror but little strength.' 

And so it describes the terrorist attacks in Iraq that continue without any popular mandate.  Along with this lack of support is an absence of a clear strategy, aside from seeking complete power.

The terrorists initially started their disjointed strategy by emulating a tactic dating back to Mohammad's conquest of the Arabian tribes: attacking logistical convoys.  Although they made headlines, the effects of these attacks were negligible, due to the massive inflow of American supplies via air, water, and roadway. 

Since the aforementioned bombings in August, 2003 failed to generate a civil war, the terrorists' next tactic evolved to the kidnapping of non—combatants and videotaping beheadings.  After the initial horror subsided, this only strengthened the resolve of Americans and Iraqis, as the brutality of the enemy became evident.

As Coalition forces began training police and military units, the terrorists sought to destroy the inexperienced forces before they achieved a level of effectiveness.  The consequence resulted in longer lines at recruiting stations and it instilled a sense of urgency amongst those receiving the training. Hence, the quality of recruitment and the professionalism of the military and police have risen significantly.

Failing to devise a clear strategy, the terrorists resorted to what they must have assumed would be the key to starting a civil war: indiscriminate killing of civilians. This tactic, too, was a futile attempt to produce the desired outcome, since it had already been practiced by the former regime. The public, the military, and the police all have an interest in the new system and they are not about to be intimidated.

Other than some mythical concept about producing an Islamic caliphate, the terrorists have not provided a legitimate option to acquire public support.  Fortunately, the Iraqi people are well—versed in the history of totalitarian utopianism, and have therefore not supported any vague ideology espoused by those who wish to oppress them.

The second reason why a civil war has not broken out is because the political process has been generally successful. Despite some difficulties in producing not just a new government, but an entirely different regime, the progress within this new democratic system has been remarkable. Terrorist attempts to force a postponement of the initial elections in January, 2005 failed, as approximately 60% of eligible voters risked encountering violence on their way to the polls.  The turnout increased for the constitutional referendum later in the year, and the momentum continued as Sunnis joined the political process when the country elected a permanent government this past December.

In spite of the continuing dialogue on the final composition of the new government, there are positive aspects below the surface of discontent.  For the first time, the Iraqis are experiencing the benefits of negotiating for key positions in the government. Even during this uncertain time, the transitional government has strengthened the legality of democratic institutions by actually preventing a full—scale civil war. Although one side is fighting violently in its attempt at absolute control, the government has called for a peaceful public reaction, while instituting a firm response militarily.  Consequently, the Shiites have shown incredible restraint, proving to the moderate Sunnis the benefits of reconciliation through alternative methods. 
  
Although there were Shiite reprisals for the recent bombing of the Golden Mosque, those retaliations mostly came from spontaneous attacks by individuals and small groups.  The larger gatherings predominantly consisted of peaceful demonstrations.  Absent was an organized resistance by significant segments of the Shiite community or an authorized backlash sanctioned by any segment or faction of the government (the key components of a civil war). Instead, the government sought to maintain peace in the Shiite and Sunni areas. 

The real news here is not impending civil strife, but rather, the strengthened legitimacy of a system that is in the midst of transition.   

These have been trying times for Americans and Iraqis.  However, the progress has been significant and the benefits far outweigh the risks.  While this struggle may not match the level of the American 'Glorious Cause', it is nonetheless a noble one.

Lieutenant Colonel John M. Kanaley currently is serving in Baghdad, Iraq

When we passed the third anniversary of the invasion of Saddam Hussein's regime, there was much talk about sectarian violence in Iraq.  However, a strange thing happened on the way to that predicted civil war: it failed to materialize. 

The repetitious headlines about internecine warfare go back to the summer of 2003 when the Ali Mosque was bombed in Najaf, resulting in the death of SCIRI leader Sayed Al Hakim, one of the most revered Shiite clerics.  The importance of that particular religious site is similar to that of the Golden Mosque recently destroyed in Samarra.  The bombing of the Ali Mosque was preceded ten days earlier by an explosion resulting in the death of UN representative Sergio de Mello, and the bombing of the Jordanian Embassy, all in the month of August, 2003. 

The terrorists failed in their attempts to place responsibility for each of the bombings on the Coalition, and they failed to ignite a civil war at that time.  Although Iraqi public trust was still somewhat tenuous during that period, the people were able to see through the terrorist information campaign and realize who the culprits were.  Since then, their trust in the Coalition and a new government has grown, while support for the terrorists has waned.

There are two primary reasons why the civil war has not occurred, and why it is unlikely to become a reality.  The first is that the terrorist strategy and tactics have failed.  As General Camillus defended Rome against the Gauls during their invasion nearly 2500 years ago, he made the following observation,

'Always they bring more smoke than fire — much terror but little strength.' 

And so it describes the terrorist attacks in Iraq that continue without any popular mandate.  Along with this lack of support is an absence of a clear strategy, aside from seeking complete power.

The terrorists initially started their disjointed strategy by emulating a tactic dating back to Mohammad's conquest of the Arabian tribes: attacking logistical convoys.  Although they made headlines, the effects of these attacks were negligible, due to the massive inflow of American supplies via air, water, and roadway. 

Since the aforementioned bombings in August, 2003 failed to generate a civil war, the terrorists' next tactic evolved to the kidnapping of non—combatants and videotaping beheadings.  After the initial horror subsided, this only strengthened the resolve of Americans and Iraqis, as the brutality of the enemy became evident.

As Coalition forces began training police and military units, the terrorists sought to destroy the inexperienced forces before they achieved a level of effectiveness.  The consequence resulted in longer lines at recruiting stations and it instilled a sense of urgency amongst those receiving the training. Hence, the quality of recruitment and the professionalism of the military and police have risen significantly.

Failing to devise a clear strategy, the terrorists resorted to what they must have assumed would be the key to starting a civil war: indiscriminate killing of civilians. This tactic, too, was a futile attempt to produce the desired outcome, since it had already been practiced by the former regime. The public, the military, and the police all have an interest in the new system and they are not about to be intimidated.

Other than some mythical concept about producing an Islamic caliphate, the terrorists have not provided a legitimate option to acquire public support.  Fortunately, the Iraqi people are well—versed in the history of totalitarian utopianism, and have therefore not supported any vague ideology espoused by those who wish to oppress them.

The second reason why a civil war has not broken out is because the political process has been generally successful. Despite some difficulties in producing not just a new government, but an entirely different regime, the progress within this new democratic system has been remarkable. Terrorist attempts to force a postponement of the initial elections in January, 2005 failed, as approximately 60% of eligible voters risked encountering violence on their way to the polls.  The turnout increased for the constitutional referendum later in the year, and the momentum continued as Sunnis joined the political process when the country elected a permanent government this past December.

In spite of the continuing dialogue on the final composition of the new government, there are positive aspects below the surface of discontent.  For the first time, the Iraqis are experiencing the benefits of negotiating for key positions in the government. Even during this uncertain time, the transitional government has strengthened the legality of democratic institutions by actually preventing a full—scale civil war. Although one side is fighting violently in its attempt at absolute control, the government has called for a peaceful public reaction, while instituting a firm response militarily.  Consequently, the Shiites have shown incredible restraint, proving to the moderate Sunnis the benefits of reconciliation through alternative methods. 
  
Although there were Shiite reprisals for the recent bombing of the Golden Mosque, those retaliations mostly came from spontaneous attacks by individuals and small groups.  The larger gatherings predominantly consisted of peaceful demonstrations.  Absent was an organized resistance by significant segments of the Shiite community or an authorized backlash sanctioned by any segment or faction of the government (the key components of a civil war). Instead, the government sought to maintain peace in the Shiite and Sunni areas. 

The real news here is not impending civil strife, but rather, the strengthened legitimacy of a system that is in the midst of transition.   

These have been trying times for Americans and Iraqis.  However, the progress has been significant and the benefits far outweigh the risks.  While this struggle may not match the level of the American 'Glorious Cause', it is nonetheless a noble one.

Lieutenant Colonel John M. Kanaley currently is serving in Baghdad, Iraq