Sunday, May 07, 2006

Edward Luttwak - Civil war: the only way to bring peace to Iraq - Sunday Telegraph

Civil war: the only way to bring peace to Iraq
By Edward Luttwak
(Filed: 07/05/2006)

Civil wars can be especially atrocious as neighbours kill each other at close range, but they have a purpose - they can bring lasting peace by destroying the will to fight, and by removing the motives and opportunities for further violence.

England's civil war in the mid-17th century assured the country's political stability under parliament and a limited monarchy throughout the subsequent centuries. But first there had to be a war with many bloody battles and casualties on the side, including the execution of Charles I, who had claimed absolute power by divine right.

The United States had its own civil war two centuries later, which established the rule that states cannot leave the union alone, abolishing slavery in the process. The destruction was vast, and the casualties immense, given the size of the population at that time. But without the decisive victory of the Union, two separate and quarrelsome republics, periodically at war with each other, might still endure.

Now it is the turn of Iraq, the most haphazard of states, hurriedly created by the British after the First World War with scant regard for its rival nationalities and sects. The Kurds were never at ease under Arab rule - at least some of their tribes were already fighting for independence more than 60 years ago. But it was not until the land expropriations, deportations and massacres of the Saddam years that most of the Kurds united to demand the right to rule themselves. After decades of suffering, it is nearly over: it only remains to be determined if the Kurds will have their own state within a loose Iraqi confederation or outside it, in full independence.

As for the Arabs of Iraq, the Shia majority has always been ruled by Sunnis, first under the Caliphs, then under the Ottoman empire for more than 400 years, and finally under Iraqi kings and dictators. But the sectarian difference was not always so significant. Among the more Westernised and better educated Iraqis, social mingling was normal and inter-marriage not uncommon. It was three relatively recent developments that brought the two communities into conflict.

First, Saddam Hussein's vigorous attempt to modernise Iraq in a secular direction - before he turned to war and rediscovered Islam - infuriated Shia prelates, who protested against village clinics headed by female doctors and other such abominations. That, in turn, triggered brutal repression by the regime, which most of the Shia viewed as yet more Sunni oppression.

Then, the spread of Salafist fundamentalism - they view the Shia as heretics deserving of capital punishment - incited the Sunnis to inter-communal violence.

And finally, while today's theocratic Iran is not necessarily viewed as a model, it demonstrates to the Shia that they need not always be ruled by Sunnis - that they can govern themselves. That in turn provokes the ire of the many Sunni Arabs who believe that Iraq belongs to them regardless of the fact that they constitute just 20 per cent of the country's population (or 25 per cent, if the Kurds, Turkmen and Christians are not included).

The resulting sectarian hatred is now inflicting a heavy toll of casualties by way of shootings, bombings, and the execution of captives. Attempts by US and British forces to stop the killings are feeble and declining: it would take many times as many Coalition troops as remain in Iraq to make any difference. Nor can the factors that are causing the violence be reversed at this point, certainly not by fielding more Iraqi army and police units. Except among the Kurds, they are nothing but Sunni or Shia militias in official uniforms, and they are responsible for some of the worst massacres.

Physical separation is therefore the only way to limit the carnage. That process is now under way. Most Sunnis and Shia already live safely among their own, behind increasingly effective security barriers. Mixed communities are rapidly becoming unmixed, as minorities abandon their homes. In this way, the opportunities for violence decrease. It is an extraordinarily painful and costly way of interrupting the cycle of attacks and reprisals - and especially cruel for mixed marriages and their children - but it is how civil war achieves its purpose of eventually bringing tranquillity and peace.

If the kings of continental Europe, royal cousins to Charles I, had combined forces to save his life, the principle of absolute monarchy, and Britain's peace, they could perhaps have prevented the civil war, but only at the price of perpetuating strife by blocking progress towards stable parliamentary government. If the British and other European great powers had sent expeditionary armies to stop the enormous casualties and vast destruction of the American civil war - as many argued that they should - they could have prevented the eventual emergence of a peacefully united republic and perpetuated North-South hostility.

That is the mistake that the United States and its allies are now making, by interfering with Iraq's civil war. They should disengage their own troops from populated areas as much as possible, give up the intrusive check-points and patrols that are failing to contain the violence anyway, and abandon the futile effort to build up military and police forces that are national only in name.

Some US and allied forces will still be needed in remote desert bases to safeguard Iraq from foreign invasion, with some left to hold the Baghdad "green zone", where all Iraqi politicians can gather safely. But for the rest, strict non-interference should be the rule. The sooner the Kurds, Sunni, Shia, Turkmen and smaller minorities, too, can define their own natural and stable boundaries within which they feel safe, the sooner will the violence come to an end, allowing mutual cooperation to resume, and neighbourly fellow-feeling, too. That is what happened in Lebanon, once outsiders stopped trying to interfere.

Iraq's civil war is no different from England's or America's. It, too, should be allowed to bring peace.

Edward Luttwak is a senior fellow in the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Washington


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