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May 13, 2004

Is the War in Iraq Winnable?: The Long-Anticipated Iraqi Civil War

One bugaboo that we think is purely phatasmal is the prospect of an Iraqi civil war.

It's phatasmal for a simple reason: the Shi'as would win. And they would slaughter their most likely opponents, the Sunnis.

And, we've got to say, at this point we'd be pretty much all right with that outcome. Not that we long for such an outcome; but we're quite done with protecting the Sunnis from their own hateful stupidity.

It's a very strange situation. The Shi'as do not oppose us because we're not giving enough political power to minorities like the Sunnis. They oppose us (politically) because they feel we're yielding too much power to minorities like the Sunnis.

All of the major disputes with Imam al-Sistani have been due to the Shi'a suspicion that we're going to put the Sunnis, or the Kurds, back in charge, or that we're going to yield so much power to them that the Shi'a dream of self-rule will at least be greatly frustrated by limitations imposed by Americans.

The Shi'as are emphatically not opposing us politically because they want us to deliver the country back into Sunni hands.

And thus the strange situation: The people who are killing us -- the Sunni insurgents -- are actually the very folks we are most protecting at the moment.

Let us be clear: We are in Iraq at the moment not to protect the Shi'as from the Sunnis, but to protect the Sunnis from the Shi'as.

And yet the Sunnis are the ones murdering our troops.

If the Sunnis do provoke a civil war: What of it? They will lose, and they will be slaughtered by the thousands.

Is that our fault? No, it's not. We have fought and died to remake Iraq into a tolerant, multiethnic democracy in which the rights of minorities are respected. The Sunnis are the chief opponents of this project. If they provoke a civil war and die by the thousands -- well, that's of course terribly, terribly sad, but they made their own bed.

The only civil war we really fear is a civil war against the Kurds. But we think that's unlikely. Although Sistani and his like-minded Shi'a theocrats desperately want to impose their religion and politics on the Kurds, we think most of the argument and negotiation is occurring at the margins. The Kurds are a fairly well-armed people, and they've gotten used to autonomy, and everyone knows the US wants that autonomy to be respected, more or less. Or else. So, while a war with the Kurds is a possibility, we think the Shi'as understand that the price for keeping Kurdistan part of Iraq at all is granting it significant internal autonomy.

The Kurds would most likely join the Shi'as in massacring Sunnis, should it come to that. The Kurds want back all that land taken from them by the Sunnis; most likely there'd be a deal worked out between the Kurds and Shi'as.

So: An Iraqi civil war. What would be our major concern about it? Would we cry much that the very people slaughtering our soldiers, the very people who simply will not accept majority rule, the very people who continue to insist on a tyranny of the minority and their right to brutally subjugate their fellows, were to be slaughtered en masse in turn?

How many American troops' lives are worth sacrificing to protect such people from themselves? Our answer is zero.

We're not rooting for such an outcome, but again, if that is what the Sunnis wish, so be it. We will not fight and die to protect them, at the same time they murder us for the privilege of doing so.

And further, we don't think that this is even a likely outcome, because the Sunnis understand the likely consequences of their actions. They're killing Americans because they know they can get away with killing Americans. But we don't think they're eager to provoke a war with a majority, now in possession of arms and the nation's oil wealth, whom they brutalized for thirty years.

Arabs fight wars differently than we do.

Who would they call upon for protection? To whom would they whine to for military assistance?

The United States? Hm. That would be so amusing it might almost be worth the carnage.

The UN? The same UN whose headquarters they blew up, and forced to evacuate the country? We think the UN would provide these good folks with words of encouragement and little else.

A Shi'a tyranny which respects some Kurdish autonomy but brutally represses the Sunni minority would not be our first preference. We would rather, actually, a peaceful, tolerant Iraq in which the political rights -- and personal rights -- of Sunnis are guaranteed. Yes, even at this point, we don't wish perpetual misery and brutalization on the Sunnis.

But we will be damned if we're going to spend blood and treasure to guarantee such rights, when it's the Sunnis who are killing our troops.

Actions have consequences. If that is their wish, we will not be murdered by them in order to make a better future for them. That's not a military loss. That's simple common-sense. You don't sacrifice the lives of American troops for the purpose of protecting their very murderers.

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posted by Ace at 02:43 PM

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