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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Iraq as Yugoslavia
Posted by Jill | 10:26 AM

During the Cold War, the Iron Curtain leader Washington objected to least was Jozip Broz Tito, who somehow managed to keep the Yugoslav republics of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia together. Perhaps it was an "enemy of my enemy is my friend" situation caused by Tito's fallout with Stalin in 1948, after which Yugoslavia was kicked out of the Communist Block, but you never heard about a desire to liberate Yugoslavia from Communist rule.

After Tito's death, the old nationalist movements in the republics took over, the federation could not hold, , and to me it seemed like a boxing match that had been stopped by a referee for 40 years -- the bell rang, and the sides came out fighting again.

Iraq is proving to be a similar situation. Say what you will about Saddam Hussein, he did manage to keep the three major ethnic groups in his country in relative peace. Iraq is an artificial construct, created by the British in the years following WWI. The deposing of Saddam has kicked loose the same nationalism that we saw in the former Yugoslav republics, this time among the Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish groups.

You'd think we'd have learned by now.

Marc Cooper:

George W. Bush’s answer to when U.S. troops will leave Iraq is: “As the Iraqis stand up – we will stand down.” To achieve this goal, we have been told by various administration officials, the U.S. is “training up” Iraqi forces to eventually take over the fighting.

Unfortunately, this is gibberish. Not that Iraqi soldiers are incapable of fighting (Look no further than the "untrained" insurgents who have tied up the most powerful and best-trained army on earth). It’s just that there is little evidence that any significant number of people want to be soldiers for something called "Iraq."

Building national security institutions – an effective army and police—is not a simple question of military consolidation and technical expertise. It is, rather, a primarily political matter. Can you build a unified, strong national state for which everyday soldiers are willing to die?

In today’s Iraq, unfortunately, just donning the uniform (or standing in line at a recruiting office) can you get blown up before you’re even pressed into duty.

It has become ever clearer that the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of the Saddam dictatorship has set into force powerful centrifugal ethnic forces that are spinning out of control. Iraq – thanks to the British colonialists – was always a paper-thin, manufactured state. Only the leaden hand and the willing trigger finger of a tyrant like Hussein could hold the national state together.

The enormous and likely insuperable obstacles to agreeing upon a strong but federal Iraqi state of the sort we are witnessing this week were ably predicted a month ago by Peter Galbraith in the New York Review of Books.

In startlingly stark terms, Galbraith detailed how the pro-Iranian Shiite forces have consolidated their political influence in the "national" government (without as much as a hiccup from the Bushies) while – in the northern part of Iraq—the Kurds have bunkered in to defend their all-but-in-name independence.

There are, seemingly, plenty of Iraqi Shia ready to defend to the death what is now an incipient Islamic Republic. And there are tens of thousands of skilled Kurd peshmarga fighters totally devoted to the cause of... Kurdistan. But that leaves few, if anybody, ready to die for Iraq.

There is no Iraq. There's a country of warring factions cobbled together by the British almost 100 years ago that has been lying in wait like sprinters, waiting for the starting gun, so they could pounce at each other again.

And pounce they are. The question is no longer whether there's going to be civil war in Iraq. There's already civil war in Iraq -- and feeding soldiers in there to get caught in the crossfire in perpetuity is hardly a viable policy.
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