2005 July 18 Monday
Civil War Building In Iraq?

Shia politicians in Iraq call for the return of Shia militias.

Shiite parliamentarian Khudayr al-Khuzai called on the government Sunday to "bring back popular militias" to protect vulnerable Shiite communities. "The plans of the interior and defense ministries to impose security in Iraq have failed to stop the terrorists," he told the National Assembly.

But the Shia militias never entirely disbanded. They control parts of Baghdad and certainly control Basra (see below).

The Shias see civil war between Sunnis and Shias in the offing. (same article here)

“What is truly happening, and what shall happen, is clear: a war against the Shias,” Sheikh Jalal al-Din al-Saghir, a prominent Shia cleric and MP, told the Iraqi parliament.

Sheikh al-Saghir is close to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the supreme Shia spiritual leader and moderate who has so far managed to restrain powerful Shia militias from undertaking any outright attack on Sunni insurgents. His warning suggests that the Shia leadership may be losing its grip over Shias who in private often call for an armed backlash against their Sunni assailants.

If the US withdrew then the Shia militias would quickly explode in size and take on the Sunni groups.

The Shias are reacting to the continued killing of Shias by Sunni bombers. Perhaps the bombers in Iraq decided to have a weekend bomb contest to see who could blow up the most people.

Some 15 suicide bombers have struck within just over 48 hours in the capital and along the main road south in what al Qaeda's Iraq wing has declared is a campaign to seize Baghdad.

In Saturday's attack a suicide bomber blew up a fuel truck near a crowded vegetable market outside a Shi'ite mosque in Musayyib, in a lawless area U.S. troops call "the triangle of death." In addition to the 98 killed, hospital sources said 75 people had been wounded, 19 of whom were in serious condition.

In southern Iraq Basra has been spared the Sunni bombings because it is under control of oppressive Shia fundamentalist Islamic militias.

For a visitor from Baghdad the contrast is striking: there are none of the blast walls that surround the capital's government buildings and at the night the markets and streets throng with people.

But the calm has come at a price and offers an object lesson to strategists in western capitals that bringing democracy to the Middle East can easily usher into power religious forces at odds with the west.

In January's historic Iraq election a majority of religion-inspired leaders were elected in Basra, but they have struck a deal with the militias which have been influential since 2003 and effectively have free rein in the city.

The militias help impose order and warn of any Sunni infiltrators but only while working to transform the city into a miniature theocracy reminiscent of that found across the Shatt al Arab waterway in Iran.

Pictures of Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the 1979 Iranian revolution, have become a common sight on street corners. Shops selling musical instruments have been bombed after warnings that musicians were the "servants of Satan".

Stores selling DVDs report that groups of men inspect their wares to ensure it contains no items considered too provocative.

American soldiers have fought for Iraqi freedom. The freedom to create a stifling oppressive religous state.

Iran looks to be the big winner in Iraq.

Iran hopes that the United States can crush the insurgency and that free elections will keep its allies in power. If Iraq eventually breaks apart into Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite countries, Iranian officials think they will have strong influence in Kurdistan and the Shiite state.

Asked if it's ironic that when the United States eventually withdraws, Iran could have greater influence than the United States, Asefi said, "That is true, but that's not our fault. When Americans are working for us, we'll let them do it."

America is running out of allies to make the war in Iraq multinational on the American side. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi says 10% of Italy's 3000 troops in Iraq will go home in September 2005.

'As far as our troop withdrawal goes, the situation has not changed. We will begin, as I have already announced, a partial withdrawal of around 300 troops in September,' he said at the end of a summit of world leaders.

British Defense Secretary John Reid expects British troops to bring withdrawing some time in the next 12 months.

He added that Britain does not want to be tied to what he called an "immutable time scale" for withdrawal.

"That will be a process. I believe it is a process that could start - no more than that - over the next 12 months," Mr. Reid says.

The war will go on for years if the US remains.

Update: I have a big question: Is civil war between the Shias and Sunnis more likely if the United States leaves soon or stays longer? If the US leaves now then the Sunnis could decide that the central government is so weak that they can capture control of the government and restore the Sunni supremacy. That would lead to a civil war. On the other hand the very presence of US troops is a big lure for non-Iraqi Arabs to heed the call to Jihad and to go into Iraq and conduct bombings. Shia Arabs bear the brunt of those attaccks. Therefore the US presence brings in bombers who drive Shias toward retaliatory attacks against Iraqi Sunnis which then make the Sunnis want to retaliate in kind. So the US presence helps to create the conditions for civil war.

My guess: Iraq would be calmer and at less risk of civil war if US troops left.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 July 18 02:35 AM  Mideast Iraq Ethnic Conflict

lpg said at July 18, 2005 8:15 AM:

Music is an agent of Satan...Mick Jagger did have Sympathy for the Devil when Sadam was just a lowly corporal with big ambitions. I don't think U2 should be planning a tour of Iraq in the near future. However, those Islamics may be on to something. Brittney Spears was obviously sent here to torment us. I can't imagine why else she would have a career. Her CDs must be playing non stop in a particularly nasty section of Hell. Even Michael Jackson says that Tommy Mottola is an agent of the devil. Although Tommy must have achieved some redemption when he split up with Mariah Carey. The weird thing is that Fundamentalist Christians are pretty much saying the same thing about music and its ties to Lucifer. Try lisening to Christian Rock or Middle Eastern "music" and you would have to agree that someone with cloven hooves is in charge, certainly not Cole Porter.

Invisible Scientist said at July 18, 2005 3:08 PM:

It seems that if the American presence is weekened in Iraq, then it is only a matter of time until the Royal Family in Saudi Arabia is overthrown by Al Qaeda. At that moment, things will get very complicated, and the price of oil will go high enough to cause a disaster. On the other hand, if the US leaves the region, then Iran will take both Iraq and Saudi Arabia...

M.robinson said at July 19, 2005 6:07 AM:

The USA has killed over 30,000( amnesty international ) civilians, in its desire to liberate the OIL for the USA, from the Iraqi population. The USA currently is selling the national companies of Iraq to any bidder(US companies in actual act), which it does not really have a right to do, HEY who cares.
This crap about american presence weakened in Iraq and such and such may occur..... firstly the states of iraq ,kuwait, dubai, jordan and saudi arabia are all artificial created by western colonialist with the help of their little minnions(saudi royal family). This whole region was once ONE. The USA harks on about democracy(a real sham), but keeps these despots ruling, and what do you have is a backlash by the people against the despot and its backer(USA), and then you have the audacity to act naive.

David Davenport said at July 19, 2005 11:36 AM:

[ This whole region was once ONE. ... ]

Yes, so was the Eastern Roman Empire.

Let's liberate Constantinopolis as well as Kosovo and Albania from the Turks, and restore Christendom.

FriendlyFire said at July 20, 2005 2:27 AM:

An Islamic theocracy is probably the best result for the US in Iraq since it will provide stability.
The US can then begin again the long road to democracy.

M.Robinson said at July 20, 2005 8:00 AM:

The US has helped more despotic regimes than the ussr(another despotic state of history), and the idea that it wants to bring about democracy in the middle east is a pie in the sky. The US even helped the polpot regime against the vietnamese out of spite for losing a war. If the muslims want a theocracy then its their right, because the more you meddle in their affairs the more enemies you make.
The US is not the 'honest player' it makes itself to be, and the rest of the world knows.

Randall Parker said at July 20, 2005 8:56 AM:


So let me get this straight: You just make things up. The US helped Pol Pot against the Vietnamese? Where'd you get this information?

You say:

If the muslims want a theocracy then its their right.

Rights are attributes of individuals, not of groups. You are basically saying that if a majority wants something then that makes that thing moral. Of course, by that logic once white people became the majority in America anything they did to other groups was moral. I don't accept that logic. You apply it selectively.

tartartar said at July 20, 2005 10:26 AM:

My experience tells me that "giving a caveman a TV set will not help him watch the news" (well, I just made that one up). The point is that arabs have their view of things. Iraq should break up, and the US should leave and let the facions carve out their territory, the way every first world country was formed. When there will have been enough suffering they will agree to settle territorial disputes. Ok , given the nature of their mentality two thirds of the civilians will die, but I do not see why poor americans and europeans should die instead and obtain nothing.

Jay Z said at July 20, 2005 5:08 PM:

If there's a civil war between the Sunnis and Shiites, I think Shiites will have the advantage. They outnumber the Sunnis by
a ratio of 3:1 and might even be able to ally with the Kurdish militias in the north.

Stephen said at July 20, 2005 6:06 PM:

About the Pol Pot thing, I have read somewhere (the source escapes me though) that the US did try to do something to stop Vietnam invading Cambodia and overthrowing Pol Pot. Also, after the overthrow, the US organised some international sanctions to punish the Vietnamese.

I don't think it was so much a matter of supporting Pol Pot, rather, it was more that the US was automatically against anything the Vietnamese might do - regardless of its merits. The old, 'The enemy of my enemy is my friend' fallacy.

Cutler said at July 20, 2005 8:28 PM:

"If there's a civil war between the Sunnis and Shiites, I think Shiites will have the advantage. They outnumber the Sunnis by a ratio of 3:1 and might even be able to ally with the Kurdish militias in the north."

Within Iraq, this is true, but you need to take a step backwards. The Sunni Muslim world outnumbers the Shi'ites substantially, the latter is a minority outside of Iraq and Iran. Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, all Sunni. The Sunnis in Iraq realize this, and are trying to widen the war. They figure that if they can provoke a fight, their outside brothers will come to their aid within Iraq. Of course even if they intervened, they'd probably run straight into Iran going the opposite way.

If we withdraw the place is going to explode. The Sunnis are used to ruling, they aren't going to allow the Shi'ites to dictate them so long as they think they can rely on outside help. That's not to say it won't go to crap even with us there, but open civil war will certainly follow if we left now, probably down the road even if we leave later. The region simply has too many issues and blood feuds.

Brock said at July 21, 2005 11:10 AM:

Still preaching defeatism over here at Parapundit, eh? After the elections, which a lot of Iraqis participated in, you still think they're going to collapse into theocratic tyranny? Tyranny is where they just came from, and they want no part of it. As you say, many Shia has connections with Iran - a country where the majority of the population hates theocracy, but can't get a free election. Don't you think some Iraqis have spoken to their cousins, friends, and co-religionists in Iran and heard the bad news? Don't you think they're smart enough to realize what a deal they've got?

The war in Iraq is not between Shia and Sunni. There are both Shia and Sunni fighting on boths sides. The war in Iraq is three sided, with Al Quaeda and former Baathists fighting both the Coalition and each other. It is democracy vs. tyranny, and the USA + "Free Iraqis" (because they vote, and have an elected government) firmly in the upper hand.

With each passing week the battles between the terrorists and the Coalition (including free Iraqis) are (1) more pre-dominatly Iraqi, and (2) further North and West, as the campaign moves into the terrorist strongholds.

Is it all rosy? No, but this is a process, and momentum is on our side. The sky is not falling.

Randall Parker said at July 21, 2005 11:36 AM:


The sky is not rising. The US casualty rate has remained high and added to it is the higher Iraqi casualty rate. With each passing week everything stays the same.

Defeatism? I preach reality. I realize that the neocon rah rahs think we can make reality change just by believing hard enough. But I rejected solipsism a long time ago.

Theocratic tyranny is a possibility. Or just plain corrupt autocracy. It will be a predominately Shia autocracy with Shia leaders getting more of the embezzled funds and sweetheart contracts rather than Sunnis getting them.

In the election the list blessed by Ayatollah Sistani won the most votes. The secular parties did very poorly. That is a fact Brock. I realize that you can find rah rah blogs out there which preach a happy deluded view of what is happening in Iraq. But stick close to the facts. They tell a different story.

Randall Parker said at July 21, 2005 11:41 AM:


Another point: The fact that US forces are operating in the North and West is irrelevant. Yes, the US has great mobility. Yes, it can concentrate forces in some place and take over control of one city. But then it has to pull out of that city in order to concentrate forces somewhere else because US forces aren't large enough to hold that many cities at once. So then the insurgents reestabilish control when US forces leave. This has happened plenty of times in Northern cities. I've reported it here.

US officers say the insurgency is not shrinking in size. That's a key fact. Panglossian rah rahs can spin all they want and that very important fact remains.

Dan Morgan said at July 21, 2005 8:44 PM:


I would say the sky is very hazy. I admit I have supported the war from the beginning and still do. I worry the most when I read your site! (I blogged about your site yesterday: http://nospeedbumps.com/?p=301). FYI - your trackback did not work.

For a potent defense of the Iraq efforts see Charles Krauthammer today: http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110006921

By his definitions, you would be a realist.

I come back to this: if we are there for a long time, and keep assisting and encouraging the Iraqis toward democracy, it should stick. Yes, it is often oversimplified into sounding like they are just westerners like us. The lack of democratic traditions, Muslim fundamentalism, and the clan-nature of the people there are all barriers I agree (again, you make me worry). But if we stay there on bases, keep helping strengthen the security forces and government - it seems to me eventually democracy will stick.

Besides, I don't see any alternatives other than to pull-out and let it implode. For better or worse, it seems we have to stay. A priority should be to consolidate forces on to bases to get them more out of harm's way (http://nospeedbumps.com/?p=264).

... yes these militias worry me. I am glad you blog about this - because no one else is bringing these things up.

Randall Parker said at July 21, 2005 9:58 PM:


How do you know that a US withdrawal will cause Iraq to "implode"? And what exactly do you mean by "implode"?

I figure a US withdrawal will remove a major cause of Sunni distrust and anger.

A US withdrawal will also make it clear to the Shias that if they fight for their government they are not tools of America. Therefore if they join the Iraqi Army and fight against the insurgency they will know they are fighting enemies of their government rather than enemies of America.

If few Iraqis then are willing to defend their government then the Iraqi government simply lacks legitimacy in the eyes of the people and it will be overthrown.

If US troops are withdrawn from harm's way then they will not be fighting the insurgency and that will defeat the purpose of having them there.

As for what other blogs discuss on Iraq: After digging for articles to post about I have so little time left over that I don't have time to read many other blogs. I have no time for the Panglossians. They have been wrong every step of the way. I'd much rather read people who called it right most of the time. Are there such people writing blogs? Jerry Pournelle and Greg Cochran called it right in considerable detail. I'd listen to someone else with an equally accurate track record. I can think of one other guy who called it right but like Greg he doesn't write a blog either. I already know what Jerry thinks.

Is there anyone coming up with great insights on Iraq? Steve Sailer and John Tierney have both said some good things on the subject. Also, before the war Stanley Kurtz, Martin Kramer, and Adam Garfinkle wrote some depressingly accurate observations about why they were pessimists on Muslim democracy. I've linked to them. But who is writing regularly on Iraq in a blog who is worth reading? No one that I'm aware of that I haven't mentioned above.

Dan Morgan said at July 21, 2005 10:23 PM:


By implode I mean civil war of some sort and the collapse of the fragil beginnings of demcracy.

It may or may not implode. But to pull out soon is a high risk strategy to say the least. Once we withdraw, surely there is no going back if things turn ugly there. Then the entire undertaking would have been a huge waste of American lives and treasure. And Iraq may turn into a giant haven for terrorists.

Having bases there leaves American troops to help out in more unusual circumstances. It helps give the Iraq government confidence to keep taking on the insurgents. And it provides close contact for training of Iraqi security forces. It also provides a link so the U.S. can help in trying to aid with building democractic institutions.

Withdrawing to bases may also take some of the steam out of the Sunni insurgency since American troops will be less visible.

So I would say withdraw to bases, then over time assess the situation and decide about withdrawing later. This is a lower risk strategy.

You seem to have already concluded that all is lost and that Muslim democracy is immposible. It has to happen sooner or later - will it take 5 years or 100? I am betting that in 5 years Iraq will be a stable democracy, although likely lacking in many ways by western standards.

Randall Parker said at July 21, 2005 11:19 PM:


Is Iraq already in a civil war? After all, factions are killing each other in a battle for control. The problem from the Bush Administration's perspective is that not enough people will fight for the government. The Bush Administration does not see the fighting itself ast the problem but rather the unwillingness of Iraqis to fight for ourside.

It seems to me the Bush Administration wants civil war but civil war with many more people fighting fort the government. Will US withdrawal increase the number fighting for the government relative to those fighting for, say, Sunni dominance or dominance by some Shia militia leaders?

Braddock said at July 22, 2005 5:14 AM:

Iraq has been engaged in civil war ever since the British formed the country in the first place. The civil war flares and ebbs periodically depending on the circumstances. Nothing new except the US training the Iraqi security forces to eventually be the most potent military force in the middle east next to Israel. That could make for interesting developments down the line.

Nathan said at July 27, 2005 3:01 PM:

Saddam killed a lot more civilians than have died in Iraq in the past two years. But gosh, you know, if you read the koolaid sites like Kos, Atrios, DU, etc. you're just gonna miss most things that happen.

Molly Ivins:
I had been keeping an eye on civilian deaths in Iraq for a couple of months, waiting for the most conservative estimates to creep over 20,000, which I had fixed in my mind as the number of Iraqi civilians Saddam had killed.

The high-end estimate of Iraqi civilian deaths in this war is 100,000, according to a Johns Hopkins University study published in the British medical journal The Lancet last October, but I was sticking to the low-end, most conservative estimates because I didn't want to be accused of exaggeration.

Ha! I could hardly have been more wrong, no matter how you count Saddam's killing of civilians. According to Human Rights Watch, Hussein killed several hundred thousand of his fellow citizens.

Roger Simon comments:
I don't like to use profanity on here, but my only response to that is - No shit, Sherlock! Where were you? Anyone with the slightest interest in the facts would have known this... in fact knew this... for years. So why not Ivins? I assume she has an IQ in triple digits, so the only explanation is willful ignorance - the kind that comes from ideological bias of the most extreme sort. I imagine Ivins would be appalled by the comparison, but this is exactly the kind of blindness that allowed people in the 1930s and 40s to excuse Stalin up to and even after the Hitler Pact.

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