A Shia vs. Shia Civil War?

Well the years since the Iraq war began have been some roller coaster. And here’s the latest. Writes Patrick Cockburn:

“A new civil war is threatening to explode in Iraq as American-backed Iraqi government forces fight Shia militiamen for control of Basra and parts of Baghdad. Heavy fighting engulfed Iraq’s two largest cities and spread to other towns yesterday as the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, gave fighters of the Mehdi Army, led by the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, 72 hours to surrender their weapons. The gun battles between soldiers and militiamen, who are all Shia Muslims, show that Iraq’s majority Shia community—which replaced Saddam Hussein’s Sunni regime—is splitting apart for the first time.”

Although the surge has succeeding in bringing down the American death toll to one or so troops killed per day, the violence in Iraq appears to be on the brink of escalating. The argument four years ago that if the US government left Iraq, it would descend into chaos and civil war, seems strange in the wake of this news: We might see civil war after all, with the US being a major party, even if by proxy, to the bloodshed.

But this is just the last insanity in a war and occupation riddled with such insanities. In 2004, the US presence managed to temporarily unite Shias and Sunnis, mortal enemies, against the foreign occupier. Recall in early 2005, news broke that the US government was considering the “El Salvidor” option in Iraq—arming death squads. Later in the year, the impact of death squads became apparent, as US-trained Iraqi authorities unleashed a program of torture and killing—which I seem to remember the US denounced as being conducted purely by the enemy. A year ago, the administration claimed that the Iranians were backing Sunni insurgents and the Iraqi government—a charge the first part of which seemed false and the second part of which seemed sort of anticlimactic, considering the US was backing that same government. Then in September of last year, the US changed course, at least for a while, to support Sunni insurgents against its previous Shia allies! (This all must be considered in the context of the war’s history: The US backed Saddam, a Sunni thug, to counter the Shia regime in Iran more than 20 years ago. Then, the US, by overthrowing Saddam, predictably put the state in the hand of the Shiias. Now a Shiia-Shiia civil war seems likely.)

Who are the good guys in Iraq? Is it whatever faction of belligerents, whether official or revolutionary, happens to be armed and trained by the US government? Who are the bad guys? The faction that supports the same side our government supports—but for the wrong reasons? This conflict’s absurdities only multiply as it becomes increasingly clear that everything bad that was predicted would happen were the US to withdraw is very likely to happen anyway, with the US stuck right in the middle of it—nay, encouraging the carnage actively.

Anthony Gregory is a former Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and author of the Independent books American Surveillance and The Power of Habeas Corpus in America.
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