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Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Are We Seeing Civil War in Iraq? 

As others around the blogosphere have noted, things are looking particularly ugly in Iraq lately. Not only has the Sunni town of Fallujah suddenly flared up again, but there appears to be a newer, scarier dynamic at work as well, with Moktada al Sadr and his followers ratcheting up anti-US activity. While I'm sure there's plenty of good news to be found in some areas of Iraq (Paul Bremer still seems to think so), that's hardly any reason to ignore the fact that one Shi'i leader has gone from being a potential problem for US forces to the active leader of a full-on insurrection.

How big a problem is this for the prospects of future Iraqi democracy and US interests worldwide? An interesting interview today in Salon (you have to watch an ad if you're not a subscriber) suggests that it's not really that scary a situation. It may be the case that the administration is trying to take care of the Sadrists before handing over power, which actually makes sense if you buy the concerns I brought up here about post-occupation civil war.

Why does it make sense? Iraqi oil gives splinter sectarian groups hope that they can finance a successful insurrection. It's clearly the case that Sadr has a better chance of making things go wrong in Iraq by virtue of the fact that he can promise future returns from captured oil facilities. There's just no good technical fix for this: it may be the case that the best way to nip a long-running, nasty civil war (perhaps something like FARC's in Colombia) in the bud is to get rid of potential insurrection leaders now.

Of course, there's another, obvious possible result of such a policy: a popular, martyred leader, an angry, tough-to-quiet populace, and numerous, aggressive claimants to the Sadrist mantle. We can only hope that this time, the administration has thought through the possibilties.

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