Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Problem of Iraq's Civil War

I pointed out last week that there are multiple versions of the Najaf incident. I came across another four variations on the story a couple of days later. What happened in Najaf seems to depend on who you ask and whether any of the people you ask were there and what their agenda is. It's one time when the 'official' version has no more credibillity than other versions. AJ, the foreign policy expert at Americablog points out the obvious (which of course means the Bush Administration will ignore it):
Following up on the recent battle in Najaf, it's never quite become clear exactly what happened. ...

(snip)

...Arab press paints a starkly different picture. Azzaman (translated into English) describes the battle as a U.S. provocation against a group on its way to celebrate the Ashura holiday:
Iraqi officials said 263 members of a little known group they identified as the Soldiers of Heaven were killed. They and U.S. officials who sent in helicopter gun ships and tanks to back Iraqi forces were pleased of their ‘victory’. But who were those Soldiers from Heaven? And how could both Iraqi and U.S. officials persuade U.S. troops to market a story wholly based on lies? The ‘victory’ was short-lived and its impact has already backfired and it could not have come at a worse time for the United States as it is on the verge of launching a new military offensive to retake Baghdad. Now it appears that Iraqi troops had attacked a huge procession by Shiite tribesmen on their way to take part in the Ashura ceremonies. The tribesmen were armed because their areas are among the most dangerous in Iraq. But the slogans they raised and the demands they made seem to have angered the government and prompted a violent response.

The article goes on to claim that the group was actually a sect opposed to Iranian influence in Iraq, implying that tribal rivalries led U.S. forces to intervene on behalf of a pro-Iranian tribe against an anti-Iranian one. It's entirely possible that this report is erroneous, of course, and I'm skeptical of the analysis for a few reasons, particularly because Ashura celebrants usually head to Karbala rather than Najaf.

But the overall point is that we still have very little understanding of Iraq's internal conflicts. Further, virtually every U.S. military action will be treated as an attack on civilians by one group or another, feeding a constant cycle of hatred, recriminations, and death. ...

We live in an era where it's easy to create plausible stories. It's a hellish experience for our soldiers to try and sort out conflicting stories by multiple groups. A year ago, I heard about Sunni Arabs telling stories that they and not the Shiites are the ones really in the majority since the Sunnis, after all, have historically ruled the country (not my logic, but theirs).

We just saw a 'plausible' story in the United States carried for days in the American media (particularly on CNN) about Nancy Pelosi supposedly demanding a fancy military jet because she's Speaker of the House; it took a sluggish White House to clear up the fabrication (one has to wonder how the story got started in the first place). In the United States, with some patience, we can sort these stories out, but no one should pretend that even in our country are these stories sorted out to everyone's satisfaction. And we have only two viable political parties. Imagine a country in a civil war with two to three dozen different factions. In that situation, we cannot hope to accomplish much, except to be the universal source of blame. It's time to start drawing down and work out a political solution.

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