Tuesday, August 29, 2006



In Iraq, the daily barbarism and savagery continue unabated.

And yet, the Bush Administration and Pentagon continue to protest that, despite evidence to the contrary, Iraq is not in the midst of a civil war.

Though the civilian death toll Iraq exceeded 3400 in July, with all signs pointing to at least the initial stages of a civil war -- if not the middle of one -- the powers that be deny it. President Bush, VP Cheney, Sec. Rumsfeld, Sec.Rice, and the top generals in the field, Peter Pace and John Abizaid, think that by denying the truth that they can reassure, and even fool, the American public.

But July was the most deadly month for civilians since the war began, and clearly the fighting is not waning in any way.

With a population of approximately 28 million, it requires quite a leap to suggest that 3400 hundred citizens killing each other in just one month isn't civil war. For comparisons sake, consider the following; the July death toll represented about .012% of Iraq's population. The U.S. has about 11 times Iraq's population. If we were to have suffered a relative civilian death toll in July (.012%), it would have resulted in 36,000 American deaths.

Does anybody really doubt that, if there were that many Americans killed at the hands of fellow Americans, we wouldn't be calling it a civil war?

Since the war started in March of 2003, roughly 2600 Americans have died in Iraq. That death toll is shocking to most of our civilian population, and many of them want out troops out now. Just imagine how shocked we'd all be if there were 36,000 deaths in just one month this summer, and if were the result of Americans killing each other.

Military officials fear that Iraq's civil war -- let's call it exactly what it is -- will spill over into a regional conflict. It could result in more than just country versus country, but could rather be a matter of Shiites versus Sunnis, regardless of borders.

According to U.S. intelligence sources, in recent months the Saudis and Jordanians, who are predominantly Sunni, have quietly moved to support the insurgency with money and intelligence, fearing that Shiite Iran will dominate the new Iraqi government if the U.S. decides to leave.

The Bush Administration has gotten the U.S. into a no-win situation. We are stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place, where none of the choices are very good, and all outcomes are uncertain.

What's most ironic is that the Sunni insurgency, which has long been fighting for a U.S. withdrawal, is now hoping the U.S. will stay put to protect them from the majority Shiites, whose death squads have been indiscriminately, yet methodically, killing Sunni civilians and government officials alike. Who could have imagined that turn of events?

And according to retired Marine Colonel Thomas X. Hammes, author of The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century, that's just what the Sunnis now fear. "They absolutely think we're leaving. This is what happened in Afghanistan when it became clear the Russians were leaving. The factions began fighting each other."

Afghanistan is instructive: civil war led to the Taliban government; the Taliban provided a safe haven for al-Qaeda; and we all know the rest of the story. A U.S. withdrawal from Iraq could lead to far worse consequences, given Iraq's strategic location and potential oil wealth.

But remaining in Iraq in the middle of a civil war is as mad as it is fruitless. Choosing sides would be picking the lesser of two evils. One way or another, the U.S. would be in bed with the devil -- and that's not a good bed partner.

It's time to consider a critical question; might it be in the best interests of the U.S. to let the war rage and allow the participants to exhaust themselves? The old axiom is "the enemy of my enemy my friend." With both groups hostile to the U.S., as long as they're fight one another instead of us, don't they both become our friends? A peculiar logic indeed, but perhaps useful nonetheless.

What if the U.S. military were to "help" the Syrian and Iranian governments by completely drawing back to, and sealing, those borders from the Iraqi side. That way the U.S. could keep out foreign fighters entering from those countries, as well as cutting off supply lines that feed the both the Sunni and Shiite insurgencies. Syria and Iran claim that either there is no problem at all, or that they're doing the best they can. Perhaps our military could do better while staying out of harms way.

Iran clearly sees itself as not only the most powerful nation in the region, but also as a burgeoning counter-balance to the U.S. on the world stage. The Bush Administration aren't the only ones concerned. The Egyptians, Saudis and Jordanians also fear Iranian hegemony in the region and would like to thwart the rise of Shiite dominance.

And over the past few months, the Iranian government has been setting the stage for a showdown with the U.S. over its nuclear program, betting that the Europeans will likely back down, leaving the U.S. to go it alone once again, as it did in Iraq. And they are also gambling that the U.S. is too burdened in Iraq to take them on militarily as well.

A military report earlier this year described the army as a "thin green line" that has already been stretched too far. It claims the U.S. lacks the resources in terms of money, manpower, or conventional weaponry to engage in another simultaneous conflict. Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey backed the report's conclusions. Perhaps the Iranians read the report too.

That said, might not be in the best interests of the U.S. to pit the Sunnis and the Shiites against one another? It's a question worth asking.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.