Ethnic Conflict, simply to be expected? - 09.28.2005

I have heard very different reports from my Iraqi contacts in Baghdad. While some urge me not to come to Iraq at this time, others seem to believe that I should still make the trip. Although nowhere in Iraq is “safe,” the stark difference of opinion between of Iraqis, raises many questions.

I would like to take a moment at this point to write about the situation in western Iraq, and the continuing exacerbation of ethnic conflict. I believe this is relevant to the dichotomy of opinion about the situation in Iraq. Several sources have discussed the appearance of not only sectarian, but clear ethnic divides in the recent conflict in Tal Afar.

Although the bulk of articles do not do enough to provide context to the situation in Tal Afar, the idea that what is happening in Tal Afar can only be seen as ethnic cleansing with intention is negligent at worst, and simplification at best.

The reality of modern Iraq, existing as not just a region, but specifically a “State,” a construct of the League of Nations decades ago, continues to have an impact today. The efforts of the League to define national borders that were of interest to the West, and clearly ignorant of tribal and historical ethnic ties, still encourages conflict today.

For the Occupation to support forces that were oppressed under the previous Regime will germinate ethnic conflict. In Iraq there is an active Resistance, which cannot be divorced from the years of ethnic tensions, inflamed first by the League of Nations, and stoked most recently by the efforts of Saddam Hussein to remain in power. The United States continues to claim it intends to construct a civil government that can defend Iraq’s sovereignty but, because of the active Resistance, the US and the MNF-I (Multi National Force-Iraq) will only inflame these ethnic tensions. Why? Because the only forces available to defend Iraq are those who belonged to various oppressed classes under Saddam, and those who make up the Resistance are often the same people who benefited from this past oppression.

The South appeared for a time to have a strong police force and relative calm, but there have also been well-documented cases of oppressive control and the imposition of force based on religious law. It now seems to be coming out that the calm in Basra was based primarily on the influence of Iran, who funneled training, weapons, and other support into the South of Iraq.

In many ways, it appears that what “calm” there has ever been in Western Iraq since the toppling of Saddam has been due to similar control and influence by Sunni “insurgent” militias. Perhaps it is inaccurate to represent many of the informally organized Resistance cells as “militia,” but I believe you understand the implication. If you are curious for examples, keep in mind the relative calm that occurred in Fallujah after the MNF-I left the area in mid-2004. Was Fallujah calm? Yes, but was it safe for Shiite Iraqis? It seems the area was probably as unsafe for Shiite Iraqis then as Basra is for Sunni Iraqis now.

If the US, the Occupation, and the MNF-I are going to rebuild Iraq, it seems they need to engage in more consideration of the impact of their actions. So long as the MNF-I fails to take into account the context and impact of its actions, it will be incapable of assisting Iraq and Iraqis in determining a stable future. It may be time to consider that the modern idea of the “State” must be re-examine. What relevance does the “State” hold in a world that is simultaneously being globalized, while in many areas of the world still strongly organized around family and ethnic ties?

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