Sunday, March 19, 2006

What defines a “civil war”?

Iraq’s former interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, noting the loss of “50-60” people per day, defines the current conflict in Iraq as “civil war,” while Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld disagree.

To put the casualty numbers in perspective, consider that Iraq’s population is something over 26 million, roughly one-tenth of the US population, so their “50-60” deaths per day would be proportionately equivalent to a loss of 500-600 people per day in this country. Would that qualify as “civil war”?

I didn’t see the Face the Nation program where Cheney appeared, but why was he apparently not asked the obvious question: How would you define a “civil war”? How many have to die? How great do “sectarian tensions” need to become?

Maybe it’s time for us to start listening to the people who are living (and dying) through our Iraqi adventure, because they have a far clearer understanding of what it is that they are living through:

“In many ways, this year is like 2003 prior to the war when we were stocking up on fuel, water, food and first aid supplies and medications. We’re doing it again this year but now we don’t discuss what we’re stocking up for. Bombs and B-52’s are so much easier to face than other possibilities,” and

“discrimination based on sect has become so commonplace,” and

“I’m sitting here trying to think what makes this year, 2006, so much worse than 2005 or 2004. It’s not the outward differences — things such as electricity, water, dilapidated buildings, broken streets and ugly concrete security walls. Those things are disturbing, but they are fixable. Iraqis have proved again and again that countries can be rebuilt. No — it’s not the obvious that fills us with foreboding. The real fear is the mentality of so many people lately — the rift that seems to have worked it’s way through the very heart of the country, dividing people.”

To read such a description of life in Baghdad, I can only conclude, as does Allawi, that “if this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is.” It would be helpful to know just how Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and Bush will know that Iraq is in the throes of a civil war, but it would also be nice if they would take some responsibility for that descent.
Instead, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that “Iraq is ‘a place that is having some real difficulties right now’ and that ‘everything is in place if they want to have a civil war.’ ”

It never ceases to amaze me that the architects of the Iraq disaster blame both the process and the outcome on the Iraqis. Can’t we at least acknowedge that we are the reason that Iraq is in the chaos it’s in, the chaos that’s now being exploited by those who would tear Iraq apart? “Having some real difficulties right now,” indeed. And where, General Pace, did those “difficulties” come from? Manna from heaven?

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