Saddam Hussein, the obstacle in the way of civil war
Since January 2004, a chorus of foreign political and military analysts has been chanting, "Before it's too late, before it's too late."
Analysis by Reuters, via Le Monde | March 3, 2006 (Available to subscribers only, sorry!)
Civil war in Iraq, the worst-case scenario for the US military
Should Iraq fall into civil war, the United States will confront the worst of situations since the March 2003 invasion and may be forced to withdraw its troops. The risk of civil conflict has risen sharply since the destruction of the dome of the Golden Mosque of Samarra on February 22. The bombing sparked a wave of violence and reprisals between Shi’ites and Sunnis bearing in them the seeds of a conflict more deadly than the Sunni insurgency, active in the last few years against US forces and the new Iraqi government. According to information released by the Pentagon, more than 2,300 US soldiers have already paid with their lives for the military action decided by George Bush against Saddam Hussein. If total war breaks out – and Iraq seems very close to it – then the 134,000 men of the US contingent could find themselves in a situation of extreme vulnerability, especially if one considers the number of combat troops that we have there, says Ted Carpenter, an expert on defense matters at Washington’s Cato Institute. Any question of US troops breaking up factional clashes in Iraq is taboo -- and the Pentagon has reduced its combat brigades in Iraq from 17 to 15. The rest of the US contingent consists of troops assigned to support or logistical operations with no combat training. Should religious civil war break out, the British and Australian combat units present in Iraq will prove insufficient.
DEGREE OF LOYALTY. One possible option available to US military strategists is to support Iraqi security forces, which are slowly finding their strength in deploying a 20,000-man backup combat division and Iraqi special forces. But this scenario is based on the assumption of the loyalty of Iraqi troops and police to the Iraqi government above ethnic, tribal or religious affilation. Such an assumption is far removed from reality, says Ted Carpenter, who believes it plausible that large-scale clashes between rival factions will occur. If these cleavages explode into massive violence, the United States will find itself in a desperate situation, he adds, suggesting a forced and rapid retreat of US troops following the Lebanese example when US forces evacuated Lebanon after the 1983 bombing of Marine headquarters in Beirut. Their departure this time would allow Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds to engage in a wide-open struggle and would seriously jeopardize the preservation of the territorial integrity of the country.
MILITIAS AND SELF-DEFENSE. Displaying absolute mistrust towards the Iraqi security forces, of which Kurds represent a large part, several militias, including the Mahdi Army of Shi’ite imam Moqtada Sadr, have already announced their intention to ensure the defense of their territory. Sunni Iraqis consider the “national” defense forces and police to be Shi’ites and Kurds on steroids, writes Stephen Biddle, an expert on defense questions for the Council on Foreign Relations. Ordering US troops into the fray would result in eliminating the actor most faithful to a stable and unified Iraq. In Baghdad, US military command is still confident, even if officers recognize that many Iraqis are terrified by the course of events. We receive emergency calls every day saying a mosque is on fire, even when it is only garbage burning. There is a great deal of tension and a lot of scared people, underscores Col Mike Beech. In Washington, George Bush insists that Iraq must have a government of national unity and excludes the idea of a schedule for the withdrawal of US troops. For the Iraqi people and its leaders, the moment of decision has come, says Bush, while rejecting the notion that the country is on the brink of civil war. General George Casy, Commander-in-Chief of US forces in Iraq is less categorical. Anything could happen, he said on Friday, but added: Is the violence now beyond control? Certainly not. It is premature to come to an opinion, says Anthony Cordesman, military analyst for the Center for Strategic and International Studies de Washington. A few more weeks are needed to determine the trend.