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Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Friday, March 10, 2006

Baghdad 2006 is looking a whole lot like Beirut 1976.

And no one should forget that the civil war in Lebanon went on until 1990.

There are significant differences between Lebanon and Iraq — especially in terms of each country's history of factionalism — so it's dangerous to assume that the Iraqi civil war will progress in the same way as the Lebanese war or last as long. Nonetheless, the developing situation in Iraq bears some striking resemblances to the civil war years in Lebanaon: Lack of a central government that exercises any real authority; dueling religious-based militias; and the growth of regional powers that exercise authority over parts of the country.

From a LA Times op-ed by Adam Shatz:

Like Lebanon, Iraq is an extraordinarily diverse country, a mosaic of religious and ethnic groups cobbled together by an imperial power almost a century ago. As in Lebanon during the civil war (which ran from 1975 to 1991), Iraq's communities, which once coexisted peacefully (although not on equal terms) have assumed an increasingly sectarian character, leaving the country without a center.

The void created by the collapse of the Iraqi dictatorship has been filled, as in Lebanon, by sectarian militias and/or guerrilla armies, which, in offering protection to frightened Iraqis, have turned religious differences to political advantage. As in Lebanon, these armies enjoy a measure of sponsorship from foreign parties (Americans, Iranians, jihadists-without-borders, et al) that sense, correctly, that the future of the region is at stake....

Every war is, of course, unique, and the Lebanon analogy only goes so far. In Lebanon, for instance, sectarianism is a veritable political tradition, a form of power-sharing with deep roots; in Iraq, sectarianism is more recent, resulting from the Baath Party's perpetuation of Sunni dominance under the guise of Arab nationalism and from decisions taken by the U.S. occupation authorities — notably an unnecessarily punitive de-Baathification program that, in Sunni eyes, was indistinguishable from de-Sunnification.

Where the division in Lebanon was between Muslims and Christians, in Iraq it is between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. And while Lebanon has a desirable port, it does not have Iraq's oil. And the Iraq war — both the American invasion and the struggle between Iraqi sects that the occupation has unleashed — has always been, in part, about control of the country's vast reserves of crude.

From an interview with Iraq specialist Marina Ottaway:

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are we witnessing a country falling apart?

Marina Ottaway: At this point in Iraq, you do not have a central government -- so you don't have a legitimate authority running the country. You don't have a government with the power to establish or maintain order. What you have is a nominal government that can only stay in power because the Americans are there. The government is supposed to have derived legitimacy from the constitution and the elections. But I think the government we end up with, won't have much legitimacy either.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why not? After all, the Iraqis went to the polls and chose their representatives. That seems pretty legitimate, does it not?

Ottaway: It is now almost three months after the elections and there is still no government. The Iraqis continue postponing the opening of parliament because according to the constitution, after they open parliament, they only have two months to form the government. They don't think they can form a government that quickly. A government that takes over five months to form is not a government that is going to have very much legitimacy in the end. The country has already collapsed. Now the challenge is figuring out a way to deal with this fact.

From an article on Iraq's sovereignty vacuum by Michael Schwartz at TomDispatch:

The American-led occupation, though it controls the military bases in which its troops are encamped and parts of the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, and can go anywhere via large military operations, can no longer aspire even to behind-the-scenes sovereignty. From the beginning of the occupation, any claims the occupying power had to legitimacy were sacrificed when most cities were left to govern themselves. In June 2004, when the Bush administration officially handed "sovereignty" (which it already didn't possess) to the Iyad Allawi government which it had put in power, it withdrew any claims it might have had to such authority; and yet it also failed to deliver any of the ingredients of sovereignty to its supposed successor.

Local forces, south and north -- despite their ability to maintain order -- cannot fully consolidate their legitimacy either, even at the level of individual cities. Aside from the credibility gap created (even in Kurdish areas) by the indisputable ability of occupation forces to disrupt life via military incursions, there is a striking administrative incapacity that derives from a basic lack of resources -- in the better off regions of Kurdistan as well as in the south. To have access to such resources would involve controlling parts of the country's oil industry which will undoubtedly remain badly crippled as long as the insurgency in Sunni areas continues at its present levels. Nor can any local government begin to implement economic recovery programs without the partnership (or the departure) of the Americans, a partnership that -- even in Kurdistan -- is held captive to profound disagreements over policy.

As a result, what exists is a sovereignty stalemate. The longer it continues, the more it eats away at the resources and the legitimacy of the contending parties. Meanwhile in Baghdad, even after a government of some sort is finally formed by the various clashing factions, what exactly will it be able to do? After all, it possesses far less power and legitimacy than even local governments, north or south.

Thanks to Metafilter, from which we shamelessly stole most of the links.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:48 PM | Get permalink

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