Breaking news: Iraq us at "civil war."
NBC coined the phrase on Monday, and in the following days the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and former Secretary of State Colin Powell followed the trend. The announcements followed Iraq’s deadliest week of sectarian violence since the American occupation in March 2003.
The dictionary definition of a civil war is a fight between factions or regions within the same society for power or control of an area. Iraq-with its Shiite Muslims killing Sunni Muslims and vice-versa–has fit the description for most of the last two years.
But popular culture’s use of this new terminology, aside from giving the current situation a more fitting title, represents a viewpoint that’s slightly reminiscent of the Vietnam era coming to prominence: the United States in failing on its Mission of Success.
It was easy for the multinational force, led by Superpower U.S., to quickly overthrow the Ba’ath Party government of Saddam Hussein, bringing an end to a 24-year-long dictatorship filled with documented reports of various human rights violations. However, once the lid of Pandora’s box was opened, a battle beyond our control ensued.
Over 50,000 Iraqis have been killed by fellow Iraqis in the past three years (not to mention the roughly 650,000 civilians that have been killed through the US military trying to quell insurgents, according to a study published in the Lancet medical journal in October.)
That number is strikingly similar to the number of Bosnians killed by their fellow countrymen when Clinton was president. Bush Jr., expressing a view common to many of his fellow Republicans, opposed international intervention at the time because the conflict was-gasp-a civil war, or in his eyes an internal conflict to be settled internally.
Of course, eventual US intervention in 1995 in Bosnia brought to a halt the mass killings of Bosnian Muslims by Bosnian Christians. But the main difference between both civil wars is this: in Bosnia, the US stopped it; in Iraq they sparked it.
Five months before the war in November 2002, neoconservative historian Robert Kaplan wrote that, "Iraq has a one man thugocracy. So the removal of Saddam would threaten to disintegrate the entirely ethnically riven country if we weren’t to act fast and pragmatically install people who could actually govern."
Kaplan appeared to be somewhat of a prophet-or simply smarter than the Bush administration. Three years and thousands of deaths later, more chaos than existed under the dictatorship of Hussein abounds. We may have not been in Iraq as long as we were in Vietnam-eight years and five months-but we easily could be with the lack of progress and sharp increase of violence we are seeing.
Now that the old regime has been broken down, Iraqis are struggling with the question of what it means to be an Iraqi in the post-Saddam world. And the U.S., who has been the catalyst for much of the anger, is no longer doing any good by stationing itself in the country. The United States, unlike with Bosnia but very much like Vietnam, has already exhibited that the conflict is out of their hands. We could wait five years more to declare this, or we could pull out now and let the conflict-like that between the North and the South in Vietnam-eventually resolve itself.