"The debate is over. By any definition, Iraq is in a state of civil war."
So begins an excellent overview of the current state of affairs in Iraq by Daniel L. Byman and Kenneth M. Pollack in Sunday's Washington Post.
Byman and Pollack provide a complex analysis of a complicated situation. They compare the possible effects of the Iraqi civil war to other recent examples of internal strife and point out how an increase in the flow of refugees can create not just immediate humanitarian problems but also political ones -- including terrorism -- down the road. And, given that the warring groups in Iraq have allies in other countries, the possibility that the fighting could spread is extremely high.
Among other things, the authors suggest that it might take 450,000 troops to stop this civil war -- a sobering figure.
They end with this advice:
How Iraq got to this point is now an issue for historians (and perhaps for voters in 2008); what matters today is how to move forward and prepare for the tremendous risks an Iraqi civil war poses for this critical region. The outbreak of a large-scale civil conflict would not relieve us of our responsibilities in Iraq; in fact, it could multiply them. Unfortunately, in the Middle East, one should never assume that the situation can't get worse. It always can -- and usually does.I don't know if the authors are correct in their analysis, but they certainly provide substantial material for consideration in coming up with a sane foreign policy -- something that the US has lacked since 2000.
I can't quite put aside the causes of this civil war. Certainly the US has had its finger (for both good and ill) in many of the other wars the authors cite -- Afghanistan, Rwanda, Kosovo, Lebanon, etc. -- but Iraq is the only place where civil war is an outgrowth of a US invasion. The conflicts may have already existed, but we made things worse.
George Bush and his crew of incompetent hardliners broke Iraq. The US as a whole now has to pay for it.