Monday, November 5, 2007

Body Count in Iraq

Recent news emanating from Iraq, namely, fewer U.S. and Iraqi casualties in October, have given Americans some measure of optimism that the surge may be having success, and that the U.S. mission of establishing a stable, democratic Iraq can succeed.

In this respect, it is instructive to examine the post-World War II process of decolonization. France and Britain generally required that rival ethnic, racial, linguistic, or tribal groups in their respective colonies form multi-ethnic governing coalitions as a precondition for independence. Many countries in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean successfully achieved independence on the basis of a multi-ethnic coalition of moderate members of each major community, but, under the political pressure of ethnic extremists, collapsed into warring communities. Many newly independent countries—Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Rwanda, Zanzibar, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Lebanon, Congo, Nigeria, Sudan, and Yugoslavia, among others—suffered political instability, civil wars, dictators, coups, and loss of life and property.

How does Iraq fit into this paradigm? Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites have been at each other’s throats for centuries. To complicate matters further, Turkey is concerned about the establishment of an autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq with oil, which might attract Kurds in Turkey to seek union with their Iraqi brethren. In the south, Iranian Shiites represent a potential alliance with fellow Iraqi Shiites. A temporary improvement in the body count is a poor predictor of the future prospect that a stable multi-ethnic central government can emerge and govern from Baghdad.

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