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Is A Civil War in Iraq Inevitable?

Friday's election results make it nearly impossible to stop the country from descending into full-blown civil war.
 
 
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There's no one left to put Humpty Dumpty together again in Baghdad. Zalmay Khalilzad, America's feckless ambassador in Iraq, is trying. But, unwilling or unable to reach out to the Iraqi resistance, Khalilzad instead finds himself immersed instead in gooey egg mass. The Iraqi body politic is shattered, with little hope now of avoiding an all-out civil war. That's the only conclusion that can be reached by looking at the results of the Dec. 15 elections in Iraq, whose official returns were announced on Friday.

Those results gave the Shiite religious bloc 128 seats out of 275. Their junior partners, the two Kurdish warlord parties, got 53. The religious Sunnis got 44, the secular Sunni parties got 11, and Iyad Allawi's non-ethnic, secular alliance got 25. So the coalition of Shiite fundamentalists and Kurdish warlords controls 181 seats, at least, just a few votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed to form a government. Let's look at the bad news, item by item.

First, the Arab League's peace initiative for Iraq is dead. It was, I've written, perhaps the last best hope for holding Iraq together and avoiding an ethnic-sectarian war. The effort began last fall, when Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan organized an initiative to hold talks between Iraq's Shiite-Kurdish government, the Sunni-led opposition, and the resistance. Scheduled for Cairo last November, the first meeting failed when the two fundamentalist Shiite parties, Al Dawa and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said that they would not talk to the insurgents, whom they describe as "terrorists." (That word, in fact, is increasingly used by SCIRI and Al Dawa to refer to all Sunnis in Iraq, not just to Abu Musab Al Zarqawi's Al Qaeda or even to the Baathist-military resistance.)

In December, I wrote for TomPaine.com that the Arab League effort would collapse if the SCIRI-Dawa forces, augmented by the fanatical Mahdi Army of Muqtada Sadr, won big in the elections. They did, winning nearly half of the seats in the new parliament. So, no surprise: on Saturday, Iraq's foreign minister, a Kurd, announced that the scheduled Arab League follow up meeting in February, which had been dubbed a National Accord Conference, would not be held.

Second, the notion that Iraq can form a "national unity government" now, led by the SCIRI-Dawa-Mahdi Army coalition, is beyond absurd. Khalilzad, described by The New York Times, as the "unabashedly hands-on U.S. ambassador," is pushing hard for the inclusion of some docile Sunnis in the new government. "The advice of Zal, as he is known here, will not be subtle," says the Times , hopefully. And listen to the pathetically naïve musings of a "senior U.S. official" in Iraq, quoted by Reuters:

For us Iraq can't build on a relatively narrower sectarian or ethnic basis. It has to be inclusive. We support a unity government as the best means of bringing Iraqis together after a hard-fought election contest, and we are encouraging all sides in this to look to the advantages. In the end it's an Iraqi decision not an American decision. We are prepared to help the Iraqis in any way we can to reach an agreement that brings the country together, broadens the base of support of the Iraqi government and results in a competent and capable government.

In fact, however, the all-or-nothing sectarianism of Iraq is now set in stone. That is thanks to nearly three years of U.S. mismanagement in Iraq, during which time the United States first insisted on installing in power the creatures that populated Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress and its exile allies, then forced every Iraqi institution from the 2003 Iraqi Governing Council to the interim government of Iyad Allawi on down to apportion its power according to some ethnic and sectarian census, meanwhile encouraging the SCIRI-Dawa alliance to establish its power, and its paramilitary forces, throughout southern Iraq.

Why is a national unity government impossible? Because the 55 Sunnis who were elected to the parliament do not represent the resistance, and so they cannot exercise influence over the fighters opposed to the U.S. occupation. And, even among those Sunnis who will now take up seats in the parliament, only a handful -- perhaps the Iraqi Islamic Party and a few others -- are willing to join the Shiite-dominated regime. Therefore, Khalilzad cannot succeed in creating a broad-based Iraqi government that can successfully appeal to the resistance. All the king's horses and all the king's U.S. troops can't do it.

Making everything worse is the fact that the hard-line Shiites, especially Abdel Aziz Al Hakim and Adel Abdel Mahdi of SCIRI, have ruled out even minor compromises with the Sunni opposition. Their policy is: No to "the terrorists," no to changes in the divisive Iraqi constitution, and no to the Arab League. By refusing to change the constitution, the Shiites insist on the imposition of sharia-style Islamic courts, insist on grabbing nearly all of Iraq's future oil revenues for the Shiite south, insist on creating breakaway "federal" states in the Kurdish north and the Shiite south, insist on giving Kirkuk to the revanchist and expansionist Kurds, and more.

That's the ersatz constitution, you will recall, that passed in a referendum on Oct. 15, despite the fact that 50 of its 130 clauses hadn't yet been finished, despite the fact that copies of the document weren't printed and circulated to the population that was voting, despite the fact that it was written in secret (under U.S. supervision) by the Shiite-Kurd majority over the objections of the token Sunnis in the room. The Sunni community was tricked into voting on Oct. 15 and then Dec. 15 by promises that the constitution's bad provisions could be amended. Now, SCIRI says: No such luck.

Making things even worse, the Shiites continue to insist that Sunnis who were elected to the parliament are too close to the resistance and are therefore "terrorists." This is not an argument calculated to win friends among the Sunni bloc. If SCIRI demands that Sunni politicians disavow the armed resistance, they will succeed only in recruiting a handful of quislings into the quisling-run regime in Baghdad.

It's part and parcel of the dead-end "de-Baathification" scheme that was pushed so far by Chalabi that has now been twisted to the most extreme interpretation. "The Shiites have turned de-Baathification into de-Sunnification," according to Salman Al Jumayli, spokesperson for the Sunni Accordance Front, which has 44 seats in the coming parliament. "They're only targeting Sunnis and they've turned it into a weapon to get rid of all their political opponents." Khalilzad seems genuinely distressed by this, but he is at a loss over what to do about it. What seems clear is that the signals put out by Khalilzad before the election, about being willing to talk to the resistance, have been extinguished, along with Allawi's hopes of getting enough seats to create a nonsectarian, centrist (and pro-U.S.) government.

So what's left is an increasingly Iran-leaning, Shiite fundamentalist theocracy with a rump Kurdish republic attached to it. And you can put this in your signs-of-things-to-come file: Muqtada Sadr, the cherubic (and Rubenesque) militant young cleric, said on Sunday that the Mahdi Army, which is now a big part of the Iraqi government to be, says that his forces will fight alongside Iran's if Iran is attacked by the United States over its nuclear program.

So it's curtains for Bush's "victory or defeat" policy. The insurgency will strengthen, so that won't help. The Shiites are likely to move in an increasingly radical (and pro-Iranian direction), so that won't help. The violence will get worse.

Robert Dreyfuss is a freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va., who specializes in politics and national security issues.