Hobbes in Baghdad

“Civil war”? If it looks like a duck …

As if in counterpoint to the good political news, there’s bad news on the ground in Iraq. Zeyad reports on a two-day-long firefight in Adhamiya, the biggest Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad. U.S. troops were involved.

The fight seems to have started when Interior Ministry forces, known allies of (or identical with) Shi’a militias and death squads, tried to enter the neighborhood and were repulsed with heavy fire by local self-defense forces. In this neighborhood at least, there’s no effective distinction between “insurgents” and loyal citizens: the residents regard themselves as in need of defense against outsiders, and have organized accordingly.

The next morning, someone opened fire on Iraqi National Guard units, either having mistaken them for Interior Ministry forces or desiring to provoke exactly what happened: a day of fighting beween the locals on the one hand and the ING and American troops on the other.

But that’s not the worst of it. Zeyad’s account makes it clear that the ING presence in the neighborhood depends on a negotiated agreement under which the ING allows local forces to control the place, and even helps defend them against other government forces: in particular the Interior Ministry.

There had been a previous understanding for a few months … that, as long as Interior ministry forces do not enter Adhamiya, National Guards were free to patrol and maintain checkpoints in the area. National Guards in return, turned a blind eye to the many neighbourhood watch teams and even the ‘Mujahideen’ as long as they don’t target them. National Guards were considered allies and during the Samarra events they stepped back in the shadows and watched as vigilant units took over and patrolled Adhamiya at nighttime. There was at least one incident, a couple of weeks ago, when a National Guard commander warned the ‘Mujahideen’ that Interior ministry forces had entered the area, and turned over his weapons to residents so they could defend themselves.

You can call this situation something other than “civil war” if you like, but it seems to me that doing so is just playing word-games.

Quoth Hobbes:

… war consisteth not in battle only, or the act of fighting, but in a tract of time in which the will to contend by battle is sufficiently known.

(Leviathan, Ch 13, par. 8.)

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

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