Wednesday, December 06, 2006

"Why We Persevere"

Major General William Caldwell's op-ed in today's Washington Post on why Iraq is not a civil war, and why labels don't matter anyways:

Why We Persevere

By William Caldwell IV
Wednesday, December 6, 2006; Page A25

BAGHDAD -- I don't see a civil war in Iraq. I don't see a constituency for civil war. The vast majority of the people want hope for their families, not to massacre their neighbors or divide their country. A poll conducted in June by the International Republican Institute, a nonpartisan group that promotes democracy, found 89 percent of Iraqis supporting a unity government representing all sects and ethnic communities. No wonder no "rebel army" steps forward to claim credit for vicious car bombs and cowardly executions of civilians.

I see debates among Iraqis -- often angry and sometimes divisive -- but arguments characteristic of political discourse, not political breakdown. The Council of Representatives meets here in Baghdad as the sole legitimate sovereign representative of the people, 12 million of whom braved bombs and threats last December to vote. No party has seceded or claimed independent territory.

I see a representative government exercising control over the sole legitimate armed authority in Iraq, the Iraqi Security Force. After decades in which the armed services were tools of oppression, Iraq is taking time to build an army and national police force loyal to all. There have been setbacks, but also great successes. In Fallujah, a city almost lost two years ago, I have seen the cooperation between the local army commander, a Shiite, and the police chief, a Sunni.

I don't see terrorist and criminal elements mounting campaigns for territory. Al-Qaeda in Iraq doesn't use roadside bombs, suicidal mass murderers and rocket barrages to gain and hold ground. Extremist Shiite death squads don't shoot people in the back of the head to further their control of the government. I do see random executions seeking to instill fear and insecurity. I don't see a struggle between armies and aligned political parties competing to rule.

I studied civil wars at West Point and at the Army Command and Staff College. I respect the credentials and opinions of those who want to hang that label here. But I respectfully -- and strongly -- disagree. I see the Iraqi people suffering from overlapping terrorist campaigns by extremist groups combined with the mass criminality that too often accompanies the sudden toppling of a dictatorship. This poses a different military challenge than does a civil war.

As the Iraqi people labor to build a country based on human rights and respect for all citizens, they are moving from the law of the gun to the rule of law. Violence will increase before life gets better. Those who know that freedom and democracy offer more hope than anarchy will not give up.

Regardless of what academics and pundits decide to label this conflict, hundreds of thousands of brave Iraqi soldiers, police officers and civil servants will continue to go to work building a free, prosperous and united Iraq. And every day more than 137,000 U.S. servicemen and servicewomen will lace up their boots, strap on their body armor and drive ahead with our mission to support these courageous Iraqis.

Army Maj. Gen. Caldwell is the chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq.

Some further points that should be noted:
- Only 13% of Iraqis polled wanted to divide the country by religious tenets or ethnic groupings – 78% stood for unity. Even in Baghdad, where the worst of Iraq’s sectarian violence has occurred, 76 percent of those surveyed opposed ethnic separation, with only 10 percent favoring it.
- According to a September survey by, 97% of Iraqis expressed strong disapproval of attacks on civilians, and 96% disapproved of attacks against the Iraqi Security Force.
- An October study found 89% of Iraqis across the country agreeing with the statement, “My first loyalty is to my country rather than my sect, ethnic group or tribe.”

These findings are consistent, and not numbers one would expect to see in a nation plagued by a civil war. Labels such as “civil war” and “guerilla war” are broad terms. Broad academic categorizations are sometimes helpful. For Iraq, this kind of simplification obscures more than it illuminates. Academic definitions of civil wars which rely upon casualty figures ignore the historical and strategic context that makes every conflict unique.

Again, this is not to say that everything is going well in Iraq. It quite clearly isn't. And in some ways, the violence that we see here is more difficult to manage and overcome than a simple civil war.

But "civil war" is being bandied about by the media as short hand for failure, which is something that neither our forces here -- nor the Iraqis we work with everyday in the Government of Iraq or the Iraqi Security Force -- are ready to accept.