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Civil War in Iraq?--

In the last two days, former Prime Minister Allawi's claim that Iraq was experiencing a Civil War was reported relatively uncritically by the local and national TV news reporters that I happened to see.

Wretchard at the Belmont Club has an analysis:

So what's the truth? The principle in determining truth should be to apply the factual indicator test. A civil war is a visible event whose indicators includes the insubordination of armed units, mass refugee flows, the rise of rival governments, etc. The test is whether those events are being observed. What famous individuals say about a situation is a shortcut for encapsulating a factual assessment; it describes reality as public figures see it but is not the reality itself. That remains a mystery until developments unfold.

One interesting indicator of how the US military sees the situation are its plans to turn over large parts of the country to Iraqi forces. Bloomberg reports:

March 17 (Bloomberg) — The U.S. hopes to hand over 75 percent of Iraq to Iraqi Security Forces by the end of the summer, the second-ranking U.S. commander in Baghdad said. ``All indications are that we will make that,'' Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli, commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, said from Baghdad during a briefing televised at the Pentagon today, adding that he didn't ``want to be so precise as to put myself in a box.'' ...

This apparently innocuous statement [shortened here at VC] contains a wealth of implication. It primarily suggests confidence, but it also admits that while Iraqi forces are coming along, they are not yet decisive without the assistance of US forces. The insurgency in Anbar, though contained, has not yet been stamped out, though sometime between now and the end of summer more inroads will be made upon it if Chiarelli's statements are any guide to events.

Politically what's interesting is how the narrative has changed. Nobody is talking about the Sunni insurgency succeeding any more. Even the press hardly makes the claim of an insurgency on the brink of success. . . .

After quoting Juan Cole saying that the "guerrillas are really no more than mosquitoes to US forces," Wretchard continues:

Cole forgets to remind the reader [w]hat mosquitoes did for the French in Algeria, the Russians in Afghanistan and even pushed the Israelis out of Lebanon. The enormity of the victory against the insurgency was never a given. In some respects the US achievement was historical. Whatever else happens, this should be remembered.

Cole also rejected assertions that Iraq was in Civil War.

[Myth:] Iraq is already in a civil war, so it does not matter if the US simply withdraws precipitately, since the situation is as bad as it can get.

No, it isn't. During the course of the guerrilla war, the daily number of dead has fluctuated, between about 20 and about 60. But in a real civil war, it could easily be 10 times that. Some estimates of the number of Afghans killed during their long set of civil wars put the number at 2.5 million, along with 5 million displaced abroad and more millions displaced internally. Iraq is Malibu Beach compared to Afghanistan in its darkest hours. . . .

In my view, the shift of meme from the "insurgency" to a "civil war" is a backhanded way of admitting the military defeat of the insurgency without abandoning the characterization of Iraq [a]s an American fiasco. It was Zarqawi and his cohorts themselves who changed the terms of reference from fighting US forces to sparking a 'civil war'. With any luck, they'll lose that campaign too.

Read the whole thing.

George Gregg (mail):
In my view, the shift of meme from the "insurgency" to a "civil war" is a backhanded way of admitting the military defeat of the insurgency without abandoning the characterization of Iraq [a]s an American fiasco.


Wow...the insurgency has been defeated? That kinda sneaked up on us, didn't it? Perhaps it was drowned out by all that news of new bomb attacks killing people, Iraqi bodies being discovered and the 21 US troop deaths since the beginning of this month.

I guess our troops will be coming home soon, then.

*reaches for the champagne and confetti*
3.21.2006 7:05am
bcn (mail):
George,
I think you are kind of proving the point that is being made. People don't want to admit that the insugency is declining, so they hype the civil war angle. It is a neat trick, to admit that the problem you spent 2 years complaining about is not the problem anymore, but that there is a new "better" problem to deal with. So feel free to get your champagne, because there is no civil war so then we must be making real progress if we have moved past the insurgency. Or can we go back to the insurgency if the civil war does not pan out?
BCN
3.21.2006 8:53am
Grant Gould (mail):
A back-of-the-envelope calculations: The American Civil War averaged about 100 deaths per day. Iraq being about 20% smaller than the US in 1860, 60 deaths per day definitely sounds close to "real civil war" levels.

(Of course, one might claim that the American Civil War wasn't a real civil war, either. That civil war talk was just defeatism spread by the press and foreign terrorists; the Union was just fighting a prolonged insurgency.)
3.21.2006 8:57am
Paco (mail) (www):
81, 76, 59, 49, 43, 11.

Winning lottery numbers? The combo to my safety deposit box?

No. The monthly number of troop deaths in Iraq since October.

I don't believe all is peachy there, and success strikes me as less likely than failure at this point. But after focussing on troop deaths incessently for the past three years, don't you think these numbers deserve some press coverage?

Troop woundings, police killings, estimated civilian killings, number of car bombs? All down.

http://www.brookings.edu/fp/saban/iraq/index.pdf
3.21.2006 9:03am
dunno:
I don't think most people, the cited argument notwithstanding, would consider the possible presence of civil war as a replacement of the insurgency, as opposed to an outgrowth. There's no real reason to believe that the maladies of an uncertain government line up in the hall like good little schoolboys, waiting their turn with the principal.

What seems more likely is that civil war—if there is one—is an outgrowth of the insurgency. Now, reasonable people can disagree on whether the insurgency has come to that point, but there's no reason to assume that one side or the other (of the American partisan debate) is shifting its arguments for advantage in argumentation.

To extend the Civil War metaphor upthread, saying that a newfound Civil War would mark the end of the insurgency is like saying that Secession marked the end of the pro-slavery movement in the South.

Now I myself don't know that I buy the Iraq civil war meme, but I don't see any reason to dismiss it (a form of anti-government strife) as incompatible with insurgency (another form of anti-govenment strife). We're not talking oil and water here.
3.21.2006 9:30am
Anderson (mail) (www):
Troop woundings, police killings, estimated civilian killings, number of car bombs? All down.

Permit me to doubt re: the bolded portion.

Nor, harkening back to the post, do I think that readiness to turn things over to the Iraqis suggests "confidence." It may well suggest desperation to get the hell out.
3.21.2006 10:11am
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):
In my view, the shift of meme from the "insurgency" to a "civil war" is a backhanded way of admitting the military defeat of the insurgency without abandoning the characterization of Iraq is an American fiasco.

In my view, the shift of meme from the "insurgency" to a "civil war" reflects our failure, and the Iraqis' failure, to build a legitimate national government. For a long time, we talked about an "insurgency" because we had this hope that theirs were relatively isolated forces resisting against a new Iraqi nation. Notwithstanding the successes in holding elections, it is now it is hard to believe that Iraq's national government will be able to play the part, and so the same "insurgents" have become one side in a sort of "civil war." This reflects not military success, but political failure. Indeed, the fact that we are still talking about the conflict there in military terms fundamentally reflects a failure to convert the conflict into a political one.
3.21.2006 10:21am
El Capitan (mail):

Permit me to doubt re: the bolded portion.


That's fine, and that's why I used the "estimated" term instead of actual. If you actually go to the link (from Brookings, not exactly a right-wing hack factory), you see on page 10 that they use a proxy to estimate deaths. It concedes that it probably underestimates deaths, but unless something has changed to reduce the effectiveness of the proxy, it should be reporting an upswing in civilian deaths if there is, in fact, an upswing in civilian deaths.
3.21.2006 10:39am
Justin (mail):
El Capitan, that's ESTIMATED CIVILIAN KILLINGS BY US FORCES.

This would actually be a neat GRE "catch the fallacy test". I got a 6 on figuring out that a fact pattern as to whether a bluegrass station would be profitable to certain facts was that they lived in a festival town with practically no regular bluegrass listeners (too rural).

What your evidence is showing is only that the US is engaging Iraq less. They're staying in the green zone and allowing the Iraqis to kill each other. This may or may not be good strategy, but it is hardly evidence of a dying insurgency.
3.21.2006 10:46am
Taimyoboi:
"What your evidence is showing is only that the US is engaging Iraq less. They're staying in the green zone and allowing the Iraqis to kill each other."

Another GRE fallacy--drawing conclusions from unsupporting evidence.

Based on that evidence, you could just as well draw the conclusion that the insurgency is winding down.

I don't think anyone claimed to draw any conclusion other than that things were winding down, either on the American or on the insurgent side.
3.21.2006 11:02am
El Capitan (mail):
Congrats on your GRE analytical score, and your resounding triumph on the bluegrass fact pattern. But I'm guessing your reading comp score was a bit lower, because I never claimed that the insurgency was dying off -- indeed the exact words used were "success strikes me as less likely than failure at this point." MY only point was that after having focusing almost obsessively on troop deaths for the past three years, one would think the media would find it newsworthy that those deaths were declining. Substantially at that. Because to be honest, that sure wasn't the impression I'd gotten from watching the news, and I was shocked to see these numbers.

At any rate, I'm not sure where you're getting the whole "ESTIMATE CIVILIAN KILLINGS BY US FORCES" thing from (that you for some reason feel the need to shout). As I read the Saban report, it refers to those killed by "act of war." This is a somewhat ambiguous term, but it strikes me that this could include both US and insurgent-caused deaths. Indeed, the bolded note at the bottom indicates that it would include the deaths from the bombing of the Golden Dome Mosque in this estimate when those numbers were finalized, which I do not take to have been caused by US forces. Finally, if you bother to go to the site that it uses as its basis for the estimate, you see a number of civilians killed from "bombs," "roadside bombs," "executed," "hanged," and "bombs in minibus." Unless coalition force tactics have changed, I suggest that the number actually includes deaths from insurgents as well.

As for your "lack of engagement" theory, it is semi-plausible, but does that really explain the decline in car bombings and Iraqi military/police deaths? I guess its plausible, but its certainly not dispositive.

Incidentally, Paco is my "other" logon, something that should be clear from my use of the first person in my initial post. Long ago I forgot my password for my home computer (the Paco account) and so created a new login for my office computer.
3.21.2006 11:16am
Preferred Customer:

In my view, the shift of meme from the "insurgency" to a "civil war" reflects our failure, and the Iraqis' failure, to build a legitimate national government. For a long time, we talked about an "insurgency" because we had this hope that theirs were relatively isolated forces resisting against a new Iraqi nation. Notwithstanding the successes in holding elections, it is now it is hard to believe that Iraq's national government will be able to play the part, and so the same "insurgents" have become one side in a sort of "civil war." This reflects not military success, but political failure. Indeed, the fact that we are still talking about the conflict there in military terms fundamentally reflects a failure to convert the conflict into a political one.



Tyrone's got it right. When there is an occupying power providing a modicum of civil authority, those fighting against that power are "insurgents," or perhaps "terrorists."

Now that we have started to transition away from an occupation force, and are attempting to transition toward a home-grown Iraqi political structure, the labels are changing. If a unified Iraqi political structure had replaced the occupying power, and had there continued to be organized fighting against that structure, you'd still be talking about terrorists or insurgents. That hasn't happened, unfortunately. All nattering about levels of dead aside, the fact is that continued sectarian strife has so far prevented attempts to form a unified political structure.

In the absence of a unified political structure, the armed factions divided along sectarian lines that are fighting one another and are vying for power ends are not engaged in an "insurgency" and "counter insurgency." With no single effective political authority extant on the ground, there is nothing to be insurgent against. Instead, you've got the makings of a civil war.
3.21.2006 11:59am
Anderson (mail) (www):
Thanks, Justin. Now I've actually clicked the link. The overall trend is upwards; only focusing on the spikes would lead one to conclude that killings are "down."

N.b. the Brookings disclaimer:
It is still unclear how many civilians were killed in the outburst of sectarian violence directly related to the destruction of the Askariya mosque in Samarra on February 22, 2006. Estimates range from 220 (the number of confirmed deaths according to the US military on March 1st) to 1,300 (early estimates according to morgue workers). Most estimates lie in the high 300s, but some officials believe the final tally could reach 550.

This chart is based upon data from Iraq Body Count (http://www.iraqbodycount.net/database/), but does not include entries that span multiple months, those recorded at the morgue, or those which clearly involve the death of Iraqi police, police recruits, or Iraq Civil Defense Forces in an attempt to index only civilians killed by acts of war. IBC removes military personnel. This formulation forms the lower bound. We recognize that these estimates are most probably lower than the actual number since many separate incidents go unreported or unnoticed. The upper bound is therefore 1.75 times the lower bound, a rough estimate which reflects the fact that the estimates for civilian casualties from the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior were 75 percent higher than those of our Iraq Body Count-based estimate over the December 2003 -- May 2005 period. Ellen Knickmeyer, "Iraq Puts Civilian Toll at 12,000." Washington Post, June 3, 2005.
3.21.2006 12:36pm
Justin (mail):
Well that "downward spike" is caused by the fact that the numbers for March are only through March 16, 2006: they're not projected, so of course deaths are only about half of what they were in February.
3.21.2006 1:15pm
El Capitan (mail):
Again, that is why I used the term "estimated" civilian deaths, and why I stated that they used a proxy to determine secondary data. Regardless, it doesn't matter if the actual number is 15 times higher than the estimate; like I said, unless something happens to change the multiplier between the proxy and the actual number, the trendline should be the same for both values.

Anyway, if we look at a 3-month average (using the "upper bound" numbers) for the past year in order to smooth out the effects of peaks, we get: 500, 561, 640, 794, 1311, 1465, 1377, 827, 628, 696, 738, 640. At only three points in the last year has the 3-month rolling average been lower, once it has been the same.

You say that is because of the effect of peaks and I say "so what." Deaths in war aren't just statistical noise where you get "outliers;" here the "peaks" represent substantial events, and the fact that they are "peaks" and not "sustained escalations" is significant. And I think its significant that even the worst case report of violence from the Golden Dome bombing is half of what the worst case report was from September, during the Constitutional drafting era.

Even taking your point though, let's remove the two "outlying" months with 2489 and 1129 deaths. You get 500, 561, 640, 794, 662, 714, 628, 696, 738, and 640. I think a fair reading of that is still that the general trend of violence against is still generally downward, though still up from a year ago. You can read into that what you want, but I personally find that quite newsworthy.
3.21.2006 1:23pm
scarhill:
Grant Gould wrote:


A back-of-the-envelope calculations: The American Civil War averaged about 100 deaths per day. Iraq being about 20% smaller than the US in 1860, 60 deaths per day definitely sounds close to "real civil war" levels.



100 deaths a day for 4 years would be 146,000. That seems extrordinarily low. Estimates of total deaths in the American Civil War vary; I found numbers between 500,000 and 700,000, which would amount to 340 to 480 per day. Adjusting for population, comparable numbers would be about 80% of that, say 270 to 400 per day.

Juan Cole's original assertion was that casualties in a real civil war "could easily be 10 times" the 20 to 60 currently being experienced. That seems pretty much in line with the US Civil War numbers.
3.21.2006 2:42pm
George Gregg (mail):
bcn: I think you are kind of proving the point that is being made. People don't want to admit that the insugency is declining, so they hype the civil war angle.

Actually, if you read what I read, I was sarcastically questioning the author's drive-by assertion that the insurgency was "defeated". So you can think whatever you want, but what you imputed to me is not supported by what I said.

Paco:

1. The 11-fatalities figure you quoted for this month is, as has been mentioned, for the portion of the month through March 19th. Projected out to the end of the month, it actually exceeds the monthly fatalities for March 2005 as well as March 2004.

2. The figure of 11-fatalities-month-to-date is actually signicantly less than reflected at http://www.icasualties.org/oif.
This site is widely accepted as having a fairly accurate tally, at least with regard to coalition casualties.

3. Measuring the strength or vitality of an insurgency based strictly on number of coalition deaths seems to be an extremely simplistic metric, anyway. Is it not conceivable that the "output" of an insurgency might well be measured in terms not specifically limited to how many US troops were killed?

Conclusion: The author's thesis that the insurgency is declining is not really soundly supported by the evidence, much as I'm sure we all wish it were. At best, he has one partial month which, if extrapolated, would yield, at best, only one outlier on only one metric.

No one in rigorous public policy analysis could seriously accept this as denotative of a real trend in the broader dynamic.
3.21.2006 3:07pm
MSG:
I'm baffled that anyone would suggest that a civil war would be any less of a negative than an insurgency. As others have noted, those calling Iraq a civil war aren't doing so because they're trying to scramble to find a word to replace insurgency now that the insurgency is (according to some) waning. The term civil war is used because it is become more and more likely that the new govenerment won't be strong enough to survive without heavy US troop support for a long time, if at all.
3.21.2006 3:14pm
Arthur (mail):
Wretchard also congratulated the security patrols at the World Trade Center shoping mall for their hard work in reducing shoplifting incidents to zero in september 2001 . . .
3.21.2006 3:30pm
bcn (mail):
George,
Going back and re-reading the posts I must admit that I read more into what you wrote than what is there.
BCN
3.21.2006 3:46pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
100 deaths a day for 4 years would be 146,000. That seems extrordinarily low. Estimates of total deaths in the American Civil War vary; I found numbers between 500,000 and 700,000, which would amount to 340 to 480 per day. Adjusting for population, comparable numbers would be about 80% of that, say 270 to 400 per day.

The figure for American civil war deaths is about 600,000, but 2/3 of those were from disease. If combat deaths alone are counted, 146,000 is still too low, but not grossly.

I think the first war in which disease deaths were lower than KIA was the Russo-Japanese War. Then disease deaths again led KIAs in WWI, aided by the flu epidemic. Prior to the understanding of disease as spread by polluted water, it was hard to assemble 100,000 men in a few square miles without having typhoid, dysentery, etc. make big inroads.
3.21.2006 3:47pm
El Capitan (mail):
George.

(1) First, a mea culpa. The number is 13. 11 is the number of non-hostile deaths from last month. Sorry, but the chart is kinda hard to read. At any rate, the point isn't to compare the March numbers to each other, it is the trend, which has been on a six-month downward course. Taking your criticism, projecting the current deaths from Saban out for the entire month gives you 19 deaths (13 deaths/19 days =.61 time 31 days =19.19 deaths), which would actually be the lowest total SINCE March of 2003. Maybe this is just a temporary valley, I don't know. Again though, this does strike me as newsworthy, at least as newsworthy as reporting the MOST violent month in two years would be.

(2) ICasualties uses total deaths in Iraq, which is also reported at the Saban report as the topline number. I think the more useful number for our purposes is deaths in hostile situations, the bottom-line number. Regardless, the number has declined every month for the last six months using the ICasualties metric. Taking your last objection, projecting the ICasualties metric out gives 33 deaths expected for March, which would be the lowest since February of 2004 and tied for the second-lowest since the beginning of the war (using the Icasualties number).

(3) This is exactly the point that people dissatisfied with media coverage of the war have been making for two years now.

Conclusion: There is at least some evidence supporting a weakening of the insurgency, as seen not just by one outlying month, but by a consistent decline in troops killed, troops wounded, iraqi police and military killed, and lethal/non-lethal car bombings over the last six-month period. We can debate the "civilians wounded" statistics. Whether this is due to a shift in focus of the insurgency, a shift in tactics on the part of the US, or something else is up for reasonable debate. What is clear is that, using the metric that has been used for the past two years to measure success or failure, there's been improvement.

Also, for the third time, the author doesn't take this as evidence that we will likely succeed in Iraq.
3.21.2006 3:50pm
Rational Actor (mail):
It always amazes me how much people who are so far removed from a situation know in real time. Maybe I am underestimating the knowledge base of those people commenting here, but I doubt that any of you have any way of saying the insurgency or civil war or whatever you call it is either strengthening or weakening. Here are two examples in which US casualties go to zero: (i) the insurgency is defeated completely nad (ii) the insurgency wins total victory and US troops withdraw. Based on that, you can throw out "monthly US troop deaths" as a variable in your calculus of who is winning. Again, the above analysis could apply to subterritories within Iraq, and the number of deaths within.
It is nice for a group of well educated, thinking people to try and read the tea leaves, but get a grip folks -- none of you have a clue. You simply believe what you want to believe, and quote whatever facts and statistics you believe support your position.
3.21.2006 4:18pm
Tom Holsinger (mail):
What really happened was that there was widespread concern that the temporary strife after the Samarra mosque bombing might be the start of widespread Shia vs. Sunni Arab conflict, as opposed to one-sided Sunni Baathist and Al Qaeda massacres of Shia.

That did not happen but MSM editors seized upon the civil war possibility as a replacement Big Lie (a la Joseph Goebbels) for their no-longer credible to anybody lies about the terrorists winning in Iraq, and have been promoting it ever since, though events in Iraq do not in the least support their civil war allegations.

If what is going on in Iraq is a civil war, there were lots and lots of civil wars in the U.S., most of those involving the Irish gangs of New York and Boston, in which casualties were comparable to what is going on in Iraq at the moment, plus a fair number of stand-up battles. Michael Barone's delightful book, The New Americans, describes the latter.

My wife especially liked Barone's description of one such gang war waged by uniformed forces - Boston then had two different rival police forces, wearing different uniforms, dominated by rival Irish immigrant gangs. One of their stand-up battles was called the Second Battle of Bunker Hill because both sides used muzzle-loading cannon.
3.21.2006 8:08pm
George Gregg (mail):
Rational Actor, I think that's the point some of us are trying to make. Basically that an extrapolated dip in numbers doesn't really tell the story.
3.22.2006 4:44am
George Gregg (mail):
Tom: "What really happened was that there was widespread concern that the temporary strife after the Samarra mosque bombing might be the start of widespread Shia vs. Sunni Arab conflict, as opposed to one-sided Sunni Baathist and Al Qaeda massacres of Shia."

See, now you're just engaging in blatant revisionism. Shiite death squads have been killing Sunnis, too, since well before the mosque was destroyed.

From this article, the admission that "...U.S. military advisors in Iraq say the term is apt, and the Interior Ministry's inspector general concurs that extrajudicial killings are being carried out by ministry forces."

I'm not sure what you're trying to sell here, Tom, but a little basic truth in advertising would be appreciated.
3.22.2006 8:16am
Freder Frederson (mail):
To pretend that the situation in Iraq is getting better is to just deny reality. As for the apparent dip in Iraqi civilian deaths, there apparently has been a concerted effort by the Iraqi government to conceal the number of deaths. And as for Iraqi military/police deaths, at least 32 have been killed since Monday, eighteen in a single incident where a large force of insurgents stormed a police station and released 56 prisoners--hardly the signs of a weakening insurgency.

The simple truth is that the U.S. military forces are worn out and curtailing their patrols and that is why their casulties are down. We will significantly reduce troop levels by the end of the year, not because we have succeeded, but because this administration has broken the Army and we simply don't have the troops or materiel to replace the troops that are there now. If it looks like we failed, the President will try and blame the media and the Democrats for losing the war. But it is his piss-poor planning and execution that led to this debacle.
3.22.2006 9:07am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I would think that before we could call it a civil war, we would have to know a bit more about who is doing the killing. Many of the American and Iraqi deaths have historically been at the hands of al Qaeda, which is mostly apparently foreign. So, attributing any of those deaths to a civil war would seem to me to be silly, since a civil war implies a domestic dispute, and if a lot of the killing is being done by foreigners, it would be more accurate to call it an invasion.

The other thing that seems to be missing from this civil war is reciprocity. Here, it seems as if the Baathists and al Qaeda are doing most of the killing. Rather than Sunni versus Shiite versus Kurd, this appears more like Baathists and al Qaeda against most other Iraqis. More like a rebellion or insurgency than a civil war.

Of course, the original worry after the mosque was destroyed was that a sectarian civil war would erupt, with the Shiites fighting the Sunnis, etc. But that didn't happen, or to the extent it did, it was minimal.
3.22.2006 10:44am
David Timothy Beito (mail) (www):
I am surprised that nobody has mentioned the daring and quite successful prison rescue yesterday of Iraqi insurgents by more than 200 armed Iraqi insurgents. 20 police died in the raid and only 10 insurgents, an impressive kill ratio. Perhaps the belief the insurgency is dead is wishful thinking by defenders of the war not the other side. If true, we have the worst of all possible worlds: increased sectarian violence and a still potent insurgency:
3.22.2006 11:30am