11 September 2007

The Segregation of Iraq

In terms of a long term future of Iraq, its growing segregation is more relevant than the relentless casualties. Juan Cole, citing McClatchy, recaps the situation (emphasis Cole's):

Baghdad has become more segregated. Sunni Muslims in the capital now live in ghettos encircled by concrete blast walls to stop militia attacks and car bombs. Shiite militias continue to push to control the city’s last mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods in the southwest, by murdering and intimidating Sunni residents and, sometimes, their Shiite neighbors. . .

[In Baghdad] the push to drive Sunnis from Shiite neighborhoods continues in a city that U.S. military officers say has gone from being 65 percent Sunni to being 75 percent Shiite . . .

Unidentified bodies continue to show up daily in Baghdad, though the pace is lower than it was last December, when 1,030 bodies were found . . . dropping . . . to 428 in August. Some military officials and many residents attribute the generally lower numbers not to the U.S. security plan, but to the purges in mixed neighborhoods that have left militants with fewer people to kill.

Of an estimated 1 million Iraqis who’ve fled their homes since February 2006, 83 percent are from Baghdad, the IOM says.

“There have been very few returns,” Ladek said. Those that have come back have done so only briefly to gather belongings. “They are waiting for long-term stability. . ."

More from Cole's source article:

Late last year, Sadr's Mahdi Army militia had moved from Baghdad’s mostly Shiite eastern half across the Tigris River to the Sunni-dominated western half, pushing Sunnis out of the city’s northwest. That campaign has continued during the surge, with the Mahdi Army fighting to control the Jihad, Bayaa, Amil and Saidiyah neighborhoods in the city’s southwest.

The push is particularly evident in Saidiyah, where Sunnis and Shiites are displaced daily. Military experts say that if the Shiite militias take control of the area, the Shiites will have limited Sunnis in the capital to just a few enclaves.

The Baghdad metropolitan area has an estimated 7,000,000 people, although exactly when this estimate dates from isn't clear. Thus, it is about three times as large as Denver, and about 40% of the size of New York City. Big, but not big enough for several hundred unidentified bodies turning up in the street each month to be ordinary.

Baghdad may have already reached a tipping point from which there is little hope of return. Also, while many Iraqi refugees have fled the country, many more have relocated internally to places where their ethnicity is in the majority. Places like Anbar are become more Sunni, while places like Baghdad and Basra are becoming less Sunni.

This is happening either despite, or because of, the U.S. military presence, and does not appear to have been greatly slowed by the surge. The net effect, politically, is to make it harder and harder to make Iraq into anything other than a weak federal union or a group of new independent states or to divide Iraq among its neighbors.

Prime Minister Maliki has taken a tough rap for his failure to marshal a governing coalition:

Maliki’s cabinet still has nearly as many vacancies as it has sitting ministers, and no major legislation governing Iraq’s major issues, including a militia disarmament program, has made it to the floor of the Iraqi parliament.

Last week, the parliament, back from its summer vacation, barely had a quorum in its first meetings. . .

". . . No Iraqi McClatchy spoke to in preparation for this article said he or she had confidence in the government. . ."

But, honestly, maybe this is simply a function of democracy working as designed. There is no coalition because there is no national consensus. Iraq may be, for any democratic system that operates according to basic democratic norms, ungovernable. If the Belgians, the Italians, and the Canadians sometimes have trouble holding together majority governing coalitions, is it any wonder that the Iraqis likewise find this task difficult? It isn't even obvious that there is majority support in Iraq for democratic government at all. Varying shades of monarchism and theocracy are quite popular there at the moment, and its only sustained historical experiences during its existence as a country are with monarchs, one party rule and dictators.

1 comment:

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

David Brooks at the New York Times notes the same phenomena and says:

"America's best course is not to reunify Iraq, but simply to inhibit the violence as Iraqis feel their own way to partition.

What we're really trying to build, in other words, is a road to partition. We're trying to build a pathway to separation that involved the sort of low-intensity civil war that Iraq is enduring right now. We're trying to prevent a pathway that is even worse -- a high-intensity genocide. . . . given the consequences, it would be foolish to give up now. It would be foolish to weaken U.S. support for the sane sectarians just when they are trying to create a segregated yet inhabitable Iraq."

This isn't quite the spin I would put on events. Low intensity civil war doesn't seem so tame if it is in your own neighborhood, and I'm less convinced of the alleged decline in violence than Brooks.

Slogans like "The worst of the ethnic cleansing may now be over," because "Iraq's mixed neighborhoods are sliding towards extinction," are hardly inspiring either. But, Brooks has, at least, better comprehended the nature of what is going on in Iraq than most stay the course conservatives.