Civil War

Marty links to a piece ‘refuting’ the top 10 myths of the Iraq War. I could provide a pretty valid counter point by replying “uh-huh” to the 10 “nuh-uh”s that the author provides, but one item in particular stuck out.

7-Iraq Is In A State of Civil War. Then so was Britain when the IRA was active, and so is Spain today because ETA is still active. Both IRA and ETA are terrorist organizations based on ethnic identity. India also has tribal separatist rebels who are quite active. That’s not considered a civil war. This is all about partisans playing with labels for political ends, not accurately describing a terror campaign.

I’ve little idea about the Basque situation, beyond the almost uniform story in such cases, that they have some sort of a claim for an independent homeland, but too much time has passed and too much blood has been let for anyone involved to concede anything. Much the same was true in Northern Ireland until recently, and it’s all too easy to see how that could fall back without admirable commitment on all sides.

But the claim that Iraq is as much/little a civil war as Northern Ireland is wrong, plain and simple. There are interesting parallels between the two situations. Both are based on religious groups in opposition, with the religion acting as a proxy for other interests (ultimately coming down to ‘us’ versus ‘them’). In both you have a major power (the US in Iraq, Great Britain in NI) fighting a small armed force funded by other big powers (Iran, Saudi Arabia in Iraq, the US in NI), that relies on thuggery to establish themselves in their communities (though to a much greater degree in Iraq). In each case there is a group notionally in alignment with the major power, as well as the group in opposition, and in reality each of these sides were really split into a number of factions.

These are just the commonalities that spring readily to mind, and I’m sure the (apparently anonymous) author of the ’10 Myths’ piece thought of most if not all of them as well. I’m not aware that anyone described NI as a civil war, so why should we describe Iraq as one? In a word, government.

There was a democratically elected government in Northern Ireland. Flawed, unrepresentative, unresponsive, at times just downright clueless. But a government nonetheless. More important than that, however, it was a government that actually held power. It maintained law and order, collected taxes, provided services, kept the lights on, educated the populace, and all the countless other things we expect from a government.

By contrast Iraq can get as far as the ‘democratically elected’ part, but that’s about it. Power resides with regional warlords, militia heads, religious figures, and TV stars for all we know. They are the equal of the central government at providing most services, and of extracting the finances for them. They even benefit from a shaky legitimacy that having the shadow of the US behind them deprives the central government. Compared to the central government, with the shadow of the US behind it, they arguably even have a local form of legitimacy.

To even say I’m no expert on civil war grossly overstates my understanding. But there’s a difference between an armed insurrection against an established government and a fight between two armed groups with a ‘government’ hiding in a green zone in the middle. Doesn’t mean it has to stay that way, and it doesn’t mean that it this necessarily means civil war. But to draw a comparison between Iraq and Northern Ireland while ignoring this central fact is makes my level of ignorance look like brilliance.

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Ye Olde Roade Signes

We drove over 500 miles this weekend, passing dozens of signs warning of the dangers of using the phone and driving at the same time. They were all phrased something like “Think Don’t Phone Whilst Driving”. And I thought I was the only person who hadn’t succumbed to the functional but strangely unsatisfying ‘while’.

Interestingly (OK, it’s not interesting, but I like to give good value for no money here on BoPL) where my significantly better half is from they use ‘while’ to mean until, at least in certain contexts. For example, “He won’t be here while 9” means “He won’t be here until 9”. Similarly, “I work 9 while 5 on Tuesdays” is “I work 9 to [until] 5 on Tuesdays”.

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Just watched a documentary on the 2006 British Bell-Ringing championships. It was a bit of a grudge match between Birmingham and one of the London teams, and the tower they were using was reckoned to be the hardest in the country, which threw in a real wild-card. I won’t spoil it for you in case it gets onto NBC, but man, what a shock ending! I was left breathless!

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