MICHEL MARTIN, Host:
Time now for the TALK OF THE NATION Opinion Page. Sunday marked the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and there were many reflections over the weekend from soldiers, Iraqis, analysts, thinkers, and politicians. Some were personal, others political, but many focused on how the nature of the conflict in Iraq has changed. In an interview with the BBC, Iraq's former interim Prime Minister, Ayad Allawi, had this to say about the violence in Iraq.
AYAD ALLAWI: While it's unfortunate that we are in a civil war. We are losing every day, as an average, 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more. If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is. I think Iraq is facing, is in the middle of a crisis. Maybe we have not reached the point of no return yet, but we are moving towards this point.
MARTIN: But Vice President Dick Cheney disagrees that there's a civil war going on in Iraq. He said as much on CBS's Sunday morning show, Face the Nation.
DICK CHENEY: Clearly there is an attempt underway by the terrorists, by Zarqawi and others, to foment civil war. That's been their strategy all along. But my view would be they've reached a stage of desperation, from their standpoint, for example, the bombing of the mosque in Samara here a couple of weeks ago, that is a reflection of the fact that they are doing everything they can to stop the formation of a democratically elected government. Zarqawi himself was quoted two years ago saying that if the Iraqis ever achieved that objective, put together a democratic government, that he'd have to pack up his bags and go elsewhere. And I think that's absolutely the case. So, what we've seen is a serious effort by them to foment civil war, but I don't think they've been successful.
MARTIN: Michael Kraig is director of policy analysis and dialogue for the Stanley Foundation, a think tank that focuses on peace and security issues. He wrote an essay in Sunday's Des Moines Register titled, When is a Civil War a Civil War? He argues that despite the disagreement over how to define the fighting, the clear shift in the nature of the war requires a change in tactics and strategy. Is the violence in Iraq an insurgency or civil war? And does it matter what name we call it? If you'd like to join the conversation, call us at 800-989-8255. Our email address is email@example.com. Michael Kraig joins us now from his office in Muscatine, Iowa. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.
MICHAEL KRAIG: Thank you, I'm glad to be on.
MARTIN: Mr. Kraig, what does it matter what we call it?
KRAIG: Well, it matters because if it's actually an insurgency and some terrorists who come from foreign sources trying to foment a civil war, then that means that basically you've got a legitimate government, a stable government, fighting some enemy forces that are actually enemies of the people themselves. However, if it's a civil war, I think the best definition of a civil war is that there's organized violence going on, on two or more sides, designed to change the political structure itself. And I would argue that the evidence is in that for Sunnis at least, and perhaps other factions as well, they are unhappy with the political structure, and that means a great deal for what the U.S. policy options are.
MARTIN: But how do you know, and why are you so convinced, that that is the purpose of the violence, rather than just to cause anarchy or whether to create an opportunity for foreign powers or entities to come in? Or non-governmental entities like al-Qaida? I mean, why are you so convinced that the violence is aimed at changing the governmental structure, which would be one of your criterion?
KRAIG: Well, one of the pieces of evidence is a poll commissioned, co- sponsored by the Stanley Foundation with the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland back in January of this year, which clearly showed, throughout all the questions, a dramatic split between the Sunnis on the one hand, and the Shia and the Kurds on the other, on almost all political and security and infrastructure issues, including the beneficial effects or negative effects of a foreign occupation, in this case by the U.S. But more broadly, its simply not believable that all the violence going on now is due to either Sadam loyalists or bin Ladinists, to use sort of a generic term for external forces, especially when you consider that there have been reliable reports that radical Shia militias and radical Sunni militias, and even some reports of Kurdish, in the north in places like Kirkuk, are doing things that could be called ethnic cleansing, eradiation of villages, expulsion of inhabitants of villages and towns. So, this clearly goes beyond just al- Qaida.
MARTIN: You heard Vice President Dick Cheney's comments, that this is not a civil war. How would you respond to him?
KRAIG: Well, I think that one response is that, no, it's not a civil war according to traditional definitions. And if you think back on, for instance, the American Civil War experience, you had two very organized armies in formal dress uniform with standard arms and battle tactics of two armies facing each other on the battlefield. Of course it's not a civil war in that sense. But if you look at the conflicts through the 1990s and the post-Cold War era, civil war has taken on a much more chaotic dimension, where, if you look at Bosnia or Somalia, or Kosovo, or really many areas throughout the developing world, civil war now takes the form of gorilla warfare, gorilla tactics, even terrorist tactics. And in fact, it's very comparable to the Irish war against the British before the south of Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, came into being. back in 1916, when the British and the Irish were fighting in and around Dublin. This is the type of violence that occurred and I think most Irish consider that a civil war of a sort, or a war against an occupying power.
MARTIN: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And I'm talking with Michael Kraig. He's the director of policy analysis and dialogue for the Stanley Foundation. Mr. Kraig, do you believe that the Iraqis believe that they are in a period of civil war, and if so, how do you think that that is affecting their behavior? And then obviously, we want to go from there to talk about U.S. policy. How should that understanding affect our behavior as Americans? But do you think that the Iraqis see themselves that way?
KRAIG: Well, unfortunately, the poll that the Stanley Foundation co- sponsored did not specifically ask that question, do you believe you are in a period of civil war? However, the poll showed that there was dramatic dissatisfaction with the ability of the United States to deliver on certain goods, security, reconstruction, parliamentary agreement, as opposed to parliamentary bickering. And, in fact, the poll showed that a majority of groups across sectarian and ethnic divides, including both Shia and Sunni Arabs, believed that factions in parliament would cooperate more without the U.S. occupation, that crime and violent attacks and inter-ethnic violence, and the presence of foreign fighters, would all decrease without the U.S. occupation. And, so, in other words, there seems to be a dramatic sense that things could be much, much better than they are, and that the situation simply isn't improving, in fact, it's getting worse. Now, whether Iraqis are calling that very specifically a civil war or not, actually I can't comment specifically to that question.
MARTIN: Let's take a caller, briefly. And let's go to James in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
JAMES: Hi. Thanks for taking my call.
MARTIN: You're welcome.
JAMES: My point is that, if it is a civil war, there's going to be a lot more pressure for Americans to leave. So, I think that there's foreign fighters and there's Sunnis, maybe small parts of them, that want to make it look like a civil war. So, my question for you guest is, if there were people trying to do that, small segments of, you know, the foreign fighters and the Sunnis, what would that look like and how would we know the difference?
MARTIN: Thank you, James. That's a good question.
JAMES: Thank you.
KRAIG: Well, I think there is a certain gray area, but a very good indication is the number of executions and deaths on a daily and weekly and monthly basis, that simply by their widespread geographic nature and the number of those killed and injured, would suggest a much larger effort than a few foreign fighters or terrorists or Sadam loyalists. And, more, I think more appropriately, though, as a form of evidence, is the fact that the Sunnis have been saying in polls like ours, in interviews with reporters, Sunni leaders publicly, through international media, have been saying every since October of last year, that the constitution of Iraq is deeply and perhaps irrevocably flawed and must be revisited. And, very specifically, the constitution does not give iron-clad guarantees that oil and gas wealth will be shared throughout the country.
Well, it's the Sunni areas, and the areas of other minority groups that are not Shia and not Kurdish, that lack oil and gas deposits, and there's nothing guarantees that either existing tapped wells or future tapped wells will be used in a way to rebuild the entire country. And so there is the threat, very real in the constitution, that under the current structure, even with fair and free elections in December, that the Kurdish and Shia areas in the north and the south will get the majority of the funds and large parts of the country will be left impoverished. And given that reality, I think it is probably naÃ¯ve to assume that those groups that are completely disenfranchised are simply going to sit there and not do something to try to change the political structure, either through peaceful or violent means.
MARTIN: Michael Kraig's Op Ed and all the previous stories in this series are linked at the TALK OF THE NATION page at npr.org. Mr. Kraig, thank you so much for joining us.
KRAIG: You're welcome.
MARTIN: Michael Kraig is director of policy analysis and dialogue for the Stanley Foundation, a think tank in Muscatine, Iowa, that focuses on peace and security issues. His Op Ed appeared in Sunday's Des Moines Register titled, When is a Civil War a Civil War? He joined us form his office in Muscatine, Iowa. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin in Washington.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.