A Happy Milestone in Iraq

December marked the first time since the 2003 invasion that there were no U.S. deaths from hostile action in Iraq during a given month. And during the past half year, hostile-action deaths averaged only about three per month.

Considering those numbers were anywhere from 40 to 150 a few years ago, that’s a lot to be thankful for. Give credit to President Bush for going forward with the surge, despite resistance from some of his top advisors.

Compared with the dark days of 2006 and 2007, civilian deaths are way down in Iraq, too. But of course, terrorist attacks still happen. And it’s too still early to declare victory for the U.S. in Iraq – give it another five years or so.

That country is such a mish-mash of religious sects and ethnic groups that things could fall apart again. It was only the terrorizing hand of Saddam Hussein that held things together before.

My hypothesis is that during his reign the various sects became interspersed with each other, living among each other – and refraining from attacking each other out of fear of what Saddam Hussein would do to them. Then when the Hussein lid was lifted, they let loose their pent-up rage on their neighbors of different sects, much like what happened in Yugoslavia after Tito and the Soviet Union were gone.

During the post-Hussein sectarian strife, there was substantial movement of people out of mixed regions and neighborhoods and into homogeneous ones.

A similar thing happened in Yugoslavia, as well as in Lebanon during that country’s civil war in the1970s and 1980s. The war died down after the sects got “unmixed”.

Hypothesis: in Iraq, the populations have gotten unmixed enough that things are a lot more stable now than they were five or so years ago. However, there’s still a patchwork of enclaves throughout Baghdad and the country. Though each enclave is mostly homogeneous, this state of affairs still doesn’t bode well for long-term stability. U.S. troops are now acting as peacekeepers. If they pull out, then things are likely to descend into chaos again.

(I say hypothesis because I haven’t found the time to research the situation enough to feel confident enough to put my rubber stamp on the above. If you can point me to any literature that either confirms or refutes the mixing/unmixing hypothesis, then please contact me.)

For long-term stability, each sect would need its separate administrative district. The Kurds pretty much already have that, but not the Sunnis and Shiites. A few years ago Joe Biden actually put forth a good proposal to reorganize Iraq along ethnic-religious lines. There would be three autonomous regions corresponding to the Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites.

Maybe now that he’s VP, he should bring that up with the boss.