Unlike the UK and the USA, the issue of Iraq has slipped fairly low in the political debate in Australia, apart from the link to the ongoing AWB ‘wheat overboard’ scandal. One could speculate as to why this disparity between the 3 key members of the original ‘Coalition of the Willing’ exists, but the difficulties in Iraq continue regardless.
In the UK, a medical Doctor and air force officer, Malcolm Kendall-Smith, has been jailed and fined by a military court for refusing to obey an order and return to active duty in Iraq. This may seem to be a minor thing, but it addresses major issues around the crucial matter of when a soldier should or shouldn’t refuse to obey an order. There is a very good reflection about the situation on this post at the Barista site.
In the USA, there have been a growing number of calls from retired Generals for the sacking of the Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, over his handling of the war and (in particular) its aftermath. The attacks have had sufficient political impact that the “Defense Department has issued a memorandum to a group of former military commanders and civilian analysts that offers a direct challenge to the criticisms.”
Meanwhile, in Iraq itself, the question remains about just how serious the situation is. Speculation is rife that the country may be on the verge of disintegrating, Yugoslavia style, into separate entities. The New York Times writes of the “Echoes of Bosnia in the Iraqi divide”.
The Guardian in the UK calls Iraq “Ungoverned and ungovernable”
However, in regard to the question of whether Iraq is really in a state of civil war, as some suggest, Anwar Rizvi suggests on the Open Democracy site that the situation varies enormously depending on which part of the country you are in and, despite the sectarian and insurgent violence, insecurity and fear, it does not really match what has occurred “in recent years in Lebanon, the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, Liberia and Rwanda.”
In almost all these places, the common denominator has been a battle for territory between rival factions led by publicly identifiable figures with clearly stated, albeit occasionally dubious, aims. This is certainly not the case in Iraq. There are no pitched battles for territory and no known figureheads rallying the masses to a well-defined cause. The only known name that crops up regularly is that of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and no one is quite sure if he is dead, alive or simply a nom de guerre for someone else entirely. What is happening is a concerted effort by a group or groups of highly-organised insurgents to cause maximum death and destruction. Their sole aim seems to be to strike fear into the hearts of all Iraqis and totally derail the rebuilding process, both political and physical, in this war-shattered country. Their remarkable success in this endeavour so far is clearly aided by the political vacuum that has accompanied the long delay in forming a new government.
It’s not a great prognosis, but not a civil war. However, whether the presence of western troops helps or hinders the current situation is a question that Anwar Rizvi doesn’t address.
For an indication of what Australians think, this article from the Sydney Morning Herald reports that 65 per cent of Australians “want our troops to be withdrawn from Iraq either immediately or, at the latest, when their mission providing security for the Japanese humanitarian mission ends in May“. The Defence Minister however, has said Australian troops will remain in Iraq “well into 2007”.