Explosion imminent

Mar 18, 2009
*Special to asia!
-A +A

On March 20 six years ago, US-led forces entered Iraq for a military campaign that continues till today. theasiamag.com looks back spillover effect on its neighbours.

On Valentine’s Day, George Bush finally said something truthful about Iraq.

Asked a reporter from ABC, whether he thought Iraq was embroiled in a civil war, Bush said he talked to people he trusted and “they would not qualify it as that.” To the Bush administration, Iraq is not plagued by a civil war.

For a change, Bush is right. Though the media still uses the term “civil war” to describe Iraq, many experts agree with Bush that what is going on in that country cannot be described as a war between two or more factions of the same nation.

But that is where their paths and that of Bush diverge. While Bush tries to downplay the situation in Iraq, others think it has degenerated beyond civil war into something much worse.

Thomas Friedman, author of The World Is Flat, says Iraq is “so broken it cannot have a proper civil war. What we have is a collapsed state.”

James J Hentz of the Virginia Military Institute, the oldest military college in the US, goes one step further. He says Iraq today “more resembles 1990 Liberia than it does 1861 United States.”

In 1861, America was in the throes of a bloody civil war that claimed countless lives and created a giant rift along the Mason Dixon line. But the country endures and it is still a cohesive nation today. Liberia, on the other hand, suffered more than 15 years of near total disintegration following the “civil war” that began in 1989. It took the 2005 election of Harvard-trained economist Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and intervention from the US and other countries to bring Liberia back from the brink.

Says Hentz, “In a collapsed state, forces will often fight over the charred remains of the capital. Meanwhile, control over the periphery of these states becomes increasingly tenuous and it is here that the most serious security issues will arise. The farther away from the capital, the greater is the insecurity.” Taken to the extreme— and Iraq is quickly approaching it—the effect of a collapsed state will “spill over into neighbouring states. The contagion effect of state collapse is much more potent than that of a civil war.”

How serious? Refugees are streaming out of Iraq in huge numbers—800,000 or so have gone to Jordan, a country of six million. Without US military aid, Jordan would have already collapsed. And, of course, Iran, Syria and others are also feeling the impact of the turmoil in Iraq and perhaps contributing to it. The entire region may soon disintegrate into a disorderly mess.

In times past, trouble in the Middle East hardly bothered the rest of Asia. Today a blow up there sends shockwaves through this continent of four billion, affecting the growth of India, China and other countries.

Can the US, which started the mess, contain it? Perhaps. But not if Bush refuses to accept the fact that Iraq has gone beyond a civil war and that his “surge” of 20,000 troops will not fix a collapsed nation.


Related Story:

Life, unscripted


lee han shihLee Han Shih is the founder, publisher and editor of asia! Magazine.


Contact Han Shih