"It's worse than a civil war. In a civil war, you at least know which factions are fighting each other... We don't even know that anymore. It's so bloody confused."
Senior member of the Iraqi government to the Washington Post
Many in the media/government are still debating whether the conflict in Iraq is a civil war or not. However, the reality of Iraq has already moved well past that terminology, it's worse: it's the perpetual chaos of all against all, or anarchy. Here's what I mean. Despite the depiction of the current strife as a conflict between Sunni and Shia, the reality is much more complex, one much more akin to Europe's 30 years war than modern history. For example, each "side" is composed of dozens of motivationally heterogeneous sub-groups that only nominally cooperate with each other within an open source framework. Each group is relatively small (as opposed to the size necessary to seize control of the government) and we have also seen a substantial number of armed clashes between these supposedly "allied" groups. Finally, it can be maintained that none, including the all the Shia groups, are fully aligned with the needs of the Iraqi state or any single meta level authority.This fragmented open source state of affairs is becoming increasingly common in modern wars. The reprise Johnson and Spagat gave to the work of Lewis Richardson on the power law distributions of war casualties demonstrates this nicely (see "War's New Equilibrium" October 20, 2005 for more). They showed that modern guerrilla wars like Colombia and Iraq (and likely Afghanistan, Nigeria and others if they had included them) haven't behaved like they did in the 20th century:
A conventional understanding of fourth generation warfare, such the one posited by Thomas Hammes in the Sling and the Stone posit that 4th generation warfare began in earnest with Mao. However, within Mao's formulation (and Ho Chi Minh's variant), guerrilla wars are but a prelude to conventional war to seize control of the state. The power law for these wars should, based on this theory, tend towards the coefficient we see for conventional wars. In fact, we see the opposite. Guerrilla wars in Colombia and Iraq (and likely Afghanistan, Nigeria and others) have stabilized at a coefficient far from conventional warfare.
Perpetuating the war in IraqThe question that naturally follows is "if this is true, when will the violence end?" The answer is never, or at least not until the forces that are holding this war at this decentralized equilibrium point are removed. These forces include:
- Manufactured state failure. Iraq's guerillas are using the techniques of 5th generation warfare (see: "The Changing Face of War: Into the 5th Generation," October 16, 2006 for more) to keep the government in a perpetual failure. The collapse of basic services and an inability to deliver basic security will continue to delegitimize the government and force people to rely upon primary loyalties (family, tribe, neighborhood, mosque, gang, and more) for the essentials for life. Also, the early US/Brit reliance on loyalist paramilitaries (see "Loyalist Paramilitaries" October 3, 2004 for more) to maintain order has now become a liability (as anticipated), as they have developed a government destroying open source dynamic of their own.
- Exogenous forces that support the government. External support from the US, UK, Iran, and other states will continue to prevent the Iraqi government from descending into full collapse. Support ranges from supplies of violence to external legitimacy and to markets for Iraq's oil. As a result, the government will continue to operate as a hollow shell despite nearly a complete loss of legitimacy internally.
- The oil effect. States that typically undergo Iraq's level of disruption usually undergo complete economic failure, which in turn slows the pace/innovation of violence. However, as we have seen in Colombia (cocaine), Somalia (khat), Afghanistan (opium), and Nigeria (oil bunkering), sources of funding from black globalization that transcend the destruction of the mainstream economy can provide the impetus to keep chaos going indefinitely. In Iraq's case, the billions in revenues from oil production (despite an inability to increase production, Iraq still produces nearly 2 million barrels a day of oil) and the economic subsidies it provides will provide the backdrop necessary for Iraq's guerrillas to criminally fund their operations indefinitely. It also provides the funding necessary to perpetuate the shell of Iraq's hollow government.
ED NOTE: I've reworked this brief. Please bear with me.