Friday, October 27, 2006

The Thirty Years War

At first, I thought this would be a generic "Iraq news" post. Then I noticed two references to a long conflict in European history -- though the second might just be a time-frame.

The Los Angeles Times reports on the difficulty of Kurdish separatists in Northern Iraq. My excerpt might be the least important detail of the story, but I found it fascinating:
In northern Iraq, the PKK militants get training in Shakespeare and Goethe, in the military tactics of the Thirty Years' War and how to operate a Russian-made BKC machine gun and a rocket-propelled-grenade launcher.

"We are here for one reason, and that is to obtain the objective of the freedom of our people of Kurdistan," said a doe-eyed young guerrilla who gave her name only as Ozgur and said she joined the movement when she was 13.
The amount of violence in Baghdad has dimininished, at least for now, AP:
Since Ramadan's end, killings in parts of Baghdad where security forces have established a firm presence have fallen by 10% to 20%, U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell said Thursday.

He speculated that was due to the holiday festivities, as well as massive deployment of U.S. troops in the capital to search for a missing Army linguist of Iraqi descent who was abducted while visiting relatives on Monday.
Paul Rogers, of Open Democracy, writes the following -- please do not consider this my endorsement:
But there would most definitely not be a wholesale US military withdrawal from the Persian Gulf region, which will remain the most important region in the world from Washington's perspective for at least a generation. Even if an utter fiasco ensues in Iraq, the Pentagon would hang on in the region and seek to use other methods to exercise influence and control.

This "solution" will, however, create a new, double-edged fault-line for the United States. Its first aspect is that any major US presence at the heart of the Islamic world in the region will remain a gift to al-Qaida and other jihadi groups. These groups will also be invigorated by the fact that the US's repositioning was the result - or could plausibly be presented as the result - of their victory in Iraq.

The second aspect is that a wholesale US withdrawal from Iraq will leave Iran as the main regional power. This would be unacceptable to Washington and would set the scene for a long-term confrontation.

An earlier column in this series, written just as the Saddam Hussein regime was collapsing in early April 2003, suggested with some temerity that a thirty-year war was in the offing ("A thirty-year war", 4 April 2003). With the extraordinary prospect of an American defeat in Iraq now possible, the only adjustment to that outlook is that such a decades-long conflict may not be restricted to Iraq but might now come to embrace the wider region.
Makes you think about that Thirty Years' War class, at the least.

While on the topic of history, there is a review of The Shia Revival at Asia Times Online:
The actual bones of Shi'ite-Sunni contention are control of state resources and wealth along communal lines. Prophet Muhammad's son-in-law, Ali ibn Abi Talib, is the font of spirituality for the Shi'ites, who claim that the former anointed the latter as his successor at Ghadir Khumm. Initial usurpation of Ali's right to govern by the caliphs Abu Bakr, Umar and Usman is an affront to Shi'ite notions of ideal Islamic leadership. The martyrdom of Ali's son Husayn at the hands of Yazid in the battle of Karbala (AD 680) is confirmation to Shi'ites that the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates were illegitimate and oppressive. The Husayn story is often invoked to define Shi'ite troubles in modern times. Saddam Hussein is, for instance, likened to Yazid. Shi'ism's ideal is fighting for security against Sunni tyranny.

Shi'ites are not content with Sunni-style dutiful observance of laws. They emphasize rituals associated with charismatic imams and saints who are intermediaries for healing, blessing and forgiveness. They love visual imagery and accord a higher status to women in piety, characteristics that anger puritanical Sunnis.
I will juxtapose the more pessimistic elements of this post with this from CENTCOM:
The Kirkuk Religious Unity Council consists of local and regional Muslim and Christian religious leaders that formed an alliance after a diversity conference 18 months ago. Since then, the group meets regularly to discuss how the community’s religious leaders can positively affect Kirkuk, according to Chaplain (Maj.) Scott Sterling, brigade chaplain, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.

“The council is a unique organization. Its membership includes all the different religious sects and ethnic groups of the area,” said Sterling. “Through this humanitarian program they are recognizing the need to come together in a show of unity amidst their diversity for the needy people of the city. They have set aside their differences to do something good for their community,” he said.
It seems more and more apparent to me that we are forced to rely on the better angels of our nature in the current Iraq crisis.


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