Sunday, June 11, 2006

Multiple Wars in palestine and Iraq

Multiple Wars in palestine and iraq

Lecture at UUC of the Palm Beaches, Florida, June 11, 2006

There are four Palestinian and three Iraq wars, all running simultaneously. Michael Walzer, a “just war” scholar categorizes the Palestinian Israeli conflict in four overlapping wars. Showing the complexity of the conflict, here is how Walzer lists the four wars:
“The first is a Palestinian war to destroy the state of Israel. The second is a Palestinian war to create an independent state alongside Israel, ending the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The third is an Israeli war for the security of Israel within the 1967 borders. The fourth is an Israeli war for Greater Israel, for the settlements and the occupied territories.”
Walzer argues that a resolution of the conflict can take place only when the forces of moderation in on both sides of the conflict (communities behind “second and third war”) cooperate to generate a lasting peace.
Last week, Palestinian President Abbas tried to co-opt Hamas to moderate its stance on Israel and the strategy of future resistance and failed. His plan was to present a united Palestinian partner to negotiate peace with Israel’s Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert. Hamas rejected the initiative on the basis that Olmert is an “extremist”. Hamas perceives Olmert’s regime in “fourth war” category, not in a moderate, “war three”, position.

Last week’s Israeli air raid on Gaza civilians which killed ten people and injured fifty gave Hamas an added excuse to reject Abbas’ initiative that was presented with a warning. The warning was a referendum that would refer the question of “how to approach Israel” to the Palestinian public, if Hamas did not soften its position. Hamas was so determined; it rejected to change its diplomatic stance and even declared to terminate a self imposed truce of the past 16 months.
In one week, we moved from a possibility of a unity among Palestinians to a possibility of a new war between Palestinians and Israelis. A worse scenario would be a civil war among Palestinians and an Israeli occupation that advances in oppression.

As in Palestine, there are three dimensions of wars in Iraq. In Iraq, there is a war of Islamic Jihadists against an occupation that is perceived as the work of Christian Crusades. Second, there is an ethnic war of Kurds against Arabs. Third, there is a resistance war of militias against a new born state.
Last week’s hunting down of Musab Al Zarkawi was the Jihadi fighting the Crusader war of Bush and Blair. Zarkawi’s elimination weakens the first dimension of the war. Zarkawi’s war is an international war of Muslim activists defending a western intruder, whose image in Muslim history is evil.

The foreign Jihadi elements in Iraq constitute the larger segment of the sectarian terror. The elimination of Zarkawi may be the start of decline of the foreign insurrection. However, while the terror may subside as a result of the gradual weakening of international terrorism, the political problem of Iraq is largely regional and local.

Iraq is part of a deep rooted regional conflict. This conflict is between the Kurdish minorities in Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria, on one hand, and the dominant societies of these four countries. The 2003 Iraq war is the second Gulf war. In 1990, after Saddam occupied Kuwait, the US invaded Iraq and the established a no fly zone in the northern part of the country. This earlier Gulf war weakened Saddam, gave the Kurds autonomy in North Iraq and relieved Iran from regional pressure.

While the Kurdish question is inflamed in Iraq today, it has been simmering for decades; it was deadly in the seventies and eighties in Turkey. Currently a silent Kurdish rebellion is controlled in Northern Syria. The Kurds are fighting a national war of liberation in stages and they are hoping to establish a Kurdistan with a united population of thirty million people.
A federation in Iraq is a step in the right direction for Kurds. The Unity government that has just been sworn in this week is as vulnerable as it can be. The constitution is a basic problem. It lacks a fair distribution of oil revenues. Gender rights are limited and religious authority is too strong. The Shiite community is too dependent on one clerical figure and one strong militia. The new federated state in Iraq has an ethnic fault line that is stronger than the sectarian one.

The third dimension of Iraq’s conflict is local. This is the conflict of state building: a struggle between primordial authority and central secular authority. It is a chaotic race for security among tribes and militias. The invasion of Iraq brutally and quickly obliterated the authority of governance and the army. The invasion turned into an occupation and established an alien administrative set up to replace a political institutional structure.

It is very difficult to have confidence in an occupier that is fast in tearing down and slow in rebuilding. As other traditional and previously colonized societies Iraq’s experience with state authority has been negative. The tribe and its military arm, the militia, develop as substitutes for state authority. The weaker the state and the less credible it is, the stronger is the tribe and the militia. Militia politics is intermingled with government institutions. This is a bad mix of power management.
In Conclusion, as long as the US forces are on Iraqi soil the rebuilding will be problematic. As long as the political solution is weak, the security of Iraq will be poor and trust of the people in the new state will be limited. As long as the region (Egypt and Iran in particular) is in the margin of decision making, the rebuilding of Iraq will be too slow. We are talking years not months before we see a new Iraq.

June 11, 2006

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