Thursday, May 24, 2007

Humanitarian intervention in Iraq?

According to a Chatham House report the conflict in Iraq is no longer a single war but multiple wars fought between different parties throughout the country. The level of violence varies throughout the country with the worse in the center and the greatest stability in the Kurdish north. Nevertheless, the country as a whole has deteriorated into varying degrees of chaos and the state cannot protect its citizens. Crime is rampant, parts of the south are being ruled by theocrats and Shiite militias, Sunni insurgents are rebelling, the open borders and chaos in the country have allowed Al Qaeda to become established, and the country is pulling itself apart in three different directions as ethnic and regional differences become more pronounced.

Approximately 100,000 Iraqis have died from war related causes and an estimated two million have fled the country. A humanitarian crisis exists.

The assessment is easy. What to do about it is not. The debate about the reasons for the war and the wisdom of current strategy and policy seem to overlook the humanitarian crisis. Norman Geras calls our attention to a piece by David Bosco, senior editor for Foreign Policy, published in the Boston Globe last week:
FEW ASPECTS of the evolving crisis in Iraq are beyond controversy, but on one point there is now little dispute: The conflict there has produced a humanitarian disaster. The United Nations estimates that at least 30,000 Iraqis died in 2006, and more than 100,000 have died since the invasion. The bloodshed, and the question of what might staunch it, has now become a critical part of the debate on Iraq policy.

Yet one group of voices has been mute: the West's leading human rights organizations. These organizations have no public position on whether US troops should stay or go and on whether the "surge" of troops can help restrain the escalating bloodshed.

… Part of the explanation is genuine puzzlement: human rights professionals are as confused as everyone else about how to stop the spiraling sectarian violence. When speaking privately, experts offer widely different predictions about what would happen if US troops were to withdraw quickly and whether the surge of US forces can work. Some argue that an American withdrawal might force the major Iraqi factions to reach a power-sharing deal. Others say withdrawal would unleash a far worse bloodbath.

The groups' uncertainty meshes with a deep distrust of the Bush administration -- distrust it has done much to earn; consider Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

What's more, most human rights activists opposed the war from the beginning, and they are now loath to endorse it in any way. Human-rights groups did groundbreaking work exposing Saddam Hussein's atrocities. But however much they despised his regime, most activists believed that American and British politicians abused humanitarian rationales for political aims. Human Rights Watch even released a brief in January 2004 explaining why the war did not meet its strict criteria for humanitarian intervention.

However valid those concerns were then, the situation now is different. Many of the war's early rationales have fallen away, and the US-led force is now struggling to impose basic security and restrain sectarian violence. The occupation also has a legal mandate: Although the UN Security Council did not endorse the invasion, it did authorize the occupation and gave the US-led force the responsibility to help provide security and bolster the elected government.

So the Iraq war now is arguably the functional equivalent of a humanitarian intervention. Human Rights Watch's Roth concedes that the killing in Iraq has now reached crisis proportions. But he also believes that other methods -- including the threat of international war crimes trials for militia leaders on all sides -- must be tried before attempting to stop the violence with expanded American military force.

But there is an air of unreality to some of these proposals. No morally pure cavalry stands ready to pull Iraq back from the brink. However worthwhile international prosecutions might be, they are unlikely to snap the cycle of violence, just as they have failed to do so in Darfur.

As the United States careens toward a new Iraq policy, human rights experts must bring their insight to bear. The debate on whether to stay or go should not happen without the input of those Westerners who are most concerned with the fate of the Iraqi people.
You read the entire piece here.

The United States is in a lose-lose situation in that maintaining the current strategy means a continuation of the unchecked violence we read about in the newspapers every day while withdrawal is likely to lead to further destabilization and possibly greater violence in the Iraqi civil war(s). The United States is further handicapped by its leadership at a time when leadership is needed. The Bush administration lacks credibility with both the American people and allies abroad. They have consistently compromised themselves with bad decisions and dishonesty. And even if they could be trusted to be truthful they are still incompetent. The situation in Iraq did not happen overnight – it has deteriorated steadily under the noses of the occupation over a period of years before reaching the current level of sectarian fighting and uncontrolled crime. On top of all that is a war-weary American public who have been constantly told we are winning but need more time to defeat the terrorists.

Another problem with keeping American troops in Iraq is that they are not seen as neutral participants but fighting on behalf of the Shiite controlled government. The Shiite community sees the government as weak and the Sunni community sees the government as being in the back pocket of the Shiite militias who have engaged in ethnic cleansing of parts of Baghdad. The Iraqi military poses the same issue for Sunnis – they see it as controlled by Shiite militias. Ideally, an international peacekeeping force could come in to keep the warring parties apart long enough for negotiations between the multiple factions to work out their differences if not a complete renegotiation of the distribution of power. There was a story in the Guardian yesterday about the Bush administration is considering approaching the United Nations but that is yet to happen.

So, what to do?

It is important to not be overwhelmed with disillusionment with the current mess. However, justifiably angry we may be with what has happened over the past few years it is important to take into consideration the what is happening on the ground today and what is happening today is a humanitarian crisis. A foreign policy focusing on protecting civilians and challenging human rights abuses around the world is still needed. How to apply this to Iraq is the question before us now.

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