Here We Go Again

"The wounded were rushed to the civilian Balad Hospital. Police said that as the Kurdish soldiers drove to the hospital, they fired weapons to clear the way, and one Iraqi Shiite civilian was killed.

Shiite soldiers from another Iraqi unit based in Balad rushed to the scene, and the Kurds decided to take their wounded elsewhere, Iraqi police said. Iraqi troops tried to stop them and shots were fired, killing one Shiite soldier, Iraqi police said.

The U.S. account said an Iraqi soldier from the 3rd Battalion, 1st Brigade was killed in a "confrontation" as the other Iraqi troops were trying to remove their wounded from the hospital.   Associated Press


This is the problem with "national" armies made up of the forces of the ethnic nations which make up the population of a multi-national state.  Unless the army involved is formed under the "boot" of an authoritarian figure who will allow no ethnic foolishness, these forces nearly always break down into their essential identities under serious stress. 

The Kurds in this story were originally Kurdish Pesh Merga.  The Shia were whatever they were. 

In 1984 the US tried to re-make the Lebanese Army to transform it into the "backbone" of a new, united Lebanon.  A variety of formulae were attempted for the purpose of "bringing Lebanon together again."  Mixed units were tried.  Ethno-religiously "pure" units were tried.  Everything looked good so long as none of these units were stressed by forcing them into combat.  The US Command in Beirut reported that all was well.  The usual "can-do" attitude prevailed in reporting from the American trainers in Lebanon.   Then one fine day it was necessary to begin to commit some of these troops to action against adversaries of the government.  It was then discovered that the soldiers involved would not fight their co-religionists.  Quite soon it was clear that this was generally true throughout the country.  US policy goals in Lebanon were "scaled back" soon after that.

Having tried to "referee" between an ethnic Cambodian scout battalion and another battalion of Vietnamese Rangers while they shot it out for an hour, I was not surprised at what happened in Lebanon and I am not surprised now.

The "insult" which started that fight had to do with "national" diet. 

Pat Lang

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13 Responses to Here We Go Again

  1. linda says:

    yeah, well, did you read the one about the fight that broke out over a shia ringtone — and this was among PARLIAMENTARIANS:
    Shia ringtone sparks scuffle in Iraqi parliament
    By Sam Knight and agencies
    The fragile state of the sectarian divide in Iraqi politics was exposed today when a fight broke out in parliament after a mobile phone ringtone played a Shia Muslim chant.
    A procedural session of the Iraqi parliament was suspended as Shia and Sunni leaders stormed out to protest the ringtone and the subsequent scuffle, which erupted between the armed bodyguards of the Sunni speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani and the hardline Shia politician, Gufran al-Saidi.,,3-2174046,00.html

  2. ali says:

    Having Kurds stand up while US troops stand down in Balad was always likely to cause problems, they’re even less welcome than US troops. They were sent there to support a local Shi’ite battalion and it seems now they are fighting with them as well as the local Sunnis.
    Things are not good when formidable ex-Peshmerga fighters fear to leave their base.
    The Kurds refuse to have non-Kurdish Iraqi Army troops on their territory. There have been reports of new Iraqi army units disbanding on hearing they’d be deployed in hostile territory rather than defending their own. I can’t say I blame them; in a shattered country of clan loyalties a prudent man sticks to his own.

  3. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Couldn’t agree more. pl

  4. zanzibar says:

    We saw what happened in the Balkans after Tito. As Bush Sr. wrote in his book the reasons why he did not overthrow Saddam have now all come to pass.
    The Kurds are on the path to secession. Talabani and Barzani are putting their differences away and now have a unified government. They also have US and Israeli support (political and military). It will be interesting to see how they go about annexing Kirkuk and the surrounding oil resources. And the response of the Arab Iraqi’s, Turkey and Iran.
    Since ideas of Iraq’s partition on ethnic lines are making the DC circuit it possibly could be the last act of the US as they consolidate in bases in Sunnistan and Kurdistan. While the Shiastan has an open border policy with Iran.

  5. W. Patrick Lang says:

    “the US as they consolidate in bases in Sunnistan and Kurdistan.”
    The Kurdistan thingy I can see as a possibility, but how do you think we would accomplish the Sunnistan part of your statement? such places would be permanently besieged. pl

  6. zanzibar says:

    PL, my speculation is that the Sunni’s will hate the Shia more than us and egged on by the Saudi’s will decide that it is in their interests to have a protective US military presence. Of course this is pure arm chair pontification with no basis in fact.

  7. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Interestng… and plausible. pl

  8. Babak Makkinejad says:

    We will not see a stable Iraq for 2 generations. But Iraq will never ever again be as strong a centralized state as it was under the Ba’ath; the ideology and the money is no longer there. The best thing that can be accomplished is a rickety state like Lebeanon.

  9. rpe says:

    American bases in an independant Kurdistan? Now that will have then jumping for joy in Ankara, won’t it? I can see it now, the Turks doing nothing while the PPK separitists had a free reign to launch murder raids into the Turkish Republic. Nah, my imagination isn’t good enough for that. How about a sealed border with a 250,000 Turkish troops ready to stomp on the Kurds at the first opportunity. No air links, no rail links, no oil pipline, no nothing. Of course the new Kurdish satraps could try and export/import through Syria except for the unfortunate fact that the Syrians consider the Kurds to be American puppets. Not very likely. This leaves the possibility of a running the lines of communication through the Arab Sunni fighters in the Anbar. Good luck with that. Last but not least, if the Kurds ask real nice, maybe the Iranians will let them supply themselves and the American occupation troops through Iranian territory. Sure.Bound to happen.
    Any American bases in Kurdistan could all to easily be death traps for us.
    As for the rest, the Shia have no reason to accept partition and neither do their Iranian backers.The want all of Iraq and they intend to get it. If we try and switch horses in mid Imperial adventure, the Shia will start shooting at us seriously and there are a lot more Shia than Sunni and they have Iranian money, men, and weapons to call upon.
    We are beaten. The sooner we accept that the better for everyone, particularly ourselves.

  10. Tom Griffin says:

    It will be interesting to see how they go about annexing Kirkuk and the surrounding oil resources.
    One thing that has worried me for some time, is that some of the businessmen who have received Kurdish oil concessions have a long track record in Africa, of hiring mercenaries out to weak regimes in order to win control of resource deposits which are then handed over to those same businessmen.
    Some of the mercenaries they hired in the 90s are now running major PMCs in Iraq.
    I’m not sure the African business model would work there, but I wouldn’t put it past them to try.

  11. ckrantz says:

    I suspect the new ‘Iraqi’ army is a case of giving military training to participant in the future Iraqi civil war. And it’s an army that is supposed to maintain Iraqi territorial integrity without heavy armour or an airforce.
    It will be very interesting to see how far turkey are villing to go to stop a strong kurdish state emerging with it’s cousins in turkey, syria and iran looking to it. In many ways turkey seems to heading for a position as the key state in the region.

  12. hk says:

    The best thing that can be accomplished is a rickety state like Lebeanon
    With Iran as the new Syria?

  13. Curious says:

    once we bail, the whole thing will collapse since we prop all of them. They are not institution/organisation that arise naturally from the Iraqi people.
    we select, we train, we pay, and we protect them.
    For all I know, they just in it for the wage.
    Can’t fake nationalism. At least things are calming down a little.

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