Bush’s Iraq Plan Deserves a Chance

Kenneth M Pollack
Kenneth M Pollack Former Brookings Expert, Resident Scholar - AEI

January 30, 2007

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 BERNARD GWERTZMAN: You and Daniel L. Byman have written a research paper on civil wars and their application in Iraq. Are we in a full-scale civil war yet in Iraq?

KENNETH M. POLLACK: Our feeling is that while Iraqis definitely are in a state of civil war, it’s probably low-to mid-level. It’s not yet reached the kind of Lebanon or Bosnia-like all-out civil war, which I guess is a positive thing. Iraq hasn’t reached rock bottom yet. On the other hand, it can get worse.

GWERTZMAN: To me what’s frustrating is, we know who the leaders of the Shiites and the Iraqi government are, but we really don’t know much about the other side. I mean, it’s a civil war where one side is virtually anonymous.

POLLACK: That’s true. And certainly there are any number of Sunni leaders out there. Few of them have the same kind of stature that some of the major Shiite figures, in particular some of the major Shiite militia leaders, have. But that’s not uncommon for these kinds of civil wars. Everyone knows the names of the Maronite leaders in Lebanon. Not too many people know the leaders of the Sunni community from Lebanon. The same thing is true in other places. In the Bosnian-Croatian[-Serbian] civil wars, there were a lot of people who knew the names of the Serbian militia leaders. Not too many people knew the names of the Bosnian militia leaders.

GWERTZMAN: And of course, when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 I don’t think anyone thought of civil war as a likely scenario.

POLLACK: Well, it certainly was out there as a possibility. I actually talked about it in my 2002 book, The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq, as: “This is the worst case. We don’t want to get to this.” I referred to it as warlordism. And I actually think that is a very accurate term for what we see going on in Iraq today. The Shiite militia leaders, the Sunnis and the insurgent leaders—they are nothing but warlords. But you’re right that no one thought that this was a likely outcome.

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Mr. Bernard Gwertzman is the Consulting Editor for