The Foreign Service Journal, December 2006

Israel and access to oil were the two motives for U.S. intervention in Iraq. They still believe this. The second major reason for the hostility toward our presence in Iraq is the high cost to the Iraqi people in terms of civilian casual- ties and the appearance that our intervention has caused a civil war. The people in the region want to see the bleeding stop, and yet all they see is the presumption of an open-ended American commitment to extend the occupation as part of a drive for hegemony in the region. With civilian casualty counts at some of their highest levels since the war started, President Bush has made it clear that we will be in Iraq for the long haul, measured in years, not months. In his speech on Sept. 11, the pres- ident said once again: “We will not leave until the work is done.” And what is that work? “To help the Iraqi people build a democracy,” he said. This is not just a question of defeating terrorism or providing security for the Iraqi people. We are talking about nationbuilding. And nations are not built overnight. People like to refer back to the successful occupation and nationbuilding of Germany after World War II; they forget that the occu- pation did not end until 1955, 10 years and many man- hours later. And that was an occupation where there was little or no resistance. Exposing a Fault Line At the same time, our military leaders are warning about the increasing prospect of civil war in Iraq. In real- ity, when a moderately violent day — like the one sever- al weeks ago, when there were “only” 20 Iraqi civilians killed — is celebrated as a good day, then we have to ask ourselves if we are not already in the middle of a civil war. This war is less about al-Qaida and terror- ism than about the deep religious differences that divide the Middle East. And it is this aspect of the war that can have the most far- reaching and profound conse- quences for us and for our friends in the region. The United States has been a stabilizing and balancing force in the region for many years. But when we disrupted the existing balance of power in the region by toppling Saddam Hussein and breaking the Sunni hammerlock on the population of Iraq, we opened the way for Shia resurgence, as well as for the extension of Iranian influence and power in Iraq and, most recently, through Hezbollah in Lebanon. In short, we exposed a division in the Middle East centered in Iraq, hidden by the borders of an artificial state. It was the natural fault line between the Sunni and Shia that has existed for centuries — as opposed to the borders drawn by the British for the convenience of their colonial empire. This natural fracture has been pasted over, hid- den and suppressed — first by colonial power and then by the repressive regime of Saddam Hussein. The fault line is not about terrorism but rather, in the famous words of Professor Samuel Huntington, a “clash of civilizations.” But it is not the clash that Huntington foresaw between Islamic culture and Judeo-Christian culture. It is the clash within the Islamic civilization between the Shia and Sunni interpretations of the Koran, of Islamic history, of tradition and culture. It is also a clash between a radical, intolerant version of Islam that seeks a purity of faith that has not existed in centuries — if it ever did— and those who believe in a different, more tolerant, more modern Islam. It is also a clash of power and privilege: the result of years of second-class citizen- ship for the Shiite plurality in Iraq. Now it is payback time. And, finally, it is a clash of nationalism between Persian and Arab nationalities. This is not to say that the terrorists of al-Qaida have not made use of the disintegration of security and stabil- ity in Iraq. They have. They have replaced the training grounds of Afghanistan and Sudan with the live-fire expe- rience of Iraq. They have used Iraq to hone their tactics and develop new ways to cause American casualties. F O C U S 40 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / D E C E M B E R 2 0 0 6 What the example of Iraq is doing, thus far, is to offer encouragement to radical Islamists and other terrorist wanna-bes. Edward Walker was a Foreign Service officer from 1967 to 2001. In addition to serving as assistant secretary of State for Near East affairs (2000-2001), he was ambas- sador to Israel (1998-2000), ambassador to Egypt (1994- 1998), deputy permanent representative to the U.N. (1992-1994) and ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (1990-1992). After serving as president of the Middle East Institute from 2001 to 2006, he now holds the Christian Johnson Distinguished Professorship chair at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y.