Monday, May 16, 2005

Further Problems in Iraq?

From the Yorkshire Ranter:

People often don't realise that Iraq is urban. A mass of urbanisation spreads out from Baghdad down to the shrine cities and up towards Tikrit in the north, and west along the road to Fallujah and the Jordanian border. Although the plurality is Shia, the bulk of this urban core is Sunni, and this is crucial to know. That fraction of the insurgency aims, once having got rid of the Americans, to dominate this area, to seize power, and then, only then, to look elsewhere. Controlling this area gives them command of what there is of the state, the former defence establishment, and their own people, as well as the symbols of Iraqi nationalism. It also gives them key infrastructure and the trade route out to Jordan. All they need then is a share of the oil. South of Baghdad, they will find it harder to make progress, as they will be running up the demographic hillside and into both the Badr Corps and Sadrist heartlands. The Sunni insurgents are probably more militarily capable, but don't have the numbers. Somewhere along the demographic transition line, the front will halt.

To be honest, I wasn't fully aware of this before I read it. Certainly the ethnic complexities of Iraq are left well alone by the media - it suits them far more to set things up in a "them vs us" dichotomy than truly understand the nature of Iraq. That includes their treatment of the country when Saddam was in charge - Yes, Saddam was a "bad man", but only portraying him as such doesn't help a greater understanding of Ba'athist culture. It was far more than just Saddamism, at least in its early years, and developed a fairly sophisticated urban culture in its wake.

The reason I link to this piece is that it is a firm historical view of mine that one of the key objectives for any successful government is to have direct control of the major cities. The peasantry in Russia weren't directly bothered about causing revolution (although growing increasingly fed up with economic hardship); the Bolsheviks seized control because they were the largest forces in St Petersberg and Moscow. The French revolution was more than just a bread riot because of agitation in Paris. The crucibles of the American Revolution - the areas where direct resistance was strongest - were the urban centres of Boston, New York and Philadelphia. Going back into early modern times, the success of the Dutch revolt is in many ways attributable to the fact it had a quasi-modern urban structure.

And so, to fall into the trap of simplification myself, if the Shia majority are incapable of holding the strategically vital urbanities of Iraq, the new government will find it difficult to hold anything other than a tenuous power. This would suggest a much longer presence of US and UK forces than was originally intended. It will be interesting to see how this plays out and how far my theories of history can be stretched.