Peace on the decline

The Uppsala Conflict Data Program at the Uppsala University Department of Peace and Conflict Research is reporting that the number of violent conflicts has seen a rise in recent years as peace initiatives are falling off. The Center’s largest number of registered conflicts took place during the 1990’s, but a steady decline began to take place thereafter and continued until 2002. Since then, the number of active conflicts has been holding steady around thirty.

“This is of course a cause of concern. Today’s ongoing conflicts are extremely protracted,” comment researchers Professor Peter Walensteen and Lotta Harbom. “This indicates that the successful negotiation efforts of the 1990s are no longer being carried out with the same force or effectiveness.”

Today’s conflicts appear to be intractable and drawn-out, and the researchers believe that the 1990s peace strategies need to be improved in order to achieve results. At the same time, there are encouraging trends. Conflicts between different groups and peoples, with no involvement of the state, are decreasing in the number of both conflicts and fatalities.

“This type of conflict often arises in the wake of civil war, but they seem to be easier to bring to an end,” says Joakim Kreutz at the Uppsala Conflict Data Program.

Not surprisingly, one of the biggest problems in recent years is the lack of negotiations in the war torn Middle East. Even as the United States takes measures to physically curtail violence, there have been few visible signs that any of the parties in question are being addressed in a meaningful way.

The Middle East is the region in which peace initiatives are most clearly conspicuous in their absence. The central importance of the region for the world’s oil supply and for world religions makes this serious. The conference in Annapolis in lat November 2007 was the first attempt since 2001 to bring the parties together. They even found it difficult to agree on the declaration that started the negotiations, notes Peter Wallensteen.

“This is a worrisome sign. At the same time, we have to welcome all attempts to bring peace to this area. It has been more than 60 years since the UN General Assembly adopted a plan for Palestine. It must be adapted to today’s reality and implemented.”

During the year other regional conflict complexes have emerged and worsened. The crisis in the Sudanese region Darfur is now spreading to the surrounding countries, such as Chad and the Central African Republic.

“These developments have prompted neighboring countries to take certain peace initiatives,” states Lotta Harbom. “The international mediators in the Darfur conflict, including Jan Eliasson, who is also a visiting professor at Uppsala University, are working to arrange negotiations among the parties. But thus far they have had no success.”

It’s likely that many of these conflicts will continue to linger until the United Nations (and others) decide to press en masse. The larger peace deals in the 20th Century were accomplished through multi-national pressure, persuasion, and promising that we’ve seen little of in the last ten to fifteen years.

Portents of Iraqi genocide

Yesterday witnessed one of the deadliest attacks since the war on Iraq began. Not surprisingly, it was ethnic minorities who were targeted, specifically a community of Yazidis, a sect of Kurdish speaking people, who are frequent targets for Muslim extremists.

Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon claimed that it was “an act of ethnic cleansing, if you will, almost genocide.” As I’ve commented since the war began, the invasion will undoubtedly end in a genocidal frenzy regardless of whether US troops remain or withdraw.

It seems quite possible that we’re witnessing the first coordinated moves towards a more systematic policy of ethnic cleansing. Considering that the military is blaming al Qaeda for the attack, it seems clear that unlike previous bombings that are designed to disrupt and terrorize the population (and US military), this particular incident was designed to strike at a single minority group.

Iraq, another Cambodia?

Recently, presidential candidate Barack Obama was asked whether he felt that the United States should keep troops in Iraq in order to prevent a genocidal frenzy. He replied:

“By that argument you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right now — where millions have been slaughtered as a consequence of ethnic strife — which we haven’t done. We would be deploying unilaterally and occupying the Sudan, which we haven’t done. Those of us who care about Darfur don’t think it would be a good idea.”

As Goldberg pointed out in an Op/Ed piece in the LATimes, the key difference is that those two genocides weren’t triggered by American occupation and withdrawal.

As often as we hear comparisons between the Vietnam War and Iraq, you would think that a greater number of people would be drawing the same conclusions between the Cambodian genocide and what’s likely to happen in Iraq. If the two follow the same course, we will likely see the United States withdraw from Iraq, followed by a seizure of power from a single faction, which will lead to the first organized steps toward persecution and genocide.

Of course, the truly absurd question becomes, will we once again be throwing our hat in the ring with genocidaires?

Iraq, the next genocide

As I’ve written about in several places over the last year (here and here), the next genocide we’re going to witness will be in Iraq. The sectarian violence has been unstoppable since US forces overthrew Saddam Hussein and attempted to set up a democratic regime.

The mainstream media, as always, is slow to wake to the realities of ethnic cleansing. Even though it makes a tasty sound bite for post-genocide reconstruction movements (as we saw in Rwanda), we seldom catch them noticing an impending act. Time seemed to wake up a bit recently — with their article Is Iraq Headed for Genocide — but only in order to pose the not-so-veiled question of whether a pull out of Iraq will facilitate genocide.

There were, however, a few important points:

Gregory Stanton, a professor of human rights at Virginia’s University of Mary Washington, sees in Iraq the same troubling signs of preparation and execution of genocidal aims that he saw in the 1990s in Rwanda when he worked at the State Department. Sunni and Shiite militias are “trying to polarize the country, they’re systematically trying to assassinate moderates, and they’re trying to divide the population into homogenous religious sectors,” Stanton says. All of those undertakings, he says, are “characteristics of genocide,” and his organization, Genocide Watch, is preparing to declare the country in a “genocide emergency.”

Though the term conjures up thoughts of enormous numbers of civilian dead, the quantity of victims is not the warning sign experts look for when considering the danger of genocide. Samantha Power, a professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, says with Shi’ite and Sunni sub-groups already identifying and killing victims solely on the basis of their religious identity, “genocidal intent” is already present in Iraq. “When you drive up to a checkpoint and you’re stopped and somebody pulls out your ID and determines whether you’re a Sunni or a Shiite and takes you away and kills you because of that, there is a genocidal mentality afoot.” The question, Power says, is how broadly that mentality will spread. Iraq has already seen one genocide in recent decades: Saddam Hussein stands accused of attempting to exterminate Kurds, the third largest group in the country.

When the article finally does roll around to making the case for an escalation in violence if the US withdraws, I couldn’t help but notice a lack of extemporaneous evidence of what’s happened (and continues to happen) in the country to date. Even with the bulk of US forces occupying the country, sectarian violence is completely unchecked.

It’s been so bad, in fact, that the US military began constructing a 12-foot high wall around a Sunni community in Adhamiya, effectively creating a ghetto. Ironically, it was fairly easy to make the case that the US invasion actually triggered the ethnic violence that might lead to genocide even before the military began construction of the wall; now, the longer we’re involved in Iraq and the bigger the commitment we make, the more we’re looking like France in 1994 Rwanda.

Samantha Power on Iraq

Samantha Power, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Problem From Hell, penned an op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times in which she illustrates many of our fears about the United States’ presence in Iraq and how it will eventually lead to increased ethnic conflict and possible future genocide(s).

First, although it has a familiar and thus unsatisfying ring to it, the most viable long-term route to preventing mass atrocities is to use remaining U.S. leverage to bring about a political compromise that makes Iraqi Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds feel economically stable, physically secure and adequately represented in political structures. This is consistent with the position of leading U.S. generals and the members of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, who have stressed that there is no military solution to Iraq’s meltdown and urged the administration, the Iraqis and regional players to reopen broad-ranging political negotiations.

Instead of simply lining up behind Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s government in the hopes that it will one day decide to stop ethnic cleansing, recent withdrawal proposals in Congress use the leverage of the proposed redeployment to press Iraqis to reach a political solution. A plan put forth by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has come under neoconservative fire for setting a target departure date, but it provides for flexibility to suspend the U.S. drawdown if Iraqis meet the key economic, political and security benchmarks they have committed to achieve this year. The plan would also retain some U.S. forces in Iraq and the region to help deter atrocities by sectarian militias and aggression from Iraq’s neighbors.

However, if this political pressure fails and U.S. forces remain unable to stave off an ever-widening civil war, the U.S. should go further and announce its willingness to assist in the voluntary transport and relocation of Iraqi civilians in peril. If Iraqis tell us that they would feel safer in religiously homogenous neighborhoods, and we lack the means to protect them where they are, we should support and protect them in their voluntary, peaceful evacuation — a means, one might say, to preempt genocide in advance of our departure.

The administration must help secure asylum for those Iraqis — and there are millions who fit this bill — who have a “well-founded fear of persecution.” At the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees’ conference scheduled for April, which will be attended by Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Syria and the United States, the overburdened countries of first asylum (Syria is sheltering 1 million Iraqis; Jordan has taken in 700,000) must be persuaded to reopen their gates to fleeing Iraqis. And Western countries must dramatically expand the number of resettlement slots for Iraqis. Astoundingly, the U.S. took in just 202 Iraqis last year and, although the maximum for this year was recently raised to 7,000, this is still not sufficient.

Finally, if we are serious about preventing further sectarian horrors, the U.S. must send a clear signal to the militias and political leaders who order or carry out atrocities that they will be brought to justice for their crimes. That means offering belated U.S. support to the International Criminal Court, the only credible, independent body with the jurisdiction to prosecute crimes against humanity and genocide.

As I’ve written in the past, the fractured social structure and lack of stability in Iraq are perfect incubators for ethnic strife. With a crumbled economy and a lack of infrastructure, it’s easy to see the entire country sliding into an eventual genocidal rage.

While I agree that the only solution to a pending humanitarian crisis is refugee repopulation, I have trouble believing that the conservative movement will widen talks on US immigration for threatened Iraqis. I don’t argue against refugee support, I’m merely pointing out that I can’t see it actually happening.