That point Zap, is one I think Christopher Hitchens echoed in a very interesting article the other day:
The Stone Face of Zarqawi
Iraq is no "distraction" from al Qaeda.
BY CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS
Tuesday, March 21, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST
In February 2004, our Kurdish comrades in northern Iraq intercepted a courier who was bearing a long message from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to his religious guru Osama bin Laden. The letter contained a deranged analysis of the motives of the coalition intervention ("to create the State of Greater Israel from the Nile to the Euphrates" and "accelerate the emergence of the Messiah"), but also a lethally ingenious scheme to combat it. After a lengthy and hate-filled diatribe against what he considers the vile heresy of Shiism, Zarqawi wrote of Iraq's largest confessional group that: "These in our opinion are the key to change. I mean that targeting and hitting them in their religious, political and military depth will provoke them to show the Sunnis their rabies . . . and bare the teeth of the hidden rancor working in their breasts. If we succeed in dragging them into the arena of sectarian war, it will become possible to awaken the inattentive Sunnis as they feel imminent danger."
Some of us wrote about this at the time, to warn of the sheer evil that was about to be unleashed. Knowing that their own position was a tenuous one (a fact fully admitted by Zarqawi in his report) the cadres of "al Qaeda in Mesopotamia" understood that their main chance was the deliberate stoking of a civil war. And, now that this threat has become more imminent and menacing, it is somehow blamed on the Bush administration. "Civil war" has replaced "the insurgency" as the proof that the war is "unwinnable." But in plain truth, the "civil war" is and always was the chief tactic of the "insurgency."
Since February 2004, there have been numberless attacks on Shiite religious processions and precincts. Somewhat more insulting to Islam (one might think) than a caricature in Copenhagen, these desecrations did not immediately produce the desired effect. Grand Ayatollah Sistani even stated that, if he himself fell victim, he forgave his murderers in advance and forbade retaliation in his name. This extraordinary forbearance meant that many Shiites--and Sunnis, too--refused to play Zarqawi's game. But the grim fact is, as we know from Cyprus and Bosnia and Lebanon and India, that a handful of determined psychopaths can erode in a year the sort of intercommunal fraternity that has taken centuries to evolve. If you keep pressing on the nerve of tribalism and sectarianism, you will eventually get a response. And then came the near-incredible barbarism in Samarra, and the laying waste of the golden dome.
It is not merely civil strife that is partly innate in the very make-up of Iraq. There could be an even worse war, of the sort that Thomas Hobbes pictured: a "war of all against all" in which localized gangs and mafias would become rulers of their own stretch of turf. This is what happened in Lebanon after the American withdrawal: The distinctions between Maronite and Druze and Palestinian and Shiite became blurred by a descent into minor warlordism. In Iraq, things are even more fissile. Even the "insurgents" are fighting among themselves, with local elements taking aim at imported riffraff and vice-versa. Saddam's vicious tactic, of emptying the jails on the eve of the intervention and freeing his natural constituency of thugs and bandits and rapists, was exactly designed to exacerbate an already unstable situation and make the implicit case for one-man "law and order." There is strong disagreement among and between the Shiites and the Sunnis, and between them and the Kurds, only the latter having taken steps to resolve their own internal party and regional quarrels.
America's mistake in Lebanon was first to intervene in a way that placed us on one minority side--that of the Maronites and their Israeli patrons--and then to scuttle and give Hobbes his mandate for the next 10 years. At least it can be said for the present mission in Iraq that it proposes the only alternative to civil war, dictatorship, partition or some toxic combination of all three. Absent federal democracy and power-sharing, there will not just be anarchy and fragmentation and thus a moral victory for jihadism, but opportunist interventions from Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. (That vortex, by the way, is what was waiting to engulf Iraq if the coalition had not intervened, and would have necessitated an intervention later but under even worse conditions.) There are signs that many Iraqi factions do appreciate the danger of this, even if some of them have come to the realization somewhat late. The willingness of the Kurdish leadership in particular, to sacrifice for a country that was gassing its people until quite recently, is beyond praise.
Everybody now has their own scenario for the war that should have been fought three years ago. The important revelations in "Cobra II," by Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor, about the underestimated reserve strength of the Fedayeen Saddam, give us an excellent picture of what the successor regime to the Baath Party was shaping up to be: an Islamized para-state militia ruling by means of vicious divide-and-rule as between the country's peoples. No responsible American government could possibly have allowed such a contingency to become more likely. We would then have had to intervene in a ruined rogue jihadist-hosting state that was already in a Beirut-like nightmare.
I could not help noticing, when the secret prisons of the Shiite-run "Interior Ministry" were exposed a few weeks ago, that all those wishing to complain ran straight to the nearest American base, from which help was available. For the moment, the coalition forces act as the militia for the majority of Iraqis--the inked-fingered Iraqis--who have no militia of their own. Honorable as this role may be, it is not enough in the long run. In Iraq we have made some good friends and some very, very bad enemies. (How can anyone, looking down the gun-barrel into the stone face of Zarqawi, say that fighting him is a "distraction" from fighting al Qaeda?) Over the medium term, if our apparent domestic demoralization continues, the options could come down to two. First, we might use our latent power and threaten to withdraw, implicitly asking Iraqis and their neighbors if that is really what they want, and concentrating their minds. This still runs the risk of allowing the diseased spokesmen of al Qaeda to claim victory.
Second, we can demand to know, of the wider international community, if it could afford to view an imploded Iraq as a spectator. Three years ago, the smug answer to that, from most U.N. members, was "yes." This is not an irresponsibility that we can afford, either morally or practically, and even if our intervention was much too little and way too late, it has kindled in many Arab and Kurdish minds an idea of a different future. There is a war within the war, as there always is when a serious struggle is under way, but justice and necessity still combine to say that the task cannot be given up.
Mr. Hitchens, a columnist for Vanity Fair, is the author of "A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq" (Penguin, 2003).