Fault line?

There are many reasons why this expression is largely used and misused in current discourses about Iraq. On one hand, so-called « sectarian » crimes have prompted Sunnis and Shias to form ethnically cleansed areas at national, regional and local level. At national level, the constitution of regional areas in the South, West and North (respectively Shias, Sunnis and Kurds) is a main threat to national unity, with a central Government of Iraq (GoI) being tempted by both sectarianism and nationalism. At the local level, it is worth saying that the counterinsurgency strategy of providing security in Baghdad has produced a new geography of the city filled with « gated communities » and distributed by blast walls and cheikpoints, as one can see in the documentaries by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad. It is one historical problema still to be resolved to assess if  Fardh Al-Qanoon has reduced sectarian hatred or if it has exploited it in order to produce only a truce. At the regional level, the New York Times has a good piece and a graph on the relationships between Kurds and Arabs in the North. In the governorates running from Nineveh in the NorthWest to Diyala in the SouthEast, it would exist a « fault line » separating the two ethnoconfessional groups and evolving according to military success of the coalition or changing alliances made by american troops. From 2003 onwards, the region was marked by Kurds supported by the US and Sunnis controlled by a strange alliance of Baathists nationalists and Al Qaeda in Iraq/Islamic State in Iraq. In 2007, the reintegration of sunnis groups in the political process prompted their rise in the political life. Moreover, the various clashes between the Iraqi Army and the Peshmergas (in Khanaqin) created a sense of « arab alliance » against Kurds. Consequently, in February 2009, the Al-Habda party won the provincial elections in Nineveh.  According to the aforementioned article of the NYT, there would be a growing contestation and fear among Kurdish parties in the province to denounce the Al Habda as the puppet of Baathist party or more extremist wings of the Sunnis political spectrum. The spectre of civil war is rising again in this region: the fault line is seen as a necessity to avoid more violent deaths and more sectarian hatred. The problem is that it is also an issue between the various political groups: the green line has moved several times since the beginning of the US presence in Iraq, and there are many reasons to consider it would be the same in the future, whichever side is growing more powerful. In short, « fault line » is a product of recent history and not an anhistorical reality.

On the other hand, this geomorphological vocabulary does not depict the reality as it produces it in a performative manner. Far from being a cultural divide between two ethnoconfessional groups who never share anything in common, the so-called « fault line » is also making this division more deeper by reifying the alterity among them. In other words, this political competition between and inside each group is more and more embodied in a cultural sense of alterity. Consequently, speaking of the « fault lines », whether it is at national, regional or local levels, is creating more danger than it depicts a reality of the Iraqi society. Deepening a cultural difference (or more, an ethnical difference) between Kurds and Arabs or Sunnis and Shias is instrumental to political entrepreneurs in each groups: the hatred of the other is a powerful tool to create a sense of collectivity and to initiate a process of political legitimization at the benefit of the one who is manipulating such identities. For instance, the ethnic cleansing in Baghdad was instrumental for AQI and the JAM in 2006 in two ways: it allowed each group to increase its hold on the local population following « fault lines » while it also create an ingroup/outgroup process. To conclude, « fault line » is a political symbol manipulated by various actors to perpetuate the actual divide of Iraqi society, whether it is consciously or not. Indeed, the use of this expression by American officers or journalists is not a mean for them to produce a division, which they would see as a criminal enterprise aimed at destabilizing the country. Nevertheless, by using it, they translate their own view of the Iraqi society as one that needs to be « disciplined » because it is fundamentaly divided by « fault lines » (one has to remember what Joe Biden said in his debate with Sarah Palin, talking of the division between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq as if is was 700 years old. In fact, the majority of Shias in Iraq converted from Sunni Islam at the beginning of the nineteen century: it was the policy of discouting them from power by Saddam Hussein and his attempt to manipulate Shia elites through Mohammed Sadeq Al Sadr that prompted the rise of a truly Shia identity distinct from the previous appropriation of Iraq nationality by Shias).

I’d like to conclude that, if I acknowledge the potential benevolence engraved in the « cultural turn » in the US military, I also consider it to be uncompleted and so potentialy dangerous. Indeed, as it could be the first step to a truly ethical way of warfare (as far as the latter could become such), it has become another way of legitimizing the use of force. Though, it has produced many exchanges and interactions, albeit inequal, between the civilian and the American soldiers and Marines at the local level…


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