Robert Fisk: Why is it that we and America wish civil war on Iraq?

The Independent

Published: 15 September 2005

There will not be a civil war in Iraq. There never has been a civil war in Iraq. In 1920, Lloyd George warned of civil war in Iraq if the British Army left. Just as the Americans now threaten the Iraqis with civil war if they leave. As early as 2003, American spokesmen warned that there would be civil war if US forces left.

What the imperial, colonial powers will not learn - let us use their real names - and cannot learn, is that Iraq is not a sectarian state but a tribal nation. Iraqi men and women marry by religion rather than by affiliation.

A year ago, I sat by a doctor whose brother had just been killed by gunmen, killers who, I had no doubt, were Shias enraged that the brother had objected to the building of a Shia mosque at the end of his road. I turned to the brother at the funeral lunch and asked if there would be a civil war in Iraq.

"Why do you and the Americans want us to have a civil war?" he asked. "I am a Sunni married to a Shia woman. "Do you want me to kill my wife?"

There are plenty of journalists and writers and White House spokesmen who would like to threaten Iraq with civil war. But why? Two years ago, the official US spokesman made just such a threat. "Al-Qa'ida'," he said - he meant Sunnis, of course - wanted a civil war. But the Shias declined to provide the Americans with their civil war and Iraq remained unhappily quiescent. Why? Why on earth did they decide not to have a civil war? Because the Imam Ali once told his people that "when you see another man, he is either your brother in religion or he is your brother in humanity".

In Lebanon, it's easy to symbolise civil war. The Sunnis and Shias fought against the Christian Maronites - the conflict was Maronites versus the rest - and the Americans, Israelis, Syrians and others came in on whichever side they wished. Even now, the US government warns of the dangers of civil war again - as if the Lebanese need it. Alas, the Lebanese have endured a civil war at a cost of 150,000 dead. The Iraqis do not need that terrible conflict. Why do we wish it upon them?