Los Angeles Times | 8/4/2009 12:00:00 AM
Too soon to leave Iraq
Aug 04--Studies of civil wars in many countries reveal that the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq may be crucial to a real and lasting peace.
On the surface, this optimism seems justified. The Iraqi civil war that reached its peak in 2006 appears almost over. Violence is down, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and his Dawa Party are gaining in popularity, and Al Qaeda's influence in the country has been marginalized. The Iraq of today is remarkably different from the Iraq of three years ago. Below the surface, however, is a different story.
Over the last 15 years, scholars have collected and analyzed data on the 125 or so civil wars that have taken place around the world since 1940. Two findings suggest that the outlook for Iraq is significantly more pessimistic than policymakers in the U.S. or Iraq would hope.
The first is what academics Paul Collier and Nicholas Sambanis call the conflict trap. A country that has experienced one civil war is much more likely to experience a second and third civil war.
That's partly because violence tends to exacerbate the political, economic and social problems that caused war to break out in the first place. But it is also because the first civil war often ends with no clear victor and no enforceable peace settlement. As soon as the combatants have rested and resupplied, strong incentives exist to try to recapture the state.
This was the case, for example, in Angola during the 1980s and 1990s, when numerous peace settlements were attempted but never implemented. It was also the case more recently in Sudan, Colombia and Sri Lanka, where combatants returned to war even after fairly lengthy periods of peace.
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