While the Australian papers continue either to ignore or actively distort the disaster that Iraq has become (and Jeff Sparrow at leftwrites has a useful compendium of the foolish boosterism of pro-war commentators), UK newspapers have some pretty chilling reports about what might happen next.

Patrick Cockburn, who’s been in Iraq and reporting for The Independent for months, had a story (“Baghdad is under siege”, 1 November) that suggests that Sunni forces are well on the way to blocking all road access to Baghdad, and that there is an increasing degree of coordination between the Sunni militias. The object would be to isolate the Shia community within the capital, cut off food supply and then slowly move in.

This suggests the possibility of a new and almost unimaginably brutal stage to the disaster – that the hatred between the two groups has been built to such a pitch that a large-scale bloodbath would follow.

I’m not talking about isolated car bombs and murders – I mean the sort of thing that occurred in Cambodia in 1975, or the Balkans in 1945, or in General Sherman’s “march to the sea” in the US Civil War. Years of violence and hatred will have removed any inhibition on cruelty or murder. Should this occur, massacres would be systematic and total block-by-block killings.

The American forces in Baghdad will then face the following choices:

1) huddle in the Green Zone and resupply themselves by air, while waiting a few token months to withdraw

2) withdraw immediately as Baghdad degenerates into a total killing field

3) ally with the Sunnis, subdue the Shias and turn a blind eye to large scale massacres, while installing a Sunni dictator, quite possibly an ex-Baathist

4) fight on the side of the Shias, subduing the Sunnis with large-scale civilian bombing, using depleted uranium and other WMD devices

5) find that Sunni and Shia ally together and turn on US forces. Unlikely, but direct lethal attacks on US forces have tripled since the start of the year (from 300 dead and wounded per month to 900 now).

Might not happen. But all indications are that Iraq has passed the point that occurs in all wars (and best documented in Niall Ferguson’s The Pity of War) – when life ceases to have an iota of meaning, and death stalks the field.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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