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Stathis N. Kalyvas and Matthew Adam Kocher on ethnic cleavages in Iraq

Abstract: The conflict in Iraq has been portrayed as “ethnic” civil war, a radically different conflict from “ideological” wars such as Vietnam. We argue that such an assessment is misleading, as is its theoretical foundation, which we call the “ethnic war model.” Neither Iraq nor Vietnam conforms to the ethnic war model’s predictions. The sectarian conflict between Shia and Sunni militias is not simply the outcome of sectarian cleavages in Iraqi society, but to an important extent, a legacy of U.S. occupation. On the other hand, although Vietnam was a society riven by ethnic cleavages, the Vietnam War also fails to conform to the ethnic war model. We show that there is no necessary overlap between ethnic conflict and ethnic war. Some ethnic conflicts evolve into ethnic wars, and others develop dynamics virtually indistinguishable from those of ideological civil wars. We suggest that the state’s role is essential in transforming conflicts into either ethnic or irregular wars. We conclude with an analysis of the current situation and future prospects in Iraq.

Stathis N. Kalyvas and Matthew Adam Kocher (2007), “Ethnic Cleavages and Irregular War: Iraq and Vietnam,” Politics and Society 35:183-223. Available (sub required) here. Earlier draft available here.

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