letters | other people’s civil wars

Middle East’s ‘volcanic struggles’ require attention

People walked through rubble this month in Syria in the old city of Aleppo.
Muzaffar Salman/Reuters
People walked through rubble this month in Syria in the old city of Aleppo.

H.D.S. Greenway’s strange dialogue with his own devil’s advocate (“The temptation of other people’s civil wars,” Op-ed, July 5) reveals a profound misreading of religious violence in the Middle East.

After Greenway asserts that American efforts prevented a civil war from taking place in Iraq, the advocate rejoins, “Your occupation starts a civil war, and then you want to tell me you prevented it?” However, the speaker’s next answer compromises the logic of this seemingly clever retort. When asked about the violence in Syria, he instead emphasizes the “volcanic struggle between Sunni and Shia in the Middle East.”

This suggests that the violence in Iraq was a specialized brand of Sunni-Shia animosity inflammable only by our presence. If we have learned anything from the sectarian warfare in Algeria during the 1990s, in Libya more recently, and in Syria in the 1980s and today, it is that Iraq’s carnage was almost certainly, and tragically, inevitable.


Are we really supposed to believe that Iraq was never going to suffer through the religious violence it did after decades of Sunni dominance and brutal repression of its majority Shia population? Even those of us who were against the Iraq war at the time must, in sober reflection during this pivotal moment in Middle Eastern history, grant that an unchecked civil war without a coalition presence would have been far worse for both the country and the region.

Matthew Maddern