"One real possibility is, if we abandon some of these areas and withdraw into the countryside or whatever to do these targeted missions, you could have a fairly significant ethnic cleansing inside Baghdad or in Iraq more broadly."U.S. actions in Iraq have served as the catalyst for the collision of many underlying, dangerous elements of Iraqi society. One of these elements is corruption; coming of age under Saddam's regime, many in the current generation of Iraqi politicians use their political clout to advance their own group's agendas rather than the well-being of all Iraqis. Another element is sectarianism, with the major political parties defining themselves along sectarian lines. As a wartime sense of criminal immunity propels sectarian violence, and political parties back militias that "cleanse" neighborhoods until they are entirely Shia or entirely Sunni, the chances for large-scale ethnic cleansing in parts of Iraq are high.
But what is stopping it? Ironically, it seems to be the presence of U.S. troops. In a January hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Cornyn and the Secretary Gates pointed to the role that U.S. forces are playing in maintaining a fragile level of peace--and, as a result, warding off large-scale ethnic cleansing:
In all of the political posturing and agenda-advancing taking place in Washington over the president's request for a $100 billion funding bill, our leaders must not lose sight of the need to protect Iraqi civilians. With 3.9 million displaced Iraqis clinging to a hope that normalcy can be restored to their fractured lives, childhoods being destroyed as children are used as decoys in car bombings, and dozens and dozens of sectarian-motivated murders taking place every day, the U.S. must do everything it can to protect civilians and care for those who have been affected by this war.
SEN. CORNYN: "What would be the humanitarian consequences [if US forces in Iraq are redeployed]? What would be the likely outcomes in terms of loss of life to innocent men, women and children in that region if some of these dire consequences do occur?"
SEC. GATES: "I think one of the consequences -- we're already seeing some internal immigration and to a limited extent ethnic cleansing. And I would suspect that one consequence would be a fairly dramatic increase both in internal immigration, the number of displaced persons, but also ethnic cleansing. Sir, clearly in my mind there would be additional increased murders, sectarian violence. I don't know how much, but certainly a large increase in that..."
SEN. CORNYN: Well, if I could just say in closing that many people in this country are justly concerned about the genocide in Darfur, where hundreds of thousands of people have died. And I've -- with others who've traveled to Iraq -- I remember traveling with the chairman to Iraq in 2003 and standing on the edge of a mass-grave site where the United Nations said in that and similar sites 400,000, perhaps, Iraqis lay dead at the hand of Saddam Hussein, and perhaps a million more people had simply exited the country during his regime in order to avoid a similar fate. So I hope that we will focus a little bit more on the consequences of failure in Iraq. And that will fuel us and encourage us to at least try to heed the advice of the president's most expert military advisers, present company included, to try to avoid that failure, because I agree that the consequences of failure are simply unacceptable."