Genocide in Iraq

To my mind, Samantha Power is always worth listening to. (On her own account, but also because she reportedly has the ear of a certain charismatic Senator from Illinois. Notice the defense she makes of his plan – maybe her plan? – in the middle of the essay linked below.)

And this piece from the Los Angeles Times last weekend is no exception. Though it indulges in a wishy-washy plea that the United States use its leverage (what leverage?) to, “bring about a political compromise that makes Iraqi Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds feel economically stable, physically secure and adequately represented in political structures,” Power plainly no longer believes this possible and helpfully proceeds to offer up some concrete suggestions for staving off a potential genocide in the wake of an American withdrawal from Iraq.

Explore posts in the same categories: Iraq

2 Comments on “Genocide in Iraq”

  1. HW Says:

    Much respect to Samantha Power, but there’s something deeply problematic about her analysis. Can there be mutual genocide? Are the factions murdering each other on the streets of Iraq seeking capitulation or extermination? The proposal to be a kind of international rescue mission with guns is about the only legitimate purpose coalition forces have left. How this will work in practice is difficult to say. But how worried about imminent genocide can Iraq’s ethnic factions be if so many want U.S. forces gone? Assuming a base population of 26 million and assuming the Kurds make up 20 percent of that population (all figures are rough and ready estimates based on Wikipedia entries), and that Sunni Arabs make up 20 percent and Shiite Arabs 60 percent (5. 2 million and 15.6 million respectively) then, according to the poll numbers Powers cites, 468,000 Sunnis and about 4.5 million shiites want American soldiers to stay (these figures include children of course, but presumably they don’t disagree with their parents on this question to any great extent). Given that the rest of the Sunni and Shia Arab population seems happy to take its chances (and quite happy to see its enemies slaughtered), why should America’s obligation go beyond those who still desire its protection?

  2. ERG Says:

    HW, you raise a few perceptive points. The major one – what obligations do American forces have to protect Iraqis who do not desire their protection – is well above my competence, at least for now. (though in Power’s defense, she does explicitly say that the US should offer to assist those who want transport to safer regions – i.e. homogenous areas.)

    But early in your comment you raise another issue, or at least hint at it, which is the profligate use of the term “genocide” in contemporary political discussion. This has actually been much on my mind because of two pieces I recently read, one rather crass, the other very provocative and thought-provoking (if, ultimately, disagreeable). I recommend in particular an essay in the current issue of the London Review of Books by Columbia scholar Mahmood Mamdani titled “The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency.” Mamdani makes the case that our use of these terms is very political and fleshes his thesis out by comparing the situation in Iraq with that in Darfur – with particular focus on how the two conflicts are discussed in the West. I suspect this piece will attract some attention and I hope it does. I am sure Samantha Power would agree that it is to all of our detriment if the term genocide becomes so debased from misuse it no longer retains its galvanizing moral resonance. (Too Late?)

    For the curious, the Mamdani essay is online at

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