Generational Dynamics: Forecasting America's Destiny Generational
 Forecasting America's Destiny ... and the World's


What Iraqi Civil War?

Early in 2003, I predicted that there would be no popular uprising against the Americans, and that there would be no civil war. After the overthrow of Saddam, I said that an Iraqi civil war was impossible. Despite the constant near-hysteria of the politicians, journalists and high-priced analysts, I've been right so far. Here's why. (09-Apr-04)
Summary Iraq is in a generational "awakening" period, like America in the 1960s. During the 60s, we had assassinations, riots, looting, radical rhetoric, and low-level violence, but no civil war. Similarly, a popular civil war in Iraq today is impossible, despite the warnings of politicians, journalists, and high-priced analysts

Why no civil war in Iraq?

The short answer is: Because only one generation has passed since the Iran/Iraq war of the 1980s, and a popular civil war is impossible so soon after a crisis war.

Contents - This page
America in the 1960s
Iraq's Awakening Today
Is a civil war really impossible?
Coalition Practices
The fighting in Fallujah
What's Ali al-Sistani up to?
Some additional notes


Here's the long answer:

Ever since the Iraqi war ended in April 2003, one expert after another has warned of a possible civil war in Iraq. These concerns have flared up about four or five times during the year, usually after some especially big car bomb explodes, or after some Muslim cleric demands something from the Coalition forces.

These concerns about an Iraqi civil war reached a hysterical pitch last week because of a military rebellion in largely Sunni Muslim Fallujah and because Shi'ite Muslim cleric Moktada al-Sadr has called for his personal militia to resist the Coalition forces.

Shi'ite Muslim cleric Moktada al-Sadr (BBC)
Shi'ite Muslim cleric Moktada al-Sadr (BBC)

Some politicians are predicting that Sunni and Shi'ite Muslim forces will either rise up against each other for a massive civil war, or will unite for a massive uprising against the Coalition, the way that Iraqis rose up against the British in the 1920s.

These predictions are impossible. Iraq today is in a generational "awakening" period, while Iraq in the 1920s was in a generational "crisis" period. What happened in the 1920s cannot happen today.

What's a generational awakening period? The easiest way to understand it is to look America's last awakening period, the 1960s.

America in the 1960s

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Let's take a moment to compare Iran today to America in the 1960s, because the equivalence is precise.

Iraq today is one generation past its last crisis war, the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.

America in the 1960s was one generation past its last crisis war, World War II. You have to understand 1960s America if you want to understand Iraq today.

If you're reading this and you're under 65-70 years old, then you probably have no idea how horrible WW II was for most Americans. Rumors of German bombers on the east coast and Japanese bombers on the west coast abounded, and terrorized Americans formed watch groups to watch for incoming bombers. Body bags with American soldiers were coming in by the boatloads from Europe and the Pacific. Everyone was affected by the war, had lost friends and family in the war, and feared for the American way of life and even the nation's survival. If you were traumatized by 9/11, then imagine the 9/11 attacks ten times a day for a couple of years and you'll begin to understand World War II.

When WW II ended, those who survived vowed that nothing like that must ever be allowed to happen again. Society reorganized itself to fight the new menace, the Communists, who would have to be stopped before they were allowed to start World War III.

By the 1960s, kids born after WW II came of age, and that's when the American awakening began. There was a well-known "generation gap," as college kids rebelled against the austere rules imposed by those who had survived WW II.

Look what happened in America in the 60s and early 70s: President Kennedy was assassinated; Martin Luther King was assassinated; Robert Kennedy was assassinated; there was a series of "hot summers," with racial rebellions in many cities, the most well known being the Watts riots in L.A. in 1965; there were huge riots and demonstrations in Washington D.C., and in other large cities; many of these riots degenerated into violence.

In all, three different presidencies ended in ruin in one way or another: President Kennedy's by assassination, President Johnson by being forced not to run again; and President Nixon by forced resignation.

But there was NO CIVIL WAR.

Iraq's Awakening Today

This is EXACTLY what's happening in Iraq today.

The Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s was a horrific crisis war, where even poison gas was used to kill people. Those who survived that war want no part of another one.

That's the context in which you have to understand the riots and demonstrations by Shi'ite Muslim cleric Moktada al-Sadr's private militia. Al-Sadr himself is 30 years old, and his followers are in their teens and 20s. These are kids with little or no personal memory of the 1980s war. They don't really care that much one way or the other about the American-led Coalition; they're just kids, and they're rebelling against their own parents more than anything else. In most cases, they have no strong convictions except to have fun.

That's why I've been saying for over a year that a popular civil war is impossible. There's no one who wants a war like that. The older generation will do anything to prevent such a war, and the younger generation really doesn't give a f--k. There's no fuel for a civil war.

I've looked at dozens, perhaps hundreds, of crisis wars throughout history, and there's never been a popular civil war just one generation past a crisis war. It's impossible.

Is a civil war really impossible?

The most that is possible is that some Iraqi cleric could call for a civil war.

Actually, that's in effect what al-Sadr did last week, resulting in his militia taking over two towns, in defiance of the Coalition forces.

But it wasn't much of a civil war. According to a New York Times article,

Another paragraph in the same story referred to the militiamen's rhetoric:

Anyone who lived through 60s or 70s America knows what "seething rhetoric" is. We had demonstrators calling Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon "fascists," and we had Black Panthers calling for a black rebellion in America. But it was never more than rhetoric.

So, in answer to the question of whether an Iraqi civil war today is possible, the response is that you're seeing as much of a civil war as is likely, and it doesn't amount to much.

Coalition Practices

Unfortunately, few people seem to be able to understand what an awakening period is, and what its effect is.

Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, for example, has been sponsoring terrorist acts in Iraq in order to ignite a civil war, but his efforts have been complete failures.

The Coalition forces have made mistakes too. Shutting down newspapers during an awakening period just infuriates the kids, but that's what the Coalition has been doing. Coalition officers should be educated in how to handle kids during an awakening, and the best place to start is to examine the mistakes made by Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon in the 60s and 70s.

The fighting in Fallujah

What about the terrorist attacks, and the fighting in Fallujah?

Let's make it clear: Generational Dynamics predicts attitudes and behaviors of large masses of people, based on generational changes; it cannot predict the actions of small groups of people.

Contents - This page
America in the 1960s
Iraq's Awakening Today
Is a civil war really impossible?
Coalition Practices
The fighting in Fallujah
What's Ali al-Sistani up to?
Some additional notes

The terrorist acts and the fighting in Fallujah and other cities are going to continue for years, just as rioting, demonstrations and looting continued in America throughout the 60s and 70s. The major difference is that the Iraqis have more weapons at their disposal, but there will not be more than low-level violence.

That's not to say that low-level violence isn't important. Iraqis will be wounded and killed, and so will Coalition soldiers. And even low-level violence can be terrifying. In fact, it may get bad enough to drive the Coalition out of Iraq in disgrace -- just as the rioters and demonstrators forced President Nixon's resignation in 1974.

But it's not an all-out civil war, and won't be.

What's Ali al-Sistani up to?

The real adult in Iraq is the country's leading cleric, Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. 73-year-old Sistani lived through the 1980s war, and almost nothing could cause him to favor another disaster like that one.

Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani
Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani

It's impossible to read about al-Sistani without getting the feeling that he's a strong force for moderation in Iraq, and that he will be a friend, at least indirectly. He has a web site ( which portrays a highly spiritual life devoted to helping people and promoting Islam. He answers questions on marriage and life from users, and he even has a section on "[Islamic] Jurisprudence Made Easy"!

According to news stories, the rebellions staged by al-Sadr's militia have been funded and encouraged by Iranian mullahs, in order to ignite an uprising or a civil war. If this is true, then one can imagine that the Iranians went to Sistani first and failed to convince him to support that level of violence.

Some additional notes

Iran. Iran is also in a generational awakening period. Since 1999, there have been large pro-American college student demonstrations. Some analysts, apparently including some in the Bush administration, are advocating a policy of encouraging the students to overthrow the Iranian mullahs. Such a policy would almost certainly fail: There is no more chance of a civil war in Iran than there is in Iraq.

Palestine. The Palestine region is different. That region is in a generational crisis period, replaying the events of the hostilities of Jews versus Arabs that began in 1936 and led to the massive regional crisis war in 1948, following the partitioning of Palestine and the creation of the state of Israel. Just as we can predict that a civil war in Iraq is impossible in the next few years, we can predict that another major regional war between Israelis and Arabs is unavoidable in the next few years.

Copyright © 2002-2016 by John J. Xenakis.