The Failed State and You: Iraq Offers a Preview of What’s Coming

July 29th, 2007

The people who write about post collapse community, from their urban apartments, are going to wind up being boiled up in large pots, along with rats and road kill.

If you are entertaining any touchy feely fantasies about collapse in large cities, please type “failed state” into Google and start reading. Once that sinks in, read about the standard practice of using children as the minions of warlords.

Do you live in or near any areas with “gang problems”? If you refuse to leave, you better be making friends with those gangs, and figuring out how you can make yourself useful to them, because those guys are going to be your new masters when state authority breaks down. If you’re thinking about what kind of gun to buy, instead of how you’re going to serve the warlord, you might as well consider yourself dead. You, alone, with your gun, will lose. Why? Because the local warlord will have lots of minions at his disposal.

Law enforcement, failed state style

Don’t get me wrong. Maybe the post collapse community theorists are especially hip and have enough advanced and worthless university degrees and fashionable iPod accessories to cocreate, rebirth and revision the future to the point where the realities experienced by the rest of the planet won’t apply to their upmarket, urban enclaves. When the hungry teenage boys show up with their assault rifles, what does the hold-hands-in-a-circle crowd suggest you do? I know: Make sure you have lots of organic hemp hacky sacks and fair trade coffee to go around for the consciousness building session. Be prepared to discuss your past lives, have your chakras realigned and your auras cleansed. Hold a focus group on pithy bumper sticker design…

The dumb, vaguely New Age talk about community only makes sense to people who are totally ignorant of basic, observable realities on the ground. The warlord phenomenon springs forth from any power vacuum, anywhere there are groups comprised of more than a few dozen people. It’s like the sun rising in the East each morning. You can count on it.

Now, what are your options, as collapse accelerates? I see three general categories.

Accepting Rule by the Local Warlord:

To increase your chances of having a favorable relationship with a warlord and his minions, it helps if you have some of the following in common with them: Language, race, religion and other common cultural referents. In the U.S. “common cultural referents” for the warlords likely to be encountered will mostly fall into two main categories:

Category 1: Urban Poor— Rap music, mongrel dogs, lowered cars, tattoos, etc.

Category 2: Messianic Christianity— Deeply deranged and heavily armed.

You will want to think of ways to get the warlord to see your existence as somehow useful to him. Your “costs of doing business” may be lower, meaning, you might be allowed to exist under less harsh conditions than someone who is outside the warlord’s gang/tribe.

If this option seems vaguely familiar, it is! Warlords behave just like governments in collapsing states, but at a substate or local level. You have probably noticed how the U.S. Government no longer bothers itself with even maintaining an appearance of following the law. It just does what it wants. This is de facto law, or law by gun. The main difference between the failing state and the failed state has to do with the number of lawless aspirants to power. Failed states are characterized by pitched intergang violence as turf boundaries are determined.

Maybe you want to become a local warlord yourself? Well, if you’re just thinking about that idea now, chances are, you’re too late. There’s probably a local gang near you that has already determined who’s running the show. Hint: It’s not going to be you.

Mutual Aid:

Semi autonomous villages and homesteads can form loose mutual defense arrangements. When any node is threatened, a militia, drawn from all nodes, comes to the aid of the threatened node. This is not too common in practice, but there are some examples.

Look at Switzerland and the way their military works. I don’t need to go into this in detail here, but it’s very interesting and salient to this discussion. The Swiss military is cross between a standing army and a militia. A few key points:

* No generals in peacetime; during war, the Parliament elects a general

* Small core of professional full-time officers, instructors and staff, while ALL ABLE-BODIED MEN AGED 19-31 SERVE IN THE MILITARY AND THEN BECOME PART OF A READY MILITARY RESERVE (MILITIA)

* Because of the point above, the population is heavily armed; military grade assault weapons and a ready supply of ammunition are kept in most Swiss homes

Why does this work in Switzerland?

The Swiss are all pretty much on the same page in terms of core cultural referents. This is the source of stability and the reason why no unitary warlord is necessary. If you think that the U.S. is having a hard time in Iraq, that is nothing compared to what an invader would face in Switzerland.

Farmers in South Africa are trying mutual aid arrangements as they are now routinely attacked and murdered by armed gangs. See: The Farmer Armies of South Africa:

Conserv Security assesses individual communities and draws up security plans for them. This includes rosters for community patrols, firearms training, rural survival skills and self-defence. The company serves about 3 000 landowners in the area.

Roberts said that in a three-month period, patrols by local armed landowners had helped bring down the crime rate in Muldersdrift from one attack every two-and-a-half days to one every 21 days. Police have slammed these local farmer patrols, saying they went against the laws of the country.

The unofficial farmer armies patrolling the Muldersdrift streets, many of them set up in response to the government’s decision to phase out military commandos in 2003, is illustrative of a growing trend around the country.

More and more farmers are organising themselves into rural protection units, and in many provinces have rejected the South African Police Service’s sector policing strategy as incompetent. The complaints range from police being involved in crime to a lack of vehicles and staff.

The initiative appears to be led by ex-military officials who, in the northern reaches of the country, lead military-style exercises against suspected criminals with names like Operation Clenched Fist.

Velskoen-and-firearm brigades have led to a significant drop in crime, according to Gideon Meiring, chairperson of the TAU’s safety and security committee.

Meiring, a former army colonel in charge of military intelligence, said candidly that his point of departure was that “it’s either us or them”.

Meiring was unapologetic about the security support groups he has helped to set up in provinces like Limpopo, North West and Mpumalanga, saying the police “are not part of the solution but part of the bloody problem”.

He has been involved in setting up what the TAU calls the Greenlight Police, an association of patrolling farmers with flashing green lights fixed to the top of their vehicles.

Meiring also runs frequent three-day self-defence courses. Men, women and children are taught first aid, how to use ordinary household items to protect themselves, and how to fire AK-47s, R-4s and pump-action rifles.

If you’re going to go with mutual aid, begin training early and often. Think of the Swiss, but expect a situation more like the one the South African farmers are facing.

Deep Isolation

It is said that no man is an island, but you’ll probably be left alone if you can figure out how to live in the Yukon or remote parts of Alaska. A place many miles from nowhere, coupled with extreme climatic conditions can work to your advantage.

Of course, this option is only viable for highly motivated individuals who don’t require much outside human interaction. (There aren’t many people like this, by the way.) Extreme weather conditions mean that you would have to focus a great deal of time, energy and money on the problem of simply surviving the elements. Anyone who goes with this option, however, understands the warlord issue.

This is truly an “Army of One,” or, “An Army of a Few.” There aren’t any warlords because there aren’t any minions. To be out in these places in the first place, even while states are up and running, is difficult. In a failed state situation, these areas will most likely be cut off from the starving hordes in the cities and the resulting chaos.

Now, for those of you reading in large cities, which is most of you, here’s a current example of what you have to look forward to if state authority breaks down.

Via: CNN:

The fight between U.S.-led forces and militants in and near Baghdad and the sectarian civil war raging in the capital has overshadowed another grim wartime reality — the factional strife in Iraq’s southern Shiite heartland.

Experts who study the region attribute the instability to turf battles among “warlords” and their fighters in an unstable political and social environment that is coming to resemble a failed state.

“Iraqi politicians are progressively turning into warlords,” Peter Harling, senior analyst with the Middle East Program of the Brussels, Belgium-based International Crisis Group. What has been unfolding in the south, he says, is a “very crude struggle over power and resources.”

“Violence has become the routine means of interacting with the local population,” Harling says of the militias, which have filled the power vacuum after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

“They see no interest in seeing a functional state emerge.”

MUST READ Related: Gangs Spreading in U.S. Military

Posted in Collapse | Top Of Page

29 Responses to “The Failed State and You: Iraq Offers a Preview of What’s Coming”

  1. Bert Says:

    Your page is hazardous to my blissful state of denial. This story more than any in recent memory.

  2. cryingfreeman Says:

    I’ve been very seriously contemplating Swiss residency, even going so far as to meet with a Geneva banker to discuss “logistics”, but I worry about the proximity to large German and Italian cities as well as the self-sufficiency options (or lack thereof) in the high Alps.

  3. Alek Hidell Says:

    @Kevin: Have you hooked up with a local mutual defence group? Northland (all of NZ really) is pretty heavily gang tagged and has plenty of meth users. Heck, even little Kawakawa is gang infested. I am assuming that gang membership is out of the question for Pakehas.

    (page 2) “In Kaitaia, for example, you have Black Power and Mongrel Mob together. This is also the source of the fight in Wanganui. Black Power and Mongrel Mob are living in the town together.”

  4. Alek Hidell Says:

    PS: The South African Farmer Army is in NZ now. They have settled in a gated community (kraal) for self defence. Needless to say, there are no Somalis or state houses inside The Sanctuary:

  5. Jack-Booted EULA Says:

    Ya well, I predicted *years* ago, that I would eventually go down in a hail of gunfire, standing up for what’s right.

    Warlords, my own government, no big effing diff really. I’ll still be dead, right?

    Just so long as I can get at least two of them first :o)

  6. d Says:

    These militias further their power hold by taking all the boys, kill all the men and savagely rape the women and girls.

    Jared Diamond in Collapse makes a convincing argument that civil wars of this sort are the Malthusian result of overpopulation and not strictly groups filling power vacuums.

  7. d Says:

    Also, Jeff Vail, a frequent contributor on The Oil Drum, has posted on what he calls “rhizome” resiliency.

    These posts talk exactly about how to leverage distributed power for self protection.

  8. amanfromMars Says:

    And the story you highlighted with “Goldman Sachs Creates Private Stock Exchange” suggests the Establishment aren’t hedging their bets but trying to ensure they’re considered one of the team/gang/boys.

    Hiding the fact that they may be wholly responsible for the Catastrophe/Meltdown is going to a trick and a half they’ll need some far out help to pull off. That ball is firmly in their court though and whether they kick it onto the game is that which will define their Future prospects.

    And Time is not a luxury they can afford, which must really bug them. But they have a lot more to worry about than just the simple brainwashed foot soldier, they have the sophisticated invisible brain washer dealing Zero Day Trades and Immunity and Refuge in Space…… an Expensive Place in which to live but not nearly as costly as beseiged and surrounded with a Mountain View.

    Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance though.

  9. DrFix Says:

    The South African farmers know that their Marxist government hasn’t the slightest intention of curbing the violence, because thats part of their redistributionist plans. They have made promises to their “constituents”, whoever and wherever the hell that might be, to dole out land and you can see Zimbabwe as the prime example of what happened afterwards.

    Those kleptomaniacs out in the world won’t admit they know absolutely nothing about how to really make money or create anything, but sure as the sun sets they know about using brute force at the end of a gun. Thats the “language” they all, regardless of which country, speak fluently.

    Of course the so-called police don’t like it because it proves they’ve become useless or complicit in the nations collapse. Thats something they don’t want to shed more light on so better to try and force people to live with their toothless services. If they, the Afrikaaners, are moving to NZ I’d count that as a blessing in disguise. They haven’t bowed to indoctrination being force fed to them and roll over like a dog.

    Could Americans behave like the Swiss? Not on the scale of the nation as it now stands, it’s too big and too messed up. Thats where the Swiss naturally have their act together because of their cultural cohesion and small size. It, the States that is, would split up into many enclaves. The most vicious would naturally be in the urban centers where a dog eat dog battle would ensue.

    I’d get the hell out of the cities as fast as humanly possible. Take a job for less money and move to smaller communities FAR away. There are many out there clamoring for people, desperate even. So pioneer your way back to someplace you could actually get land and survive. The further you are from the metro areas the better because when the hordes start fleeing you don’t want to be anywhere near the exodus. Things will get very ugly.

  10. DrFix Says:

    Man from Mars… You know the “6 P” principle? That was a line Robert Duvall said in The Killer Elite, a forgettable movie, but the phrase wasn’t.

    “proper planning prevents piss-poor performance”

  11. Ozzy "The Man" Diaz Says:


    By warlords, whom exactly do you mean? Are you suggesting that the U.S. federal government, including its public and private organs, will Balkanize into warring factions? That sounds like it would be bad for business. Surely, when it comes to military might, they hold the cards. This is Their home turf. I mean, you have a nexus of public official government, private security organizations, and then organized crime. Between those three groups, you have more weapons and ruthlessness than some piddly street-gang. In so-called failed states, the gangs have the initiative, whereas in successful states, the government has it. Iraq is a failed state because it was made into one. The military was disbanded, and the Baathists, rather than being bought off, were hunted down as dead-enders. This way we can justify our presence there indefinitely.

    If you want to know what the U.S. will be like in the event of a failed state scenario, go down to New Orleans and have a look at the 9th Ward, where military Hummers still patrol. The street gangs still exist, but only because the official gangs allow it. If you go to the other side of town, near the college campuses, it’s business as usual and everything looks pristine.

    So basically, I find this post incongruous with other posts describing a fascist lock-down. Which is it, anarchy or tyranny?

  12. steve Says:

    Is this why gold will be useful? To hand over in exchange for protection. Otherwise why would you want to carry around all that heavy shiny useless metal?

  13. Aaron Says:


    This post outlines a really important factor of post crash life and I totally agree that new-agey visions are not going to come about but I also think that reality will be a lot more complicated than this.

    I think that true (as opposed to new agey) community will spring up. I don’t base this on wishful thinking but on what has happened in the past (including in Iraq). It is also the untold story of what happened in New Orleans. People do pull-together in the old fashioned way. It’s such an unknown concept in this crap, so-called advanced modern world that it’s hard to imagine, but it happens everytime people are foced to rely on each other.

    Aside from what you can read about New Orleans. I interviewed Joe Polaischer a while back, he’s a NZ permaculturist who grew up in Austria during the war (you’ve probably heard of him) He was in Austria at the end of WW2 and said people did come out looking for food but that people also worked together to support each other as well.

    I’ve got some of the text on my blog, the blog’s probably not your cup of tea but here are the links.

    Also includes fascinating story about self sufficiency in a shanty town in S America and the link to the original radio interview

    Here’s a link to an interview with Geoff Lawton, another permaculturist, who worked in Iraq

    and at the bottom of this Ran Prieur essay is some text about the interview.

    Basically it’s Geoff Lawton talking about how people in a town, in Iraq, worked together to keep their town working.

    My belief is, of course there will be strife, maybe lots, but there WILL also be community stuff going on – and much stronger than anything we have now. One of my big fears is that people overly focused on the strife side of things will actually increase the possibilty of it happening. It’s dangerous to only see half the picture, irrespective of which half it is.

    Lastly, the best way to prevent any of this happening is to ensure food security in your area. It may be touchingly naieve to think we can tackle this problem but given the level of permaculture knowledge in the area you live in Kevin, if it can be done anywhere it can be done there. Personally I intend to put some of my focus on the permaculurist’s visions of abundance because it is the one thing that can solve security problems in both the short and long terms.

    Sorry for the length of this but I think it’s a big deal

  14. Chuck Says:


    The reason folks carry “heavy shiny useless metal” is because its held its value for over 5 millenia, which is a pretty damn good track record by any measure.

    Which should one hold in higher esteem: 5,000 years of proven history or the uninformed opinion of an ignoramous? Your call, folks.

  15. jd Says:

    You make some good points. However, the question at hand is the future, not the past. Is the future going to be more like Austria after WW2 or Sierra Leone, Somalia, Iraq, SA of today? Neither of these places has much in common with the USA of today. (I can’t speak for NZ). I think Ozzy is much closer. Rich, white people’s lives will slowly get more violent, while poor, non-white people’s live will quickly get more violent. If there was complete anarchy, you might have a chance for some bottom-up community to develop. But I think the dregs of the current military/industrial society will continue to prevent that, at least in the short term.

  16. snorky Says:

    Do not forget that once you get out of the cities and suburbs, it will take a while for you to adapt to rural, remote living. Folks, you need to get out now (!), get your rural place together, which (for us anyway) takes 2-5 years, as I said in this article at and other news items. You need to prepare NOW, whether the collapse happens or not (it is bound to happen at some point)

  17. Anonymous Says:

    Well, I’ve always known this. It would be an exceptionally good idea to give everyone guns to make it harder for warlords to work. After this, mutual aid should be able to form loose-nit citizen militias, then we will all be safe and happy!

  18. amanfromMars Says:

    Are not the dregs of the current military/industrial society causing all the woe?

    And surely the answer is very simple [always a good idea so that society can care for all, from the very brightest, gifted wit right down to the slowest useful idiot…… although I’m sure that there will be voices suggesting that it is not so simple, which of course creates doubt and division and a drain on resolve … and the appearance of the lesser useless idiot. But then again, education or rather the lack of education is a major factor in all Society breakdowns in that there is no knowledge shared that we have been down these roads many times before with WW1 and WW2 being the most recent end game plays. There is nothing new in Conflict for it is Man’s folly and the Devil’s curse to recycle its pain. A path well trod by the Intellectually Challenged too.

    If we consider that the picture which is being painted in this thread is leading to the sort of meltdown as would result in a WW3 scenario, then it would be logical to consider what was done after the last conflict, WW2, and to follow its same steps in a modern idiom for it rebuilt war torn nations and economies and made them powerhouses of development.

    Of course, the first thing that had to happen was a simple agreement to stop fighting each other…. which suggests that the madness causing the evil/the evil causing the madness that is deadly conflict, resides in those pushing its poison.

    And the junk it is pushing is aided and abetted by Media, which Intelligence, if it got its IT Act together, could harness to produce with Beta Programming and Programs of Edutainment, a Global ARGonaut Initiative [Alternate Reality Game] previewing Present day Plans and Projects which are Real Time Future Presentations for Civil Comment/Input/Participation.

    And with Advanced Artificial Intelligence Concepts in Computer Programming, can the Internet and Communications InterNetworking, Share the Visions and Initiatives and make them Real.

    And all that has to be done, is that you pay/give /credit such Programmers with nothing more than printed paper….. for that appears to be the preferred method of Control in Society for without it, nothing involving others can be done.

    It does make one wonder at the wisdom of those who would hoard it in vaults rather than use it. After all, it isn’t really theirs to keep, is it, and when it is so easy just to print it and distribute it to energise the Creation of the Future Reality [news of such schemes, abused in Iraq, abound] why give the impression that one needs to collect it to have any worth.

    .. “the man who dies thus rich dies disgraced.” …Andrew Carnegie, which has a perfect companion in “For the love of money is the root of all evil”

    Vroom, vroom? …

  19. Ozzy "The Man" Diaz Says:

    I agree with Kevin on the point of the collapse being “phony” in that it is not necessary but merely convenient, expedient, and designed to keep the current regime in power. However, this regime does not want anarchy and warlords all over; only in certain areas like Afghanistan, and in Africa. Basically, anywhere that is resource-rich to make the plundering relatively easy. This does not mean “safe” for the people who have to actually plunder, it just means that there will be no formal government to bargain with.

    As for the so-called “core” of the regime, it will become increasingly mechanized, regulated, monitored, taxed, squeezed, etc. The standard of living will go down; people will work more for less, the justification being a “scarcity.” You may even see rationing like during WWII. People could be ordered to grow Victory gardens again.

    I think we will probably see “clean” “green” fascism; but our resource consumption will still be relatively high.

    In a real fuel-scarcity situation, there would probably be restrictions on who or what could travel, with priorities being placed on transportation of food, water, and other necessities. The closer one gets to the center of an Empire, the more stability there has to be to makes things easy for the Praetorian guard. Anarchy in the U.S.A. or in Europe would almost certainly be bad for Them.

    Eurasia, the Middle East, and especially Africa; that’s a different story.

    But, it’s never wise to make predictions; especially about the future.

  20. amanfromMars Says:

    “This does not mean “safe” for the people who have to actually plunder, it just means that there will be no formal government to bargain with.”

    If dialogue were established in order to set up and assist in a formal, informed government and populace, [and that open transparency is the vital element to ensure that all know of developments] then the most modern of Infrastructures could be built for the Mutual Benefit of All …. with Natural Resources providing for Needs rather than appears to be the case in Iraq and Afghanistan being exported and/or purloined for excessive Profit elsewhere …. in exchange for paper money, easily printed to appear worth billions but rather worthless with nothing to spend it on with no Infrastructure Build. What a Scam and it has been going on for decades if not half a century if not even longer than that.

    How much does oil cost at source ie how much goes into a oil nations exchequer just for being able to extract it and take it away for refinement into its many products. Whenever one considers the crude price with all of the costs for transport and refinement and labour and depreciation and and and ..the figures do not stand up. So what is going on if not a global scam?

  21. Robert Says:

    During Argentina’s economic crisis (1999-2002), the rural hinterlands were the most dangerous places to live.

    The same applies in Sierra Leone to this day. You also see this situation playing out in South Africa presently, isolated farms and homesteads are being targeted.

    Even in first world countries (UK) in non-crisis situations , you see the same:
    Rural crime breeds ‘siege mentality’

    Isolated farm = soft target

  22. cryingfreeman Says:

    @ Robert: I think the Argentinian guy makes it clear that rural locales are the best overall option, but only as long as you have access to neighbours, relatives or friends who can provide some measure of “doubling up”. The danger he highlights, as you correctly conclude, is someone trying to go totally solo in a remote farm retreat.

    The IRA murdered several farmers (who often but not always also happened to be part-time policemen / soldiers) in remote parts of Northern Ireland on their farms; the farmers’ wives used to stand guard with shotguns while their husbands worked the fields, but it was little deterrant to the IRA when once they had targetted a farmer for elimination.

  23. Aaron Says:

    jd wrote: “You make some good points. However, the question at hand is the future, not the past”

    How recent does it have to be before you consign into ancient hsiotry. I mentioned the current war in Iraq AND Hurricane Katrina. Here’s a link for the stuff that happened in New Orleans that the mainstream media didn’t tell you about

    I repeat: I’m not saying that Kevin’s scenario won’t happen. I’m saying both Chaos AND Community will happen.

    Personally, I’m planning on optimising the chances of the second scenario occurring.

  24. billp Says:

    Let’s see what happens with Carter

    and Feehan

  25. John Doh Says:

    How ironic peace sign “trigger discipline”

  26. Ozzy "The Man" Diaz Says:

    @ Aaron; the truthout link doesn’t work. To what were your referring?

  27. Mike Says:

    Ozzy, don’t assume that the elites would not want a warlord society for us, they are perfectly content on fractionalizing any society for control. Divide and conquer is just as valid a technique in US as it is in Iraq. As for the “bad for business” argument, that’s just red herring, elites don’t give a crap whether it is bad for business, it’s controlling society and keeping themselves on top is what they are concerned with. Business is just a constructive utility they use, a means to an end, if they can accomplish the same goal using a communist system they would use that.

  28. qd Says:

    Kevin, I’m interested to see if you have any observations regarding Alex Hidell’s comment…

  29. Aaron Says:

    The problem with the link I put above is the dot at the end. Try this:

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