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Nasty, brutish and long

Northern Ireland apart, many new civil wars drag on because we don't let anyone win

By Monica Toft   April 2009

It’s a busy time for civil wars. The Sri Lankan army has pushed far into Tamil territory, seeking a decisive victory. The killings in Northern Ireland show how spoilers try to gain advantage over rivals in any political process. Then there is the threat that recently pacified civil wars, such as those in Iraq and Sudan, will come back, while the global recession may push new ones forward.

First, the good news. If public opinion in Northern Ireland is a guide, the violence will fail. The murders are widely perceived as criminal, while sympathy for the victims runs deep. The…

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