Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Juan Cole spoke out today on the downsides of the potential partitioning of Iraq:

"Iraq is not divided neatly into three ethnic enclaves. It is all mixed up. There are a million Kurds in Baghdad, a million Sunnis in the Shiite deep south, and lots of mixed provinces (Ta'mim, Ninevah, Diyalah, Babil, Baghdad, etc.). There is a lot of intermarriage among various Iraqi groups. Look at President Ghazi Yawir. He is from the Sunni Arab branch of the Shamar tribe. But some Shamar are Shiites. One of his wives is Nasrin Barwari, a Kurdish cabinet minister. What would partition do to the Yawirs?

Then, how do you split up the resources? If the Sunni Arabs don't get Kirkuk, then they will be poorer than Jordan. Don't you think they will fight for it? The Kurds would fight to the last man for the oil-rich city of Kirkuk if it was a matter of determining in which country it ended up.

If the Kurds got Kirkuk and the Sunni Arabs became a poor cousin to Jordan, the Sunni Arabs would almost certainly turn to al-Qaeda in large numbers. Some Iraqi guerrillas are already talking about hitting back at the US mainland. And, Fallujah is not that far from Saudi Arabia, which Bin Laden wants to hit, as well, especially at the oil. Fallujah Salafis would hook up with those in Jordan and Gaza to establish a radical Sunni arc that would destabilize the entire region

Divorced from the Sunnis, the Shiites of the south would no longer have any counterweight to religious currents like al-Dawa, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and the Sadrists. The rump Shiite state would be rich, with the Rumayla and other fields, and might well declare a Shiite Islamic republic. It is being coupled with the Sunnis that mainly keeps them from going down that road. A Shiite South Iraq might make a claim on Shiite Eastern Arabia in Saudi Arabia, or stir up trouble there. The Eastern Province can pump as much as 11% of the world's petroleum."

Iraq is the bastard child of centuries of the Ottoman Empire's communal pluralism after having been forcibly ravished by British imperialism, with Winston Churchill as the midwife. Iraq made sense as a state only as a sop to the Hashemites, the British clients rudely ejected from Mecca by Abdul Aziz. Over time, the Iraqis did acquire a sense of nationalism that, while not as rarified as the German or French varieties, has proven significantly stronger than what you find in the other artificial nation-states carved up by the colonial powers, particularly in Africa.

That being said, Iraq is held together primarily by the extrinsic pressure of Turkey that is adamantly opposed to statehood for the Kurds. If Talabani and Barzani ever manage an understanding with Ankara over the Turcomen minority, Iraq is finished, at least in it's present form since the Kurds gain little but headaches and insecurity from their Arab co-nationalists.

Nor would I put much stock in intermarriage as social glue. Intermarriage rates were high in Yugoslavia and Rwanda and we all saw how well that worked out. For Iraq to remain as a unified state there needs to be a strong economic rationale that appeals to the self-interest of Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis as well as a sense of physical security that no group will be left at the mercy of the others. That economic rationale does not exist which is why Saddam Hussein had to use terror gratuitously rather than minimally to maintain his rule and that terror has damaged any normal sense of security and trust among Iraqis required for a multiethnic civil society.

I do not think in 25 years there will be an Iraq. At best there will be an Iraq plus a Kurdistani Republic.
As I'm sure you know Iraq was formed from three Ottoman provinces: Mosul province, Baghdad province, and Basra province. The situation has has been complicated over the last 20 or so years by Saddam's Sunni-ization of parts that were not traditionally Sunni.

One of my biggest gripes about the Bush Administration is their inclination to give concessions up front that should be subject to negotiations. One of these concessions was guaranteeing the territorial integrity of Iraq. Presumably this was done to secure the support of Turkey. It wasn't effective. IMO what should have been done (to secure the support of Turkey) was to say “the fate of the territory now known as Iraq will be in the hands of the participants” i.e. no show, no go.

This appears to be a pattern for the Administration. Check out their immigration policy. They're making concessions that should be negotiated (with Mexico).

It's pretty instructive to look at the transitions in view expressed in Kurdish blogs since the invasion of Iraq. They're getting more and more pro-Kurdish state.

As far as Professor Cole goes I think he's being a bit disingenuous. He writes:

Divorced from the Sunnis, the Shiites of the south would no longer have any counterweight to religious currents like al-Dawa, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and the Sadrists. The rump Shiite state would be rich, with the Rumayla and other fields, and might well declare a Shiite Islamic republic.Sistani has opposed such a move and Cole must know this (if by Islamic republic he means an Iran-style mullahocracy).

It is being coupled with the Sunnis that mainly keeps them from going down that road. A Shiite South Iraq might make a claim on Shiite Eastern Arabia in Saudi Arabia, or stir up trouble there.He's saying this as though it's a bad thing. My own view is that the likely end game for KSA is itself being re-partitioned into its components with a north-eastern Shiite state, the holy places, and the Sauds in their traditional enclave around Riyadh.
Very incisive observations Dave.

I agree there is often a careless, unduly hasty way the Bush II ppl aproach foreign policy problems. Sort of an attitude that they can always go back and fix things later. Turkey and Wolfowitz for example. They are in a tremendous, tremendous, hurry when going a little slower might have gotten them further along in the GWOT.

Well, you can't. Even when you still have the leverage you don't always have the time in a dynamic environment. unforseen new problems crop up, the effects of dumb concessions accumulate.
Respectful observation: Gertrude Bell was the midwife of Iraq, not Churchill. The Foreign Office papers on this period are still closed, even after all this time, which suggests her shrewd solutions to the Middle East still have some mileage (and the papers might also reveal whether she was really working for MI6).

Partition of Iraq may be a sensible solution - India was a mix of religions and nationalities, but they seperated themselves out into India and Pakistan when they had to (albeit with much loss of life). The Sunnis are going to cause trouble whatever happens, so we should be prepared for this and stop trying to placate them (they can't be placated).

The challenge for the West is to develop and sponsor an acceptable face of Islam - a formula that will work with the West, has widespread support among the ordinary people, and can eventually be transmuted into a form of democracy (preferably over a long timespan).

Gertrude Bell's solution was the Hashemite monarchy - descended from The Prophet's family so it has the support of devout Muslims, yet instinctively pro-Western and conservative. It's easy to poke fun at monarchy as old-fashioned and out-of-date, but it does represent a very stable form of government. Plus there is a candidate for Iraq waiting in the wings.
Hi A. from L.

Thank you for the correction on Gettrude Bell. It's hard to believe the F.O. would still have that under wraps after all this time ( there is only one American document that is still top secret from the WWI era but it deals exclusively with MI " sources and methods", widely presumed to be cryptological fundamentals).

As a matter of practical politics I think you are right that the Sunnis are going to be recalcitrant in the final analysis. Having been a priviliged minority that maintained its position through force it is an enormous psychological shock to accept mere equality, much less the disadvantages of being a minority.

Could the Hashemites be restored to Iraq as an enlarged super-Jordan or as a second Hashemite monarchy ? The late King Hussein maintained his throne only by deft political skill and the close support of Britain and the United States ( Hussein's tight relationship with American elite circles stretched back to the Truman administration).

If I was Abdullah, I would be wary of putting my uncle or half-brother in Iraq without the power to maintain them. If the United States cannot keep order I'm not sure where Jordan would find such resources to clamp down on the Baathists and radical Sunnis.
Could the Hashemites be restored to Iraq as an enlarged super-Jordan or as a second Hashemite monarchy ? I suspect that's a dog that won't hunt. There's been quite a bit of snickering among the Iraqi bloggers about the campaigning that the presumptive king is doing.
Comrades, if I may....

First, forget a Hashemite restoration. The Hashemites, while Shurefa do not have much street cred in the Islamic world now, and certainly not with the Shia.

That and the "candidate" is not taken very seriously in the region. You can forget it.

Second, re Cole's reading on Islamic Republic. You guys do not understand Sistani.

He is not - let me repeat NOT - a secularist. He just is against Vilayet-e-Faqih, rule by the "clerics" - the term is inexact as you know. A "Sunni Style" Islamic republic - recall the Sunnis lack the clerical establishment the Twelver Shia elaborated in the past 200 years - is fully possible and even likely. Nope, Cole has it right I am afraid.

Third, in the interest of not having my little stomping grounds entirely go to hell, let me say that I find the concept of a Shia-Sunni war over eastern KSA to be distinctly A BAD MOTHERFUCKING IDEA. All nice to look at it abstractly without thinking about consequences, but then one recalls the Gulf states have the Sunni (Wahhabi) - Shia divide too. It is a very, very bad idea to plunge the major source of hydrocarbons (The Gulf, Western Shore) into chaos and sectarian strife, eh what lads?

Disliking KSA is one thing, wanting it to blow up is nevertheless a bad idea.

Hi Col,

There's a difference from *wanting*to see something happen and *discerning* whether it will. The Sunnis in Iraq will only go along with the program through some mixture of appealing to their self-interest and threat if they choose to hold out against all other Iraqi groups plus the US. So far, we have badly screwed up both the incentive and the threat angle - except insofar that we have made ourselves more hated than the psychopaths flattening half an Iraqi city block to kill a couple of GI's. That takes some doing.

I agree with you on Sistanis quietism.

Iraq is going to reflect Islamic values regardless of the composition of the central government because the overwhelming majority of the population are Muslims. But quietist and tolerant with democratic practice is a good deal better than radical, autocratic and intolerant.

Anything that is not our worst-case scenario is now our best-case scenario.
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