REFLECTING UPON "YUGOPOTAMIA"
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.