Why Iraq Must be Divided Into Three States
President Obama’s assertion during the 2012 election campaign that Al-Qaeda had been “decimated” has come back to haunt him. In a campaign speech in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on November 1, 2012, Obama said, “Thanks to sacrifice and service of our brave men and women in uniform, the war in Iraq is over, the war in Afghanistan is winding down, Al Qaeda has been decimated, and Osama bin Laden is dead.”
ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham), an Al Qaeda offshoot, is not only alive and well, but it is threatening to take over Iraq and Syria, and establish an Islamic Caliphate that, for starters, will include portions of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.
Christopher Hill, Obama’s former ambassador to Iraq said, “What goes through your mind is a trillion dollars in an effort to try and keep Iraq together and build a democracy and that’s not looking like a very good investment at this point.”
A unitary government in Iraq was a pipe dream conceived by the Bush Administration, and it remains one with President Obama. Under the cruel and punishing rule of Saddam and his Baathist predecessors, Iraq trudged through by force. The minority Sunni-Arabs lorded over a majority of Shiite and Kurds since 1932, but now the Iraqi Army is gone, as well as the feared Baathist apparatus. The Sunnis however, believe in their “right” to rule Iraq, and will never allow Iraq to be dominated by the Shiites – whom they consider heretical.
The brutal Sunni-Muslim jihadists of ISIS have wreaked havoc on the Shiite dominated Iraqi Army, and its forces are marching on south towards the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
ISIS’ victories have been partly the victories of Iraqi Sunni tribesmen, who, since 2011, have been in a state of rebellion against the Shiite dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki. The Sunni tribal chiefs claim, with much justification, that the Maliki government has mistreated them. Sheikh Khamis Al Dulaimi, a tribal leader in the Anbar Military Council of Tribal Revolutionaries, said, “This is a revolution against the unfairness and marginalization (of Sunnis-JP) of the past 11-years.” And, while the local Sunni tribal leaders reject the extremist ideology of ISIS, they sympathize with the goal of removing the Shiite-led government of Maliki.
By all accounts, Nouri Al-Maliki has been running a dictatorial and sectarian regime that has excluded the Sunnis and has been feuding with the Kurdish Regional Government in Erbil. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has put much of the blame for the current crisis at Maliki’s feet – along with Obama’s failure to negotiate a deal to keep U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq.
Now, Washington is considering working with Iran on how to stem the ISIS in Iraq. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns spent more than two hours conferring with Iranian officials. U.S. Senator John McCain says that partnering with Iran in Iraq against ISIS is the “height of folly:” “This is the same Iranian regime that has trained and armed the most dangerous Shia militant groups, that has consistently urged Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki to pursue a narrow sectarian agenda at the expense of national reconciliation, that supplies the rockets that have been fired at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, that has sponsored acts of terrorism throughout the Middle East and the world, and that continues to use Iraq’s territory and airspace to send weapons and fighters to prop up Bashar al-Assad in Syria.”
The U.S. support for Prime Minister Maliki must be conditioned on the latter taking immediate steps to bring the Sunnis to his government, and patch up relations with the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government). Failure to do so will anger the Arab Sunni states, particularly Saudi Arabia, and will ultimately harm U.S. interests in the region.
Moreover, strengthening Maliki’s grip on Iraq will only empower Iran against its nemesis – Sunni Saudi Arabia. There is no question, however, about the need to end the ISIS murderous onslaught in Iraq. Should ISIS be victorious in Iraq, it might go on to destabilize Jordan and Lebanon.
The solution is not the continued dictatorial rule of Maliki in Iraq, nor for that matter, anyone else. Sunnis will never be satisfied with a Shiite-led government and the opposite is true as well. The Kurds (KRG in Iraq) have already forged the basis of their own state – their economy is dynamic, and it has become a haven for refugees, particularly Christians, fleeing the mayhem and persecution both in Syria and Iraq. The KRG has created the closest thing to a functioning state, and could become a full-fledged democracy with a market economy, and a pro-western orientation.
Iraq was never meant to be a unitary state. Its ethnic and religious composition make it impossible. British and French colonial interests dictated the creation of an artificial states in the Levant, and British oil interests sought to bring together Basra’s oil in the South with Kirkuk’s oil in the North. Basra is predominately Shiite while Kirkuk is predominantly Kurdish. The Brits’ close collaboration with the Sharif of Mecca, or the Hashemite clan (related to the Prophet Mohammad), during WWI insured a Sunni over-lordship in this artificial creation called Iraq.
The only sane solution to the murderous mayhem in Iraq (and Syria) is to satisfy the religious, ethnic, and tribal aspirations of the Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis in Iraq. It can only be done by the U.S. and the international community supporting the division of Iraq into three separate states. A Shiite state in the South, a Sunni state in Anbar and north of Baghdad, and a Kurdish State that includes Kirkuk. The option of federalizing the three entities at a later stage will remain. Baghdad, the seat of the Abbasid Sunni Caliphate could be a shared capital of Sunnis and Shiites. Iraq, broken and divided, much like Humpty Dumpty, cannot be put back together again.