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How to Prevent a New Wave of Iraqi Refugees — and Solve the Middle East

avatar by Mordechai Kedar

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Kurdish Peshmerga fighters from Syria and Iraq on the frontline against ISIS. Photo:

Syrian President Basher al-Assad is regaining power in his country with the help of an Iranian Shiite coalition that is made up of Iranian fighters, Hezbollah forces, and Iraqi and Afghan militias. It is possible that in the near future, this coalition will try to rid Syria of the millions of Sunnis who make up the majority of the country’s citizens; their goal would be to prevent further rebellions of the type that Syria experienced from 1976 to 1982, and during the past six-and-a-half years.

After writing last week about this possibility, I was contacted by Sheikh Walid Azawi, an Iraqi Sunni living in exile in Europe, who heads a party called “The Patriotic 20 Rebellion.” He told me about the situation in Iraq, where he claims that — for years now — Tehran has been the real ruler, with its ayatollahs dictating Iraqi government policy and actions.

Iranian hegemony blends in well in Iraq, which is a majority Shiite country. Now that the Islamic caliphate established by ISIS in Iraq has disintegrated, the Sunnis there have no armed organization to protect themselves from Iranian and Iraqi Shiite rage.

The Iraqi Shiites’ attempt to rid the country of its Sunni minority is motivated by a desire for revenge. Since its creation in 1921, Iraq has been ruled by the Sunni minority, which make up less than a third the total population — and most recently by Saddam Hussein, who treated the Shiites with terrible cruelty. After his defeat in the 1991 Gulf War, for example, Saddam butchered thousands of Shiites who attempted to find safety at the gravesite of Hussein ibn Ali in the city of Najef.

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There is an even older feud between the Iranians and Saddam’s Sunni regime, dating back to the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, which took the lives of more than a million people —  citizens and soldiers — on both sides. The war, during which both sides used chemical weapons, ended in Iran’s defeat, when the chemical warfare waged against Tehran killed thousands of civilians.

The Iraqi and Iranian Shiite desire for revenge on Saddam is now directed against his entire religious group, the Sunnis, who stand unprotected and unarmed against a strengthening Shiite world. The collective power of Sunni forces has been weakening rapidly over the past few months in the face of the growing strength of the Shiite coalition made up of Iran, Hezbollah, and the Iraqi and Afghan militias.

Sheikh Azawi claims that as a result of this enormous shift in the balance of power, the Shiites will do everything they can to expel the Sunnis from Iraq to any country, whether or not the receiving country is willing to accept them. If this scenario does come to pass, about ten million Iraqi refugees will soon be joining the waves of the 15-20 million existing refugees. This new wave could turn Europe, North and South America, Asia and/or Africa into economic disaster areas, leading to social unrest and political maelstroms. (Were this stark scenario to materialize, one should thank Iran and all those who strengthened that country over the past few years.)

I asked the sheikh what solution he and his party propose to save the Iraqi Sunnis, and convince them to remain in their homeland. His answer was a surprise: “The Emirate Solution,” which he is convinced is the only approach that can save the Iraqi Sunnis from ethnic cleansing.

The Emirate Solution envisages partitioning the country into regional states along the lines of the US — or cantons as in the Swiss model, each with internal autonomy. Iraq would become a federation with a limited central government, while each emirate would run the lives of whatever group resides in its territory. Each emirate would lead its own life and refrain from interfering in the policies of the others. Each would be ruled by the local sheikh, who would follow the population’s social traditions. This plan, claims Sheikh Azawi, should create harmony, stability and peaceful relations among neighboring emirates for the good of all the citizenry.

The Emirate Solution would also grant self-rule to the Kurds of Northern Iraq, making the establishment of an independent Kurdish state unnecessary, and circumventing the violent antagonism of the Iranians, Turks and Arabs to its existence.

The Kurdish region of northern Iraq is surrounded by states that do not share Kurdish dreams of independence, and the nascent state has no corridor to the sea. If the neighboring states were to ally against the Kurdish state, should one be established, they could prevent goods and people from reaching it, and the Kurds would have no way of leading normal lives. How would they export oil and other products? How would they import necessities?

If the Kurds were instead to achieve independence within the framework of the Emirate Solution, what would be the problem? The answer: Iran, which will not agree to such a plan now that it has taken over Iraq — unless it is forced to do so. And the only power capable of forcing Tehran to agree to anything is the US.

Sheikh Azawi is prepared to go to the US at a moment’s notice to meet with decision-makers there, and explain the logic behind his peace plan for Iraq. The Americans, however, are busy dealing with other issues: North Korea; the domestic battle between the political right and left; who is going to resign or be fired from Trump’s staff; and a rapid series of natural disasters. It will be no easy task to sustain American interest at a time of so many other serious challenges.

Afghanistan is another country that gives Washington a blinding headache. The 17 years of American involvement there, the spilled American blood and the enormous amounts of money poured into the country, have not yielded any appreciable results — for one main reason.

Washington has been using all of its power to preserve the artificial Afghan entity that was established by the British and the Russians in the 19th century. This, despite the fact that the country is riddled with ethnic strife that prevents the creation of a homogeneous, united nation. The only results so far have been blood, fire and tears.

If the Americans and their allies were instead to dismantle the illegitimate entity called Afghanistan and turn it into autonomous, independent states based on local familial rule, Afghanistan could become a land of peace and tranquility. Its religious, family and ethnic groups could lead their own lives and allow one another to do the same — in peace.

Interestingly, the same Emirate Solution could also be applied to the seven cities of the West Bank in addition to the Gazan emirate that was established a decade ago. I am not a fan of Hamas, but for all intents and purposes, Gaza is an effective state, and Israel must find a way to deter the jihadist regime controlling it. Establishing emirates in the West Bank would grant the people there stability, prosperity and quiet, and would give Israel peace.

The same solution can solve Jordan’s problem as well. The kingdom can be divided into a Palestinian emirate, perhaps more than one, and a Bedouin emirate. The king would be a symbolic figure, as is the Queen of England. Sudan has already split into two states, but both should be divided into smaller, more homogenous emirates in order to bring more stability to that blood-soaked country.

Yemen, a completely tribal society, would benefit as well from the Emirate Solution. It would become more governable and stable, certainly in comparison to the failed central government that it has at present, which has brought tens of thousands to the point of hunger, disease, suffering and death.

Sheikh Azawi’s dream, which I share, could become the basic principle employed by the world to solve the Middle East problem. Had it been employed in Syria five years ago, many of its half million dead citizens might be alive today.

Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He served for 25 years in IDF military intelligence specializing in Syria, Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups, and Israeli Arabs, and is an expert on the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups.

BESA Center Perspectives Papers, such as this one, are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family.

A Hebrew version of this article was previously published on

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