Alternative Insight

The Painful Future of Iraq

History describes Iraq as a nation in constant turmoil that used force to stay united. Present events indicate legislative impasses leading to continuous conflicts. U. S. military attempts to maintain stability in Iraq are becoming fruitless. No arrangement can change an Iraqi past that conditioned its ethnic groups towards different agendas and therefore shaped their futures with different expectations.

The Past that Can't be Overcome
Ethnic rivalries between the Arab and non-Arab Iraqi populations and between the fundamentalist and secular Muslims have been consistent in the post WWI shaping of the "land between the two rivers."
The present interim government arrangement of distributing power in accord with ethnicity is not democracy; it is a compromise with rivalries. Recognizing and strengthening rivalries doom the artificial arrangements and the possibility of a political democracy. Imagine a Britain that requires a specific number of Scots, Welsh and English in its cabinet positions.

The non-Arab Kurds are too close to having their own state to retreat back to sharing power and then being betrayed.
Five-thousand year-old Sumerian writings mention a "land of the Karda." Despite 50 centuries of a Kurdish people, the allied powers after World War I did not solicit the Kurdish population's approval to eventually incorporate Kurdistan and its Kurds into the new Arab nation of Iraq. The British administered the "cradle of civilization" and, in 1925, attached Mosul and its newly discovered oil fields to Iraq.

In 1926, the Iraqi local-language law allowed the teaching of Kurdish in schools and Kurdish-language books in Kurdish-speaking areas. Kurds had representation in the government. The allowances did not give Kurdish nationalism the freedom it wanted.

In 1930, the guarantees to the Kurds were excluded from the Anglo-Iraqi treaty which gave Iraq its independence. Although the pledges were implemented in 1932, the Kurds under leadership of Mustafa Barzan, launched rebellions against Iraq between 1931-1937 and were eventually defeated.

In 1946-1947, a rebellion managed to establish the short-lived Kurdish autonomous Mahabad Republic in Iran.

In 1958, Abdul Karim Qasim deposed the Iraq monarchy and established a republican government. The constitution included the Kurds in the new state and guaranteed their rights.

During the 1960's, the Iraqi government withdrew concessions to the Kurds and waged a campaign of "Arabization." The government moved Arabs into Kurdish areas and adopted measures that weakened Kurdish solidarity.

In 1970, in another flip-flop, the Baath government agreed to allow an autonomous Kurd region in its northern lands and never implemented the agreement.

After 1970, the Kurds actively resisted the government, allied themselves at times with Iraq's principal enemy Iran and, in the next three decades, sporadically received harsh treatment from Saddam Hussein's government.

In 2005,
the Kurds have almost fulfilled their aspirations for a federated Kurdish state. An autonomous ?Kurdistan Regional Government? exists, although it is still denied control of the oil-rich and predominantly Kurdish city of Kirkuk. The Kurdistan Alliance slate won about 26% of the vote in the first Iraq election and 75 seats in Iraq's National Assembly. Kurd leader Jalal Talabani serves as interim President of Iraq and Kurds fill nine of the 37 cabinet positions.

However, the more radical Kurds want:

  • A federated state of Kurdistan,
  • Control of oil-rich Kirkuk, and
  • Incorporation of Turkish and Iranian Kurds into one state.

An observation: Iraq needs the Kurds and their Kurdistan territory more than the Kurds need Sunni and Shiite Iraq.

The Iraq Sunnis and Shiites, divided further by secular and fundamentalist persuasions, cannot easily reconcile their differences.
In many nations, the areas of less fundamentalist groups readily pursue educational and commercial opportunities and gain administrative and financial control of the nation. Iraq is an example of this happenstance. The Iraqi Sunnis are more secular than the Shiites and have become wealthier and more powerful. It is difficult to believe that the Sunnis will permit their power to be permanently reduced. It is difficult to believe that a previously secular Iraq will permit entry of fundamentalist leadership into the governing bodies.

It isn't only the troubled past that predicts conflict in Iraq.

  • Establishment of several nations that were also artificially created after World War I were reversed in the decades after World War II.
  • For political purposes, some nations welcome a weakened Iraq and are eager to provoke Iraq's dismemberment.
  • Nationalism, once considered a cause of wars, has become re-defined as ethnic identity and has popularized ethnic separation as an end to local strife.

Forces impelling the conflict in Iraq

Post-World War I Modifications
The Austrian-Hungarian empire split into several states after the end of World War I. Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia are two examples. These nations, in addition to an eventual Soviet Union, emerged from the guidance of revolutionary leadership that seized the opportunity to forge new nations based upon the unification of loosely allied peoples in common struggles.

Seventy years later, the end of the Cold War re-invigorated nationalism and the nations newly created from the ashes of WWI were split in accord with ethnic identities. Czechoslovakia split into Slovak and Czech Republics, Yugoslavia into several nations and the Soviet Union into a multitude of republics. The conditions in each of these countries, which brought them from unification to separation, also exist in Iraq. Geopolitical considerations, such as those that impelled the destruction of Yugoslavia, are also apparent in Iraq-- some nations didn't want a strong and united Yugoslavia and some nations don't want a strong and united Iraqi.

Welcoming a Weakened Iraq
Israel, Iran and the United States benefit by a weak and smaller Iraq.

Iraq has been a sworn enemy of Israel and Israel has feared a strong Iraq.

A Seymour Hersh article in the New Yorker magazine, June 28, 2004, titled:PLAN B, As June 30th approaches, Israel looks to the Kurds.

The former Israeli intelligence officer acknowledged that since late last year Israel has been training Kurdish commando units to operate in the same manner and with the same effectiveness as Israel?s most secretive commando units, the Mistaravim. The initial goal of the Israeli assistance to the Kurds, the former officer said, was to allow them to do what American commando units had been unable to do?penetrate, gather intelligence on, and then kill off the leadership of the Shiite and Sunni insurgencies in Iraq. (I was unable to learn whether any such mission had yet taken place.)

Senior German officials told me, with alarm, that their intelligence community also has evidence that Israel is using its new leverage inside Kurdistan, and within the Kurdish communities in Iran and Syria, for intelligence and operational purposes.

Iran has had waterway disputes with Iraq and been in constant conflict with Iraq.
The emergence of the Shiites as the leading force in Iraq doesn't improve the situation. According to analysts, the Iraq Shiites power is not beneficial to Iran.

Fall of Hussein Could Lead to a Shift in Center, Focus of Shiite Muslims
Azadeh Moaveni , Times Staff Writer, LA Times , April 17, 2003

TEHRAN -- The fall of Saddam Hussein's regime is likely to lead to the reemergence of the holiest site in Shiite Islam, the Iraqi city of Najaf, and foster a more moderate form of the religion that could challenge the authority of Iran's Islamic Republic among the world's 170 million Shiites, religious scholars say.

The reemergence of Najaf could assist Iranian reformers and offer Shiites elsewhere a more open interpretation of the faith, the scholars say.
An important Shiite figure in Iran, Mohsen Kadivar, who spent 18 months in prison for criticizing his country's system, said that because of its own Shiite traditions, "Iraq could end up with the sort of government Iran was supposed to have -- religious, but also democratic."

"If there is freedom in Iraq, many would go to Najaf. Qom would be lessened as a place of scholarship," said the preeminent Shiite religious
authority in Lebanon, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah.

The United States has accepted casualties and expended resources in an effort do what? The reasons for the U.S. attack on Iraq are still not clear but the best guesses are to establish strategic military bases, control Iraq's oil resources and neutralize the Arab world's most potent power. If even any of these are true, and they seem likely, why would the U.S. permit a united, sovereign and strong Iraq?

Ethnic identity shaping nationalism
After World War I, the Ottoman Empire provinces of Mosul (Kurdish), Baghdad(Sunni), and Basra (Shiite) were merged into one political entity, the nation of Iraq. British military authorities remained in control and disparate ethnic groups combined their efforts to defeat the occupiers. Iraq finally emerged as an independent political entity in 1932. Since then, it has been a troubled nation of military coups, assassinations, power seizures, parliament dissolutions and dictatorial rule. Only Saddam Hussein, using brutal methods, had been able to rule for an extended length of time. Since his overthrow, the Kurds and Shiite populations have become more aggressive in gaining power, which makes the challenges for a new Iraq more serious than for previous governments.

The inability of the Iraq National Assembly to readily achieve common goals and the lengthy debates in trying to form a complete cabinet that is acceptable to all persuasions highlights the delicate situation in Iraq. This delicate situation has a hinge, a center of gravity that determines who controls Iraq.

Center of Gravity
It is not rare for one location to act as a "flashpoint" for strife. Mexican Santa Anna's capture of the Alamo became a rallying cry the U.S. to revenge attacks on the Texans that occupied Mexican territory. Jerusalem was the focus of the Crusades and is at the center of Israel's takeover of Palestinian lands. Hitler's Germany used the Polish refusal to allow a convenient German connection to the port city of Danzig (Gdansk) as one reason for its invasion of Poland.

Kirkuk, a multicultural city containing Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen, has become a"flashpoint" in the Iraqi battleground. Oil rich, centrally located, crossroads in all directions and a dividing point between Arab and non-Arab populations, Kirkuk has become the center of gravity for a united Iraq nation. Without control of Kirkuk the Sunni populations have no oil-rich region. Without Kirkuk, Kurdish nationalism is subdued.

Barzani Ready for War over Kirkurk, Foreign News Services,

While Celal Talabani, leader of the Iraq Kurdistan Patriotic Union (IKYB), and Necirvan Barzani, President of the Regional Kurdish Government, are in Ankara on official visits, Mesud Barzani, leader of the Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party, is in Iraq gathering attention with incendiary remarks.

During a meeting with his staff in Selahattin, Barzani said that Kerkuk (Kirkuk) was the heart of Kurdistan, then added, "We are ready to fight to protect this identity and we are ready to sacrifice our lives to protect the gains that the Iraqi Kurds have achieved."

Despite attempts at reconciliation and sharing power, each of the major Iraq factions will strive to gain as much as possible for its own constituency. Compromise will not be easy. Contradictions preclude a stable situation.

The Contradictions
Unresolved contradictions are sufficient to prevent Iraq from becoming a viable nation.

  • The U. S. presence in Iraq has encouraged the violence but the U.S. cannot leave because the Iraqis cannot contain the violence.
  • The Kurds want to be part of a greater Iraq but they cannot ignore their brethren in Turkey and Iran who want to be part of an independent Kurdistan.
  • Turkey wants to support a united Iraq but cannot support increased power of the Kurds in Iraq who could motivate the Turkish Kurds to fight for separation.
  • The U.S. promotes the Shiite population to gain power but can't ignore the fact that religious fundamentalists might rule Iraq.
  • Iran wants Shiite rule in Iraq but cannot ignore the fact that the Shiites in Iraq are a threat to the Iranian government.
  • The U.S. promotes sovereignty in Iraq but realizes that an independent Iraq might use its oil exports as a weapon to counter U.S. support of Israel.
  • Reactionary Arab governments want a strong Arab nation in Iraq but realize that a democratic Iraqi nation might endanger their own situations.
  • The heirs of the new Iraq want to exclude the Baathists from roles in the new Iraq but they realize the Baathists have the needed experience and skills to manage the military, government and economy.

All of this analysis leads to a painful conclusion: Iraq has a painful future.

The Painful Future of Iraq
The right or wrong of situations doesn't matter when civil war (or any war) envelopes a nation. Citizens are reluctant to desert their own ethnic group-- remember America's Civil War, Bosnia, Kosovo, Angola, Rwanda? Propaganda can easily persuade others to the righteousness of a cause. When there is no strong central government to quell the civil war, it can become unrestrained. This is Iraq's present situation.

Civil War Is No Longer a Taboo Phrase in Iraq, Luke Baker, Reuters , 27 April 2005

Civil war. It?s a phrase everyone in Iraq has strenuously avoided for the past two years.

Yet now, with no government formed three months after elections, and tensions deepening between Iraq?s Muslim sects and other groups, it?s on many people?s minds. Several clashes between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in events apparently unrelated to the two-year-old anti-US insurgency have highlighted the danger in recent months.

Whereas once politicians were not willing to utter the term for fear of dignifying it, it is no longer taboo. ?I do not want to say civil war, but we are going the Lebanese route, and we know where that led,? says Sabah Kadhim, an adviser to the Interior Ministry who spent years in exile before returning to Iraq after Saddam Hussein?s overthrow. ?We are going to end up with certain areas that are controlled by certain warlords ... It?s Sunni versus Shiite, that is the issue that is really in the ascendancy right now, and that wasn't the case right after the elections.?

If it's not a civil war for power, it will be a civil war for separation. Extreme Kurdish elements will not surrender their ambitions for an independent Kurdish state.

And if it's not a civil war, it will be another war. The U.S. will not permit an Iraqi state that is not aligned with U.S. interests.

What is a worthwhile prediction for the future of Iraq?

It might be a realignment of Southern Iraq's Sunni and Shiite populations for defense of Iraq's integrity, including preventing the loss of Mosul and Kirkuk as partially inhabited Arab cities. To accomplish these purposes, the Iraqis will suspend some rights during an emergency situation and place their future with a cadre of leaders who have the required support of the people.

The world will observe two corollaries to the conflict in Iraq:

(1) Although post 9/11 terrorism didn't come to the U. S., the U.S. brought terrorism to Iraq.
(2) America can either leave Iraq immediately and gradually recover from the blow to its socio-economic system or leave later and take a more severe blow that will make its recovery more difficult.

alternative insight
may 1, 2005