The Countries Formerly Known as Iraq
|I have been putting off writing this post for weeks because I haven't been able to convince myself that partition of Iraq is a foregone conclusion.|
Now, I am convinced.
Wednesday, the Iraqi Parliament voted to allow the creation of autonomous federal regions such as the Kurdish region in the north. They won't be allowed to form for another 18 months (which will be perfect for the Kurds who will annex oil-rich Kirkuk late next year). I am sure that serious preparations for partition will begin in Iraqi Kurdistan (frankly, they are ready to secede now but want Kirkuk's oil first) and in the Shiite south almost immediately.
I am kind of surprised that this law was passed because the Shiite block in Parliament was supposed to be very divided on the issue.
The regions will be based on ethnic and sectarian divisions and will move to homogenize their populations. This is already happening, of course. Almost a million people have fled the country, hundreds of thousands have been internally displaced, and around 650,000 Iraqis have been killed (give or take a couple hundred thousand). This will continue and probably increase.
Winners and losers with partition:
The Kurds. The Kurds want to be fully independent from Iraq. Presently they are biding their time and preparing for independence. An accepted partitioning of the country would hasten their efforts toward secession. I can't blame them. Kurds are the largest ethnicity in the world without their own country. Being grouped in with Iraq has been a disaster for them.
Iran. Iran gains influence over the Shiite confederacy in the south (including influence over the oil fields there). This also leads to greater influence in the Middle East. [BTW, Jim Webb predicted this before the war.]
Syria. Reflected glory from Iran.
[The fact that Iran and Syria are going to benefit from the inevitable break-up of Iraq shows the need for the US to talk to them about accepting more responsibility in Iraq (or the autonomous regions). They will gain from this so it is logical that we get them to share some of the burden. Otherwise they get all of the benefits and the US pays all of the costs.]
The US. The bright spots for us will be the draw down of US troops with (hopefully) concomitant reduction in casualties (more troops out of Iraq = more troops for a potential conflict with North Korea) and the creation of a very pro-western democracy in the new Kurdistan. Significant pluses to be sure.
The Shia. Not all Shia (most notably Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani - who is no fan of Iran) are in favor of a partitioned Iraq. However, many of the powerful political parties in the country are. This could cause another internal rift in an already less-than-monolithic Shia block. Shiite on shiite violence, which is already occurring in the south, could be further exacerbated.
Turkey. An independent Kurdistan on their doorstep with oil revenues is exactly why the Turks decided not to help the US invade Iraq in the first place. Now, their worst nightmare comes true. Turkey is at an unstable crossroads at the moment with Islamic fundamentalists gaining power in the secular government and the military (which views itself as the vanguard of secular democracy in Turkey) having been taken over by a more hard line leader. Real steps do seem to be being taken against the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan and the PKK has declared a unilateral ceasefire with the Turkish government which may help diffuse some Turkish fears of an independent (or quasi-independent) Kurdish state. Even so, Turkey's status as a US ally in the region has been seriously damaged.
The Sunnis. Sunnis lose in almost any possible scenario involving Iraq. Their power has been vastly curtailed. They are a hunted, hated minority. The land that would make up the Sunni confederacy is barren and virtually devoid of oil. They will fight any partition and it is of vital importance that they be supplied with oil revenues from the other parts of the country. This would only be temporary, of course, because as soon as Kurdistan becomes completely independent, the Shia south will follow suit and with no ties to the central federal government, there will be no oil revenues paid to it to give the Sunni confederacy. Additionally, Syria and Jordan will have an even more unstable neighbor on their hands.
Iran. Iran will also lose some owing to increased restiveness in their Kurdish population that will be brought on by an independent (Iraqi) Kurdistan. This may be more significant in Iran then in Turkey as 90% of Turkish Kurds do not want to form an independent Kurdistan. These numbers may be different in Iran (an oppressive theocracy) than in Turkey (secular democracy). This setback will probably not come close to offsetting IranÂs increased influence and prestige in the region, however.
The US. The negatives loom large for us. Decreased influence and prestige in the area and indeed in the world (one might argue that the cow is already out of the barn on this one). The ascendancy of Iran (as well as the knowledge that we helped aid this ascendancy). Damage to our relationship with one of our closest allies in the region, Turkey. General increased anti-Americanism around the world (again, it is probably too late to do much about this at this point - although leaving Iraq may quell some anti-American sentiment and remove a major recruiting tool for terrorists).
We should reduce the number of troops in country to around 40-50,000 (to maintain security in Baghdad and train Iraqi troops and police) and immediately cease the construction of permanent military bases in Iraq. We need to replace US soldiers with international troops. NATO and UN? Yes. But even more important would be troops from Arab League countries and other Muslim countries. People who would be less likely to be seen as "crusaders". Unfortunately, our relationship with these countries is poor right now. We can use some of the funds we would save on military occupation to help rebuild infrastructure and generate jobs. Public works projects have been targets in Iraq and we have spent more on security for these projects than we have on the projects themselves. However, in a partitioned Iraq, the various sects would be less likely to attack projects being built for their own area by non-Americans.
So, regardless of whether Joe Biden backs partition or James Baker's commission opposes it, it is going to happen. We need to figure out how to deal with the break up of Iraq and turn it to our advantage.
Then we need to get back to fighting the real war on terror and find Bin Laden and Zawahiri.
PS: Juan Cole has more on the partitioning, the head of the British army is calling for British troops to withdraw to help stabilize the country, there is talk of a coup or replacing the government with martial law and a junta, and 2756 killed and 20468 wounded.
PPS: Had enough?
Tags: World War III, Middle East, Politics, Terrorism, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Turkey, Europe, EU, International, Islam,