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[casi] Break up of Iraq ? - ctd

Nov 27, 2003

Iraq: Three from one doesn't add up

By Nir Rosen

Iraq is "artificially and fatefully made whole from three distinct ethnic
and sectarian communities", says Leslie Gelb in his November 25 New York
Time article. Gelb - a former editor and columnist for the Times and
president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations - advocates
dismembering Iraq into three parts, a Kurdish north, a Sunni center and a
Shi'ite south, in what he calls the "Three State Solution".

Gelb is no doubt motivated by a sincere desire to extricate the United
States from the Iraq briar patch. He led the anti-Vietnam War group during
the Lyndon B Johnson and Richard Nixon administrations. He commissioned the
Pentagon Papers that exposed the lie behind the Vietnam War and extricated
the US from a previous morass. Gelb headed the State Department's Political
Military Bureau under former president Jimmy Carter. He was one of the few
people to understand the vanity of supporting the Shah of Iran and ignoring
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who led the Islamic Revolution in 1979. His
warnings went unheeded and US arrogance resulted in the hostage crisis. Gelb
is thus in a unique position today to only increase the tangles in the
Gordian knot tied by policy makers who were clueless about Iraq.

Gelb believes that chopping Iraq up would "allow America to put most of its
money and troops where they would do the most good quickly - with the Kurds
and Shi'ites". This would force the "troublesome and domineering Sunnis,
without oil or revenues, to moderate their ambitions or suffer the
consequences". International law prohibits an occupying power from altering
the structure of the occupied country, let alone dividing it up. This
perhaps is not a good argument because international law was ignored
throughout this conflict and continues to be flouted as the occupying powers
impose their economic philosophies on Iraq.

Gelb views Sunnis as the "bad guys" American foreign policy always seems to
need and seeks to punish them further until they behave, a course of action
sure to fulfill his prophecy and indeed make all Sunnis the enemy. What
"ambitions" is he referring to? Shouldn't Sunnis be encouraged to
participate in the new Iraq? Shouldn't they feel it is theirs as well? Most
of the resistance in Iraq is spontaneous and a reaction to the occupation,
not part of some Sunni conspiracy. Iraq's Shi'ites are as eager to see
American troops leave as the Sunnis are. Even moderate Shi'ite clerics have
recently called for an immediate American withdrawal.

American troops are not needed in Kurdistan, it is a peaceful region policed
by the Kurds themselves, benefiting from 10 years of autonomy, as Gelb
himself admits. That's why the American occupation is barely noticed there.
While the Kurds of Iraq are indeed a distinct ethnic group, Iraq's Sunnis
and Shi'ites are Arab Muslims. The vast majority consider themselves Iraqis
first, and only then Sunnis or Shi'ites.

Iraq's Shi'ites have consistently demonstrated their loyalty to the Iraqi
nation. Shi'ites constituted the overwhelming majority of foot soldiers in
the Iraqi army, even during the eight year war with Iran, a Shi'ite state to
whom both Saddam Hussein and a Shi'ite-phobic American establishment assumed
Iraqi Shi'ites were actually loyal. The Saudis recognized this in the
Shi'ite uprising that followed Operation Desert Storm in 1991, and according
to former American ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Chas Freeman, the Saudi
government asked for US support of the Shi'ite rebels, seeing them as they
saw themselves, Iraqis first, Shi'ites second, and not pawns of Iran.

Iraq is unique in the Muslim world as a country where Sunnis and Shi'ites,
both secular and religious leaders, have often collaborated against internal
oppression and external aggression, and have not engaged in the vicious
sectarian bloodshed seen in Pakistan, or the Wahhabi view of Shi'ites as
heretics and polytheists. Shi'ite ayatollahs supported Sunni opposition
movements, and a radical Shi'ite movement like the Da'wa party had a Sunni
membership of 10 percent.

Immediately following the fall of Saddam's regime a remarkable movement of
Sunni-Shi'ite unity emerged with the participation of Iraq's alleged extreme
religious leaders, including the Shi'ite Muqtada Sadr and the Sunni Sheikh
Ahmed Kubaisi. When asked about differences between them, Iraqis from Tikrit
to Najaf invariably say "there is no difference, we are all Iraqis", or "we
are all Muslims". Often they would add that Americans are attempting to
divide them by stressing their differences.

Evidence of this is seen in the American appointed Iraqi Governing Council
(IGC), whose members were all selected because of their ethnic or religious
identity. For the first time in Iraqi history, the ethnic and religious
divisions were institutionalized. This was in fact the same error the
international community made in Bosnia, where it enshrined the ethnic
principle as the basis for the new government.

It is wrong to speak of an artificial "Sunni triangle". Iraqis do not divide
their country into religious regions like this. It is also wrong to say that
Sunnis dominated Iraq under Saddam. More accurate would be to say that
members of Saddam's extended tribe, or of his hometown, dominated Iraq, to
the exclusion of everyone else. Many Sunnis in the so called Sunni triangle
resent the undue importance Saddam gave to Tikritis, for example. Iraq's
Sunnis and Shi'ites are related by common history and often common tribal
relations, since Iraq only became a majority Shi'ite state after Sunni
tribes converted to Shi'itism in the 18th century. Even the most extreme
Iraqi Shi'ites are Iraqi nationalists and view Iran with suspicion. Iraqi
Shi'ites believe their country is the rightful leader of the Shi'ite world,
since Shi'itism began in Iraq, most sacred Shi'ite sites are in Iraq and the
Hawza, or the Shi'ite clerical academy of Najaf, thought dominated by
Shi'ites until recently. Iran is a rival for them. Iraqi nationalism and
unity were proven when all members of the IGC unanimously rejected the
American proposal to introduce Turkish peacekeepers into the country.

An Iraqi population already skeptical of American motives would view any
suggestion of further division as proof of a nefarious scheme to divide and
plunder their country. Sunnis and Shi'ites would all take up arms and the
resistance would be universal. There is no Sunni or Shi'ite Iraqi who wants
to divide his country. The Kurds of Iraq are of course a separate ethnic
group. However, they have participated in united opposition movements before
the war, the reconstruction efforts after the war and are represented in the
IGC by both major Kurdish parties. Even the Iraqi foreign minister is
Kurdish. During Saddam's reign and before, many Kurds actually cooperated
with the regime, serving as ministers and officers and even fighting the
rebel brethren.

Kurdish leaders from all political parties have called for inclusion in the
new Iraq, and while many may dream of an eventual Kurdish state, all
recognize that it is quixotic at this juncture. There is only a light
American presence in Kurdistan anyway, and it is not the reason troops are
meeting resistance elsewhere. A Kurdistan without US troops is the greatest
fear of most Kurds today who live under the ominous shadow of their Turkish,
Iranian, and even Syrian neighbors. There is no clear border for Kurdistan.
Kurds covet Mosul and Kirkuk, where many Arabs, Assyrians and Turkmen would
violently oppose secession.

Gelb's proposal is the singularly least democratic suggestion offered to
solve the Iraq crisis to date. Moreover, no neighboring country would accept
the idea of dividing Iraq. How many small, artificial and unviable countries
(like Jordan and the Gulf countries) does the West wish to create in
repetition of its post-Ottoman errors? Unlike Yugoslavia, Iraq's different
groups have no history of separate existence and they have no history of
mutual slaughter. It is true that Iraq was to a certain extent an invention.
But all states begin as an imagined idea. A state succeeds if its people
believe in it. Iraqis believe in Iraq. If anything, the American occupation
is only uniting Iraqis in resentment of the foreigners and non-Muslims who
rule them, and increasing their desire to be "free, independent and
democratic" as the graffiti says on walls throughout the country. These are
the "ambitions" of the Sunnis that Gelb demonizes, just as they are the
ambitions of the Shi'ites and Kurds. Iraqis believe in Baghdad, an extremely
diverse capital city, where Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds live together and
even intermarry.

Gelb, like all conscientious observers, is seeking a just solution for the
debacle that poor planning (as well as poor justification) caused in Iraq.
The solution is to build a strong united Iraq. This can be done by
empowering the IGC, by establishing a constitution that protects against
dictatorship and the domination of the country by one group, by returning
sovereignty to Iraqis as soon as possible, and by avoiding the imposition of
Washington based ideologies that are disconnected from the reality of Iraq.

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