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Logic and National Entities in Post War Iraq

22 April 2003

By Yisrael Ne’eman

The American victory in Iraq proved easier than expected.  The occupation and restructuring may prove much more difficult and dangerous.  Washington thought the supposed democratically minded nationals of the Iraqi National Congress would be most welcomed but this is being proven anything but true. 

Iraq is an artificial entity like most states in the Middle East and is in essence three states or factions, Kurds (15 - 20%) Sunni Arabs (20 – 25%) and Shi’ites (60%) out of an estimated population of 24 million.  Saddam’s power base rested with the secularized Sunni Arabs while many Kurds sought unity in an independent nation and Shi’ites hoped for majority rule and an end to secularism.  The most logical conclusion for the factions in Iraq is not to be forced into a unified secular nation state but rather for all to split off.  Just take a look at the Soviet Union or Yugoslavia in the 1990’s.

The Sunnis and the great expanses of western and west central Iraq should realistically be part of Syria.  Syria’s Sunni majority is already 65% of the total of that nation and most are secular Arab nationalists finding common cause with other minorities such as the ruling Alawites of Bashar Assad, the Druze and certain Christain elements.  The small minority of Iraqi Christians might also find a place here.  This would expand Syrian territory by some 60% and raise its population to 20 million.

The Kurds seek their own independent nation but this would mean absorbing northwestern Iran (5 million), southeastern Turkey (15 million), northeastern Syria (1 million) and of course northern Iraq (4 million).  Tehran, Ankara and Damascus are violently opposed to any such idea, although it makes the most sense in the ‘Age of Nationalism’ when heterogeneous states are expected to be formed in an effort to avoid minority problems and discrimination, political ills suffered by the Kurds as a distinct national group.  A Kurdish state of 25 million bordering Turkey and the Arab world and Iran would change Mideast politics and power balances forever.  It is also a wild card. 

A rising Iraq Shi’ite fundamentalism is spear heading the drive to force the US and Britain out of Iraq.  So far there are only demonstrations, but it may get much uglier.  Shi’a’s main focus is on the holy cities of Najf and Karbala, not far from Baghdad, itself containing a Shi’ite majority.  Iraq’s second largest city Basra, is in the Shi’ite heartland.  The 15 million strong Shi’ites will no doubt form the basis for the new Iraqi state.  But will they be fundamentalist, pro-Iranian, ayatollah types (many are Khomeini fans) or will they be more secular?  But secularism is identified with the rival Sunnis and what had been Saddam’s power base. 

Logically these Shi’ites should unify with their Arab brethren in southwest Iran, a move actually tried by Saddam in his war against Tehran (1980 - 88) but without success.  Such a unification could lead to a viable, oil rich fairly homogeneous Arab state on the Persian Gulf.  But the Iranians will never let it happen, although they may, in the name of Islam want to absorb what remains of Shi’ite Iraq.  The Arab world and the West will not allow for an Iranian absorption Shi’ite Iraq.

An expanded Syria goes against Israeli interests, does not sit well with the West and would be looked upon with suspicion in the Arab world.  A new state of Kurdistan is against Turkish and Arab interests, but could be useful for Israel and many in the West who want another Middle East playing card or alternative.  The rising Iraqi Shi’ite power is the most volatile and except for Islamic militants they are opposed by all, yet may be the most powerful resurgent force in the end.  One thing appears sure however, Iraq as a territorial entity, with its minority issues, contradictions and potential for continual civil strife will not be a democracy, not will the international community let it be subdivided. 

Interests will prevail, not the logic of national entities.

 

 


 

 

 

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