August 9, 2002

FEDERALIST IRAQ :

What Do Iraqis Think About Life After Hussein? (MICHAEL RUBIN, August 9, 2002, NY Times)
The Iraqis I know would shed few tears if Saddam Hussein were to go. As one university professor in Sulaimaniya, in northeast Iraq, asked me, "Why do people in the West think we want to live under Saddam any more than they would?" Others I talked to were suspicious of Washington's ability to match its rhetoric with action.

Nevertheless, the debate in Washington has caused Iraqis to consider their post-Saddam Hussein future. Despite wars and dictatorship, Iraqis remain cosmopolitan, and they do not fear that the country itself will break up. Sunni or Shiite, Arab or Kurd, Iraqis are proud of their heritage. "During the Iran-Iraq War, we didn't flee," one Shiite war veteran at a refugee camp in northeastern Iraq told me. "Why would we stop being Iraqi now?" Most Kurds recognize that independence from Iraq is not an option, and they want a say in Iraq's future — which is why Iraqi Kurds and Arabs are talking seriously about federalism.

To Iraqis, federalism is not a new concept. Iraq flirted with the idea prior to its independence in 1932. Saddam Hussein himself endorsed federalism in 1970, while serving as vice chairman of the ruling Baath party, though as he consolidated his power he undercut the autonomy accords he had negotiated with the Kurds in the north of the country. In 1995, King Hussein of Jordan described Iraqi federalism as the optimal solution to ensure stability.

But federalism has many variations. Many Kurds wish federalism to be tripartite: A northern Kurdish state, a central Arab Sunni state and a southern Arab Shiite state. Turkey and Saudi Arabia (Iraq's neighbors to the north and south), many Iraqi Arabs, and minorities like the Turkomans and Assyrians find such a vision unacceptable. Iraqi Arabs say they will endorse federalism so long as it is not configured along sectarian lines, a view voiced as early as 1996 by Ayatollah Muhammad Bakir al-Hakim, head of one of the leading Iraqi Shiite opposition groups, and reiterated just last month by Mudar Shawkat, leader of the predominantly Sunni Arab Iraqi National Movement.


Given how few nations on Earth have genuinely multiethnic societies, particularly when the seperate groups dominate particular geopgraphic regions, it seems inordinately optimistic to believe that post-Saddam Iraq will join the short list. Posted by Orrin Judd at August 9, 2002 11:05 AM
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