August 23, 2004


Viewed from Kurdistan the future for Iraq is most likely partition. (Bashdar Ismaeel, 23/8/2004, Online Opinion)

It is often easy to forget that Iraq is a dynamic mixture of a number of ethnic groups. Its controversial composition in 1920, in the aftermath of World War I and the fall of the Ottoman Empire, is the very reason for the instability and terror experienced today. After the premature end of the liberation honeymoon, mistrust has quickly displaced harmony; tears have replaced hope and joy.

How the Iraqi cake will be cut is open to debate: federalism itself is a political hot potato and accepting federalism in principle does not constitute agreement on the finer details of its application. The problem in Iraq is that there are too many problems or hotspots. If you think you have resolved an uprising in Najaf, fighting erupts in Falluja; when the Kurds and Sunnis have reached agreement, the Shia and just about everyone else on the table are at war. It appears that just as one group is nearing satisfaction, another group emits groans of discomfort almost immediately. Although the Iraqi train has trudged along in the last year or so, not much has been achieved on the surface. The police and army are still small in numbers and lack the capacity to deal with Iraqi insurgents without the assistance and logistical support of the US army. Unemployment is still high – after all who would want to do business in an environment where shootings and kidnappings are commonplace. National elections are now a matter of months away without any real progress on the ground. For the Kurds, the last 18 months have been a game of wait and see. Their patience is slowly running thin.

It is open to debate just how long the Kurds are willing to co-operate with the Arab majority. It is clear that they want to press ahead with their own redevelopment, with or without the rest of Iraq. The keenness to encourage business development in Kurdistan is evident, the construction of two new airports in Arbil and Sulaminyia is testimony to this and Kurdish parliamentary members are openly seeking logistical support and training from as far a field as Taiwan. The deployment of South Korean troops around the outskirts of Arbil will, at least in theory, aid this goal of the Kurds.

The greatest fear for the Kurds is that continued patience and co-operation (however long that is sustained) may prove to be fruitless. After all the compromise and diplomacy of the Kurds, their ultimate goals of autonomy and federalism within a united Iraq have not been realised.
The Future

What the future holds for Iraq is unclear. What is clear, is bringing stability to Iraq will take much longer than first anticipated. Crucially, due to the volatile (and at times explosive) mix of the Iraqi population, there is no guarantee of peace and harmony. The possibility of an Iraqi civil war may soon become a question of “when” and not “if”. The numerous hot items on the table will not be resolved without someone getting their hands burnt. What is evident is that all parties want to handle the hot item for their maximum benefit without feeling its heat – which is not possible. We have already witnessed that compromise in Iraq is a scarce commodity. Who essentially loses out is key. Either way such losses will ultimately lead to what’s becoming increasingly predictable - Iraq’s disintegration.

One has to ask if the break up of Iraq is actually a bad thing.

There are growing voices that the only solution is for the Kurds, Sunni and Shia to buy separate houses and no longer reside under the same roof. This is a natural human reaction: if you do not get on with your housemate or landlord, it is simple, you move out. In this analogy, in a future Iraq, the landlord will essentially be the Shia, how they treat the Kurd and Sunni minority is crucial. Ultimately, the conflict of interests will prove too much leading to the partitioning of Iraq into three distinct states.

A Kurdish state will, for one, cause uproar in Iran, Syria and particularly Turkey. However this is now becoming an inevitability; many feel it is no longer a question of whether an independent Kurdistan will be established.

There was always going to be an independent Kurdistan, in fact we should have recognized it as a sovereign state shortly after the '91 war. But there's no reason the Shi'a need tolerate a Sunni state in their midst.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 23, 2004 8:17 AM

The best thing the Kurds can do - and per this article may be doing it - is to put all the necessities for independence in place while the Shia and Sunni waste time blowing themselves up. For that reason, I'm not sure why the Kurds should feel impatient. The fracas there simply gives them cover to do what needs to be done which otherwise would not be there.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at August 23, 2004 11:27 AM

It's been the same country, except for a tiny part
of the Northeast Mosul district, for nearly 500 years. going back to the Ottoman's and even before
that under the Tatars. Probably there was achange at the time of Hulugu Khan in 1383

Posted by: narciso at August 23, 2004 11:28 AM

Here, again, one supposes, we congratulate ourselves for moving at an historically fast clip.

If that's the plan, I'd like to hear the candidates say so -- or nay -- before the election. Seems important.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at August 23, 2004 8:51 PM