Archive for September, 2005

Iraq and its future In these pages I try to bring…

Iraq and its future

In these pages I try to bring you our perspective on various current issues in politics, economics and business. I hope I have been successful in giving new direction and insight to our readers. In my column on August 31, 2004 titled, “World in 2015” I predicted that Iraq might be divided into three autonomous states i.e. Shiite majority south, Kurd majority north and Sunni majority north east. At that time many people expressed their reservation on that prediction and considered it a simplistic view. But it seems that this prediction will soon become a reality as is evident from the draft constitution of Iraq. Though the interim government has still not reached an agreement on the draft and has requested second extension in the deadline to approve the draft, all the dynamics indicate that it will be promulgated even if Sunnis do not fully consent to it. The reasons are apparent for this approval; 80% of the constitution body comprised of Shiite and Kurd leaders who are in favor of a federalist system. Many observers feel this federalist system is a precursor to the break up of Iraq into three states. Let us take a step back and briefly look at the history of Iraq and the underlying dynamics of the Iraqi society.

For almost three hundred years Iraq (Mesopotamia) was part of the Ottoman Empire ruled from Istanbul. During its 7000 years of history, Mesopotamia was considered the cradle of civilization but its importance to the modern world was revealed after the finding of one of the largest oil reserves under its land. For almost its entire history Iraqis were progressive people adopting advancement in technology and science as well as contributing towards the intellectual evolution of mankind. First known pictographic writings were also found in Iraq. Never in its history was Iraq ever divided along sectarian or ethnic lines. Only time will prove if Iraqis will follow the larger current of their history and remain united or play in the hands of external forces and divide along sectarian and ethnic lines. In 1920 Iraq became part of the British Empire after the defeat of Ottoman Empire in First World War. But the declining economic condition of Britain forced it to install King Faisal 1 and converted it into a kingdom. The British maintained their proxy control of Iraq until 1941 when an anti-British leader Rashid Ali al-Gaylani overthrew the King and established his republican rule. The British could never again gain control of the territory from the succession of Iraq’s military and political leaders. After many bloody coups, the Baath party took control of the country in 1963 under the leadership of Col. Abd al-Salam Aref that ultimately brought Saddam Hussain to power in 1979.

For the large part of the 20th century, Iraq had been a battleground between various Western and Asian powers to gain access to its large oil reserves. Throughout these turbulent times, Iraqi people have maintained their unity but ambitious leaders supported by foreign powers never allowed peace to prevail in the region. Saddam’s expansionist ambitions prompted US to make him its chief enemy. This enmity first resulted in the Gulf War of 1991 and then led to the complete US occupation of Iraq in 2003. In modern times it is difficult for any power to maintain absolute control of a country as is evident from the failure of US in Vietnam, Germany in Poland and Russia in Afghanistan. The most successful strategy is the one pursued by the British Empire for most part of 19th and 20th century, which is to encourage ethnic and sectarian divisions among the people to weaken their struggle for independence. And even those who got independence were grouped together in the Common Wealth to ensure continued economic ties with the United Kingdom. It seems that in Iraq the UK is not only contributing armed forces but also sharing its hundreds of years of colonial experience with the US.

The first piece of US strategy in Iraq is to promote ethnic and sectarian division by emphasizing differences in the Sunni and Shiite objectives. Although the Kurd’s are Sunnis in their religious following but lumping them with Sunnis will tilt the balance of power into almost equal sectarian division so the ethnic card was played to bifurcate the society into three distinct segments. Immediate division would put all the blame on US shoulders so a buffer period has to be ensued to further increase the divisions over the next decade or two, which could ultimately result in the break up of the country into three parts. To ensure this path, a Kurd separatist leader was put in charge of the constitutional assembly. For a smooth passage of the draft, 80% of the assembly is made up of Kurd and Shiite leaders. The third piece is the inclusion of a provision in the draft that allows a group of regional governors to decide to succeed from the center and become autonomous. The break up of Iraq into oil rich Shiite and Kurd region will result in their continued military dependence on the US and oil concessions to protect themselves from aggression from Iran or predominantly Sunnis Arab states. It will also provide a much-needed stronghold for the US to keep its influence on other oil rich countries, namely Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Thirst for energy and economy might make sense in the short term but in the long term break up of Iraq could destabilize the region so severely that it could put world peace in serious jeopardy. Let us try to predict the outcome of the break up of the region. To begin with, there would be an economic reliance of Sunni-Iraq on Shiite controlled oil riches. Economic turmoil could produce millions of youth with no jobs leading them to fall into the hands of terrorist organizations to inflict injury on the US. The continued presence of the US to protect the Shiite-Iraq could induce Iran to pursue its quest for nuclear weapons, seriously endangering world peace as well as creating an arms race in the region. China’s thirst for oil could induce them to support Iranian ambitions, as a counter to US interest, will further divide the world into two poles. Economically empowered Iraqi-Kurds could finance the separatist movements in Turkish and Iranian Kurds regions, further igniting the region that could also destabilize Turkey. Turkish proximity to Europe will create a ripple effect of these incidents in the EU thereby further complicating matters.

The best scenario for long-term peace in the region is the introduction of a parliamentary democracy with President as head of state rotated between Kurds, Shiite and Sunnis according to a predetermined formula. The country could be divided into 5 or 6 administrative provinces with their own local assemblies under regional governors operating as representatives of the President. This provincial government could be financed through a national pool of oil revenues as well as local taxes. This system of government is successfully run in India with over 200 sects and ethnicities. India, which has a long history of friendship with Iraq, can share her experience with the interim Iraqi government to prepare a draft constitution that ensures a united Iraq with equal rights given to all segments of the society. The Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) can also play an important role in the formulation of the draft constitution to ensure successful transfer of power to a united parliament.
Whatever the outcome of the Iraqi situation, it is clear that continued US presence is important to prevent a bloody civil war. But on the other hand, the US should understand that a strong united Iraq is crucial if a stable Middle East is desired. A break up of Iraq would damage US credibility and its intention to bring peace to the region. Any decrease in US influence will provide further opportunity to China to strengthen its defense and economic ties with Middle Eastern countries as it has done in Africa. The US should only aid Iraq to frame its own future; not become its architect.

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