Iraq Must Be Kept Together As Single

Iraq must be Kept together as a Single State

The splitting up of Iraq into three countries would be unacceptable to all

the neighbors, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and they are powerful

enough that it probably cannot happen over their objections. Even

President Khatami in Iran has begun speaking about the necessity to avoid

Sunni-Shiite turmoil in Iraq.

Moreover, I do not know of any significant social or political force in

Iraq that wants the country broken up into three independent states. The

Shiite parties mostly descend from al-Da`wa, which has all along had a

subtext of Iraqi nationalism. In the 1960s and 1970s, it is said that up

to ten percent of al-Da`wa members were Sunni. In 1995, al-Da`wa broke

with Ahmad Chalabi’s INC precisely because Chalabi acceded to Kurdish

plans for a loose federation, whereas al-Da`wa wants a strong central

Iraqi state (run by Shiites according to Islamic law). The way in which

the Shiite Arabs reached out to the Turcoman Shiites recently shows the

sort of national linkages that are emerging (even though the Turcoman

would be considered ghulat or theological extremists by mainstream Twelver


Although Iraqi Kurds may want loose federalism, they know that

independence would provoke Turkish intervention. Moreover, independence

is not all it is cracked up to be. Ask the Slovaks, who are sinking into

agrarian poverty while Prague gets back on its feet. One of our intrepid

petroleum analysts should correct me if I am wrong, but my understanding

is that the Kirkuk oil fields may well be depleted soon, and the future of

Iraqi petroleum production lies in the south.

If that is true, for the Iraqi Kurds to secede into a landlocked declining

economy would be political and economic suicide.

Likewise, the Sunni Arab triangle is simply not a viable state (and would

lack petroleum income). Basically, people in Falluja and Ramadi would be

seceding to become a second Jordan, only smaller and poorer.

Iraqi nationalism has won. It is likely that both internal and external

actors will work to keep the country together.

The Middle East suffers from having small countries imposed by Western

colonialism, such that the petroleum wealth is in tiny principalities and

the human capital in huge but poor countries like Egypt. The region

doesn’t need any more small poor countries with populations of 4 million


The alternative is to build into the new Iraq guarantees against a tyranny

of the Shiite majority. Have a bicameral legislature that over-represents

the Sunnis slightly. Have a bill of rights. Have elected provincial

governors and legislatures with their own local purview that the central

state cannot over-rule. In other words, learn something from a success

story: the US constitution.