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.