Regionalist Model for Iraq
Fred Kaplan at Slate discusses the proposal of former Iraqi national security adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubaie for consolidating the 18 Iraqi provinces into 5– one Kurdish, two Sunni Arab, and two Shiite.
As Kaplan notes, I myself dislike this idea. It has the advantage of possibly mollifying the Kurds, who really want a “Kurdistan.” But it has many disadvantages. First of all, “Kurdistan” will either include Turkmen and Christian areas, and the city of Kirkuk, or it will not. If it does, that will cause a lot of trouble with the Turkmen and Christians (both of whom generally fear and despise the Kurds). If it doesn’t, that could cause trouble from the Kurdish side. Better to leave the provinces like they are.
Another consideration is that multi-ethnic countries with just a few, largely ethnic, provinces, are at greater risk for civil war and breaking up than are countries that have large numbers of mixed-ethnic provinces. Creating Rubaie’s 5 provinces now may contain the seeds of Iraqi civil war and partition in the future.
Examples of such instability include the original Pakistan, which included 5 provinces (Baluchistan, Sindh, NWFP, Pujab and East Bengal), and which broke up in 1971, with East Bengal peeling off to form Bangladesh. Or look at Nigeria and Biafra. Or Yugoslavia.
Eighteen multi-ethnic provinces would be more stable in the long run. Provinces like Diyala (with Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites), Ninevah (Christians, Turkmen, Kurds) and Baghdad (everything) are a bulwark against ethnic cleansing and the simplification of Iraq’s ethnic map. Remember that if Iraq ever gets its act together, it will be a rich, industrializing country, factors that will promote high rates of mobility, mixing up the country further. So then what is the point of Rubaie’s regional provinces in that case?
I am at the Chicago Humanities Fair and heard Iraq’s new United Nations ambassador, Feisal Istrabadi, speak on a panel. He made the same point, saying that no Iraqi political party has come out for any sort of partition, and speaking of how consolidated ethnic provinces could only be produced through a sort of ethnic cleansing.
There is some ethnic tension in some places (Sunni/Shiite around Yusufiyah, Kurdish/Turkmen in Kirkuk), but mostly Iraqis haven’t been fighting each other. They have been fighting the Americans. This common foe is what gives Muqtada al-Sadr’s movement something in common with the Association of Muslim Scholars.