Pyrrhic Victory? As Iraq rolls back Daesh, can it stay together as a Country?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

From all accounts, most people in Fallujah are very happy about being out from under the murderous and puritanical rule of Daesh (ISIS, ISIL). But Daesh took the city in January of 2014 for a reason. Locals did not put up much of a fight to keep them out. The Sunni Dulaym tribe predominates in Fallujah, and they have not since 2003 felt that the Iraqi government truly represents them. They think it is a cat’s paw of Shiite Iran.

The social consequences of the conquest of Fallujah are considerable, with hundreds of thousands of fleeing the city in recent months and 20,000 streaming out of it just on Saturday. Fears of outbreaks of cholera in refugee camps with no running water are heightening.

But an increasing number of Sunni Arab Iraqis are putting out calls for the partition of Iraq. These include the tribes of northern Ninewah Province, where the large city of Mosul is situated.

A high Kurdish official in Iraqi Kurdistan has also called for partition once the Daesh insurgency is quelled.

Ominously, the Badr Corps has ruled out so much a partition. Badr was originally trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, and is a Shiite fighting force, one of the more effective.

This configuration is dangerous. You have nationalist Kurds, hopeless Sunni Arabs and militantly nationalist Shiites. The Shiites, at 60% of the country, probably have the social and economic weight to keep at least the Arab areas together. But it could be a sullen, cold-shoulder unity.


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Posted in Featured,Iraq | 15 Responses | Print |

15 Responses

  1. The ultimate revenge of Sykes-Picot. The artificial boundaries invite the revolt/attack, yet quelling the revolt excites the separatist tendencies which brings on the majority dictatorship which prolongs the artificial boundaries.

    • What we have seen since WWII and the independence of so many former colonies is that while the new countries usually make no sense from an ethnic, social or even economic basis, re-alignment is fraught with such difficulties that the governing elites don’t dare try and take the necessary moves to re-combine with other areas to make up logical states. Enough nationalism has been created within the boundaries drawn up by colonial powers that no one wants to give up any territory. Look at Nigeria and their civil war, for example. I think the best hope may be a federation/confederation where the local areas have a lot of autonomy, similar to Scotland in the UK

  2. Yeah, like the C.S.A. from Monument Row in Richmond, Va and on down where statues to C.S.A. heroes stand to tell all yankees to leave or be wary of stepping on any of the locals “customs” “heritage” or “culture”.

  3. As much as Iraqi nationalists bemoan the prospect of their country fragmenting, would the majority of Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites ultimately be better off by themselves. As you suggest, maintaining the status quo translates into a “sullen, cold-shoulder unit,” though it’s often repeatedly punctuated by major bloodletting. As messy as a split-up might be, how much worse could it be than a continuation of the status quo? I’m an optimist by nature but Iraqis’ deep hatred for each other makes me a pessimist about its ability to survive intact.

    • I agree with Del. Partition, I would dare add, is also the moral and ethical solution. The Kurds deserve an independent state, just as the Jews in Israel deserve theirs. Once the Arab psyche accepts that other nations in the Middle East also each have a right to a state with their respective particularity, the region, by accommodating Arab and non-Arab nationalisms, will be a more peaceful one, and will prosper. In turn the Palestinians will get their state, as Israelis will feel their Jewish state is accepted to jure. They will then conclude that ceding most parts of the West Bank is in their interest, since such withdrawal will no longer beget them Kassams falling on their heads.

      • Problem with an independent Kurdistan is Turkey. They are deathly afraid of such a situation and abhor the idea of a Kurdistan anywhere that could attract the Kurds in Turkey to fight to join their fellow Kurds. It might be more destabilizing than a sullen, non-independent Kurdistan.

  4. There are a few, if not some, Shiites, who have felt as hopeless with this corrupt Iraqi government and lack of security, who aren’t militantly nationalistic and instead have separatist views due to their experience with Sunni extremist violence.

    Unfortunately things are not likely to improve even after the fall of Daesh, and see more political turmoil and sectarianism.

  5. Yes, KSA and Gulf States are loudly banging the Sunni victimization drum …
    “”This sectarian rhetoric is not only coming from the Sunni side. Iran and Shia political actors have contributed to this sectarianization both through propaganda and deeds. Iranian General Qassem Suleimani being ostentatiously photographed coordinating the offensive with Shia militia leaders could not have been more perfectly framed to trigger Sunni outrage and feed their conspiracy theories. Shia militias have prominently flown their flags as they advanced despite the clear implications of such a display. “”

    mark lynch/abuaardvark:
    link to

  6. How pleasing for the USA as the leaders of the free world to have enabled such a happy outcome from their sanctions, invasion, occupation, democratization and pulling out after such success in Iraq.

  7. reports of falluja refugees being without water, shelter, and latrines in the broiling desert wondering if their missing husbands, fathers, and sons are still alive do not describe them as happy to be liberated.

  8. With respect, I think this is overblown. The Kurdish calls for independence come from Barzani relatives, a discredited group. The Mosul ones are from the ex-governor’s clique, an inveterate intriguer with very little support even in Ninawa.

    Shi’a militia outrages have been few and swiftly condemned, but widely publicised in conservative Arab media. Sunni representation in Iraqi forces (including militias) has increased markedly.

    The Sunni are not going to return to their previous position as the dominant political element. This is a grievance to many of them, but one they show signs of reconciling to.

  9. this will not end well … and it should be noted that the geographic distribution of these three entities has always represented a vague de-facto segregation/separation … the sticking points being oil … the Kurds getting too much of the nation’s wealth for their population and perceived “deserved” share; the Sunnis of the triangle getting too little (even as they “got” Baghdad) ; while the Shiia get to “administer” since the Sunni and Kurds (for perfectly understandable reasons) don’t trust them.
    I hope Abadi manages to “find” the missing Sunni men and that conditions in the refugee camps improves — no food, no water, no tents — “can’t get no worse” although the world’s willingness to turn a blind eye and keep pocketbooks closed in response to various humanitarian disasters (migrants, Yemen, etc.) is likely to undermine any suggestion to victims that anyone cares … with the same message being sent to perpetrators … no, this won’t be “another Rwanda” … these “unfolding disasters” will become part of the endless “soap opera” predictably hardening hearts … I remember when Reagan convinced America that it was just realism to understand that “we can’t save everyone” … and permanent homelessness became a new norm we all “got used to”…
    I find the sides-taking difficult to reconcile … many of the Sunnis being punished are generations removed from the forces that created the Sunni domination of Iraq … I’m guessing that not all Sunni deserve to be treated like the still-privileged beneficiaries of slave-owning ancestors

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