Over the years, decades in which I tried to understand the world geopolitics, I have written much about the Middle East and even more about Iraq. The fertile land anciently known as Mesopotamia holds a special place for me, making it the most attractive nation in the group of Western Asian countries. In the 1980’s a younger me was there and came into contact with a beautiful place with incredibly warm people. However, only few months after my lovely visit broke out the Iraq-Iran War and shortly thereafter the First Gulf War, officially known as ‘Operation Desert Shield’ according to the military terminology. And now, what was once a greatly marvelous country has become a mound of death and destruction, something truly sad for lovers of the culture of Asia Minor. I have learnt a lot about this, focusing on the recent war aspect and the rise of the al-Baghdadi-led Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and the following carnage.
Back in the beginning of the most recent US involvement in 2003 was floating an idea that the Asian country could be saved if it was divided up in federal-type states: one Sunni, one Shiite and one Kurdish. This solution was proposed by prominent Congressmen like then senator Joe Biden (currently Democratic Party 2016 presidential candidate) among many others. Frankly speaking, I for one was against such an idea for I felt it would be the end of the Iraqi culture and that it would result into a Hobbesian ‘us against them’.
But Vice-President Biden was not the first to propose such an idea. Even before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, broken out following Saddam Hussein’s war operations in bordering Kuwait, the global intelligence company Strategic Forecasting, Inc. (aka Stratfor) was reportedly already planning for the break-up of Iraq.
Stratfor.com is one of the most respected geopolitical intelligence services in the world. Stratfor’s high-level sources tell them that one of the leading long-term strategies being considered by US war planners is one that will divide Iraq into three separate regions. Under this plan Iraq would cease to exist.
Stratfor believes the plan would divide Iraq as follows:
- The central and largest part of Iraq that is populated by the Sunni Arabs would be joined with Jordan to form one “United Hashemite Kingdom,” which would be ruled by Jordan’s King Abdullah. This area would include Baghdad, which would no longer be the capital.
- The Kurdish region of northern and northwestern Iraq, including Mosul and the vast Kirkuk oilfields, would become its own autonomous state.
- The Shia Region in southwestern Iraq, including Basra, would make up the third state, or more likely it would be joined with Kuwait.
Stratfor’s sources indicate that the plan to divide (and thus eliminate) Iraq as described above is not the only plan under consideration, and it is also not finalized.
Was the plan all along to eliminate Iraq altogether? Did Joe Biden get his idea from Stratfor? If so, then that would make him one of the advocates of the destruction of Iraq. However, whatever the plan for Baghdad was it is now going the direction some called for at the very beginning.
Testifying to the House Armed Services Committee last week, Defense Secretary Ash Carter offered a pretty negative assessment on the Iraqi military. But the real eye-opener for some was the revelation within his comments that the Pentagon is already opening planning for the contingency that Iraq will never be reunified at all.
Nowadays the Republic of Iraq is broken down into three distinct states: one that is under the control of the Iraqi government, one controlled by the self-styled Islamic State and one administered by Kurdish authorities.
In hindsight maybe some of those who primarily proposed a three-state solution for Iraq should have had a better chance to explain themselves for apparently they were more visionary than the policymakers of today.
There is history that needs to be taken into consideration. Iraq was never meant to be a unitary state and its ethnic and religious composition make it almost impossible. It was the British and French colonial interests which dictated the creation of an artificial states in the Levant, and British oil interests sought to bring together Basra’s oil in the south with Kirkuk’s oil in the north. Basra is predominately Shiite while Kirkuk is predominantly Kurdish. The Britons’ close collaboration with the Sharif of Mecca, or the Hashemite clan (related to Prophet Mohammad), during World War I insured a Sunni over-lordship in this artificial geopolitical creation called Iraq.
The only sane solution to the murderous mayhem in Iraq (and nearby Syria as well) is to satisfy the religious, ethnic and tribal aspirations of the Kurds, Shias and Sunnis in Iraq. This can only be accomplished with the United States of America and the rest of the international community supporting the division of Iraq into three separate entities, namely a Shiite state in the south, a Sunni state in Anbar and north of Baghdad, and a Kurdish state that includes Kirkuk. The option of federalizing the three states at a later stage will remain, and Baghdad, the seat of the Abbasid Sunni Caliphate, could be a shared capital of both Sunnis and Shi’i.
It seems to me clear that Iraq, broken and divided much like Humpty Dumpty, cannot be put back together again anytime soon. I cannot for see any less conflict in the foreseeable future, there will probably be more and more escalation until there is nothing left at all of Iraq to salvage. At the time being, nothing can be done to help Iraq until there is a break in the ISIS problem, and there will not be a break in the jihadist issue until the Sunnis feel that they are equal partners with Shias in the government of Iraq, unlike what happened with Nouri al-Maliki.
Maybe Biden and others were right to say that Iraq should be a federal system composed of three states broken down along the sectarian lines, given that their proposal is proving an increasingly viable option in the long-term.
This would make all (majority) players happy, but only within the context of full equality of the states within the government. To be sure, there are minorities that will not be pleased, such as the Assyrians, Chaldean and Yazidis, but their problems could be addressed within the state they reside as it is today that they suffer at the hands of the extremists like other people.
The only hope for a peaceful Iraq, something only possible after the destruction of ISIL, will be a truly equal federation of states within the borders. Without it, Iraq is doomed as a single state in the chaotic Middle East. There are so many directions the Republic of Iraq can go and even the Iraqi people do not see any chance of a single nation coming out of all this chaos. The nation of Iraq seems dead and gone.
But obviously not everyone sees the separation in states as a good thing. For instance, U.S. Gen. Ray Odierno’s made a different point.
So the takeaway is that a partition can often actually lead to more conflict. The newly seceded state may witness power struggles among rising new local elites no longer under the control of the old metropole. And, a partition doesn’t necessarily end conflict between the region and the center. The British partitioned both India and Palestine, and both regions went on to see many subsequent wars. In the case of Iraq, Odierno is not thinking straight. If Daesh is defeated by the Iraqi army, the Sunni Arab regions will be reincorporated into the Iraqi state. Having lost troops in a war, Baghdad is highly unlikely just to turn around and let the Sunni Arab areas secede. If the latter have just been conquered by main force, they won’t be in a position to do so. Moreover, being ruled by Daesh, with its beheadings and harsh administration, may make the population more open to compromise once it is liberated by the Iraq national army. As for Iraqi Kurdistan, I should say that I am offering analysis, not doing politics. In principle I don’t care one way or another if Kurdistan is independent. But I don’t think it will have positive benefits for the Kurds. Formal independence for it would anger Iran and Turkey and could even lead to war. Moreover, Iraqi Kurdistan is a small place. I doesn’t have a big enough domestic market really to flourish without the rest of Iraq. If it were independent it might face tariffs from its trading partners.
So, is it possible that Iraq will survive as a sovereign country? I have a personal forecast of the future of Iraq and I do not like it but if the country is to break up then it should happen according to the will of the people. For sure, the US and its think tanks should have no say in the matter, American mistakes made in the past should never be repeated.
Intel sources in Washington D.C. do not have a rosy prediction of Iraq’s future, though.
It’s worth asking at this point whether Syria and Iraq are even a thing anymore, or indeed if they’ll become a thing again in the future. While the official US stance is “yes,” Pentagon intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart conceded at a defense conference that he has “a tough time” seeing either nation ever really coming back together.
Any thoughts out there?
Opinion from the tired fingers of Chuq/Inkwell Institute