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A divided Iraq
Harun Ur Rashid
As the sectarian violence escalates, it is reported that Shiite politicians last month introduced legislation to divide the country into autonomous regions. Furthermore, Iraqi Kurds in the north no more fly Iraq's flag but their own Kurdish banner on public buildings, the first steps to the disintegration of Iraq.
Is that the legacy the Bush administration wants to leave? It appears to be so.
Despite strong assertion by the US that there is no civil war situation in Iraq, Iraqi politicians know what the situation is. Every day Iraqi people die in sectarian violence.
Following the recent violence between government forces and the militia of powerful Moqtada al-Sadr, the step suggests a plan to carve the country into three regions -- Kurdish in the north, Sunnis in the middle, and Shiites in the south. Both the north and south regions are oil-rich while the middle is bereft of such resources.
A growing number of Iraq experts believe that disintegration of Iraq is inevitable in the long run, while others say that a confederal Iraq might emerge. The question is whether the Sunnis will accept a confederal country without a share of the oil resources.
Sunnis demand amendment of the new constitution that, in principle, may lead to dissolution of the country, and this was one of the conditions for Sunnis to participate in the election. The constitution has divided the income from oil-resources between the Kurds and Shiites, while the Sunnis received none. This was the fatal mistake the Bush administration made in new Iraq.
The majority of voters supported the constitution and, in essence, divided Iraq. The major mistake was the American actions after the war, including empowerment of the Shiites at the expense of the Sunni elite. What the US administrator, Paul Bremer, should have done was to convene a conference among all the sects, and to present a plan where all sects, including Sunnis, would form a national government on a consensus basis. But he did not do it at the instance of the Pentagon.
What are the implications of dissolution of Iraq as a country?
First, one worst-case scenario is that an autonomous Shiite region in the south of Iraq could encourage the Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia's north, a significant oil region, to press for autonomy, or in the extreme case, to want to join with their Iraqi brethren to the north. Any unrest in the region will be a blow to global economy
Second, some strategists say that the dissolution of Iraq will be a great boon for the security of Israel. Zionists, at the beginning of the 20th century, wanted to create many small and unthreatening Arab States. If Iraq's disintegration takes place, their wishes would be fulfilled.
Third, if small states are carved out on the basis of sects the whole Arab world would be at risk, and a new map of small and weak states would emerge, and the unity in the Arab world would be fragile.
Michael Hudson, a Professor of Arab Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, has reportedly stated that: "What we are seeing now may be signs of things to come, but that was not so much inevitable as it is a result of our action."
It is noted that Senator Joseph Biden (D) of Delaware, seconded by Council on Relations President Emeritus Leslie Gelb, has reportedly called for Iraq to be divided into Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish regions that would provide their own security but share oil revenue, and leave foreign policy to a central government.
Another plan, from Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution in Washington, reportedly calls for the US to accept that its project for a "multiethnic democracy" in Iraq no longer viable. In its place, the Bush administration should consider facilitating voluntary sectarian and ethnic relocation as a means of shortening a long and potentially genocidal civil war.
It appears that the Bush administration has few answers as violence rages on along sectarian lines in Iraq. Iraq is in a mess, the Bush administration is in trouble, and the US action has resulted in a "Shiite Crescent" from Beirut to Tehran. The Sunni dominated states, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt, are worried about the security threat.
What is damaging for the US is the collapse of trust by other states in the outcome of the Iraqi war. People in many countries trusted the superpower because they believed in the country's good intentions. The use of military power betrayed the trust, and it will be hard to recover.
Internationally, the US is increasingly being seen as an aggressive nation, and the American image as arrogant, incompetent and insensitive is projected in the Middle East. In the name of democracy, freedom, and peace, the actions of the Bush administration have been compared by a French writer to discovering that "a respected uncle has slipped into dementia."
Barrister Harun ur Rashid is a former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.