Tripartite Tractae

A friend and mentor pointed out this article from the International Herald Tribune on splitting up Iraq. I thought with the recent capture of Saddam, now might be a good time to talk about the implications of our long-term strategy in Iraq. Broadly speaking we either keep the country whole, or we divide it. If we keep it whole, we have a few different approaches to keeping it together: Impose our rule, like the IGC; let loose a real representative democracy, putting the Shi’ah in charge; set-up a power sharing scheme, like Lebanon; some confederation of autonomous regions.

Rule by the IGC is our current policy, and it has been criticized repeatedly. It is neo-imperialism and really has no long-term stability. On the surface, current US policy seems to be opposed to having a Shi’ah run state, apparently because of fears of another Iran. I’ll deal more with that issue when discussing the idea of a three state solution. I do, however, tend to agree with the IHT article that a Shi’ah dominated state would not serve as a stabilizing force at this point because of the various community differences. Rule by any one community would be problematic, and I’m not convinced a power sharing scheme would be much better. In Lebanon, religious divisions were fairly clear cut and there were clear authority structures. In Iraq, the divisions are ethnic and religious, with overlaps amongst the various groups; for examples both Arabs and Kurds are Sunni, and Arabs are both Sunni and Shi’ah. Trying to disentangle that mess would be a Gordian knot, and is part of the legitimacy problem the IGC faces now. It’s further compounded by the fact that the Kurds have two major factions, as do the Shi’ah. It’s also possible the Sunnis are divided along secularist and Islamist lines, although it’s unclear how much of the Islamist element is foreign. The idea of a confederation may have had the strongest argument going for it, if that had been the plan immediately after the occupation began. Iraqi identity was still dominant, but the factions would have eventually emerged. I believe, had we gone in and established a federation then, we would have been able to maintain a united Iraq. Unfortunately, we didn’t, but we did leverage identity politics in an attempt to keep control, which has weakened the sustainability of a unite Iraq in the long run. Were we to move to a federated Iraq now, we we would see a civil war in the not too distant future.

At this point, I do see the only viable alternative for Iraq is a three-state solution. I agree with the broad outlines of the IHT article, although there are some specifics I don’t agree with, notably how to treat the Sunni dominant areas. I don’t believe the economic stick is the one to yield, and I don’t think the center deserves any less US attention than the other two areas. I do think that each region needs to handled differently.

In a closed system, where Iraq is the only country under discussion in that part of the world, we should move to a three state solution as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the real world intrudes. Initially, an independent Kurdish region could be contained, but the push for a Kurdistan from Turkey and Iran would reinforce anti-democratic tendencies in both countries. Turkey has been making huge strides in full participation of its citizens because of the carrot of EU membership, but, as seen in Cyprus, it will not concede any land it believes to be part of the country. In Iran, we’ve managed to damage the reformist movement so badly, it would actually be quite easy for the conservatives to use Kurdish repression as a means to maintain control. I see the situation of a Shi’ah state as being equally destabilizing, but with a more positive result. I’ve previously pointed to the variety of thought in Ithna’asheri Shi’ism present in Iraq. The Iraqi school of thought, for the most part, opposed Khomeini’s notion of vilayat-e faqih, or rule by the jurists. Saddam managed to kill most of the intellectual basis of this school, leaving the vacuum to be filled by those who favor a Khomenist type state for the Iraqi Shi’ah. However, not all the opponents of Khomeini are dead, and many of them are senior members of the scholarly class, meaning their opinions carry much more weight. [For a nice introduction to the scholarly structure in question, see The Most Learned of the Shi’a: The Institution of Marja Taqlid, and Mantle of the Prophet.] By actually supporting the existing Shi’ah structures of religious learning, we’d take huge strides towards stabilizing a Shi’ah state that would be more secular than Iran, and reinforcing the cause of the Iranian reformists. Just as important, we’d be supporting the Shi’ah of Saudi Arabia. What seems to go largely unnoticed is that the Wahabbi movement has not succeeded in killing all Shi’ah Muslims in Saudia Arabia yet, and large parts of the best oil fields are in Shi’ah majority areas. While often treated as second-class citizens, the Iranian Revolution brought more rights to the group, and another Shi’ah state, particularly one that is not a religious state, right on the border, would serve as a further catalyst for change in the Saudi Arabia.

So what happens when theory meets real world? I still think some break-up of Iraq is necessary, but I’m not sure a three part solution is the answer in the real world. I would propose a division along Sunni-Shi’ah lines. In the Sunni state, a power sharing arrangement between Kurds and Arabs would be more feasible. It would obviate the discussion of a Kurdistan, which even a federation could instigate, and allow the establishment of a functional state relatively quickly because of the autonomy of the Kurds and the experience they have gained. Because of the numerical differential, it also moderates the extremism of certain Sunni Arab groups. A Shi’ah state would need much more support from us in setting up civil society, but we’d need to be more aware of the religious structures and debates that aid us, rather than classifying all Shi’ah as having the same thought.

Those are my thoughts? Any you’d like to share?