The United States Senate in 2003 authorized President George W Bush to illegally invade and destroy Iraq. A horrendous quagmire and more than half a trillion dollars later, the Senate in 2007 wants – by 75 to 23 – to split Iraq into a (very) loose, three-region sectarian federation.
And the senators – Democrats plus a smattering of Republicans – want Bush to force the Iraqis to agree to what is essentially a mandate for ethnic cleansing. It may be a non-binding resolution, calling for a “federal system” in its sanitized language, but this “solution” to the Iraq quagmire couldn’t be more explosive. It was passed as an amendment to a defense policy bill last week.
Without doubt, the Senate has no authority to promote federalism or to dismember Iraq. The Iraqi Parliament does. The resolution in itself blows up the myth of a “sovereign” Iraq – as if additional proof was necessary. The Senate even managed the feat of clashing with the White House, which says it wants a unified Iraq. Bush would certainly veto the measure if it ever materialized on his desk.
Eyebrows should not be raised. This is the Senate that approved the branding of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a “terrorist organization”.
Count us out
A weak central government in Baghdad and three super-strong, de facto autonomous regions spell only one thing for a majority of Iraqis who harbor very strong nationalist pride: partition. And all over the Arab world, partition is above all synonymous with Western imperialism.
Embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, from the Da’wa party, is against it (“They [the US] should stand by Iraq to solidify its unity and its sovereignty”). Abdul Mahdi al-Karbala’i, Grand Ayatollah Sistani’s man in holy Karbala, is against it (“It’s a step toward the breakup of Iraq”). It’s fair to assume he is expressing Sistani’s position.
The powerful Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars is against it – stressing that the breakup of Iraq has always been a prime motive behind the US invasion. Influential Sunni cleric Harith al-Dhari even accused Maliki of a plot to break up Iraq. Nine political parties and party blocs – Sunni and Shi’ite alike – vowed to pass a law banning any sectarian split.
Hashim Taie, from the Iraqi Accord Front, the main Sunni party, is against it (“We refuse resolutions which decide Iraq’s destiny from outside Iraq. This is a dangerous partitioning based on sectarianism and ethnicity.”)
Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s parliamentary leader, Nasr al-Rubaie, is against it (“This project is the strategic option for the American administration in its failure to ignite a sectarian war inside Iraq. They started to search for a replacement [strategy], which is to divide Iraq.”) Sadrists, contrary to US myth, are not sectarians, but in favor of a strong national government. They maintain that a provincial balance of power will be debated, but only after total US withdrawal.
Even the US Embassy in the heart of the Green Zone is against it (“Our goal in Iraq remains … a united, democratic, federal Iraq that can govern, defend and sustain itself.”) That’s about the only time ever that the US Embassy has agreed with the Sadrists.
It’s obvious that were partition to be approved, all the oil wealth would be controlled by Kurds and Shi’ites. Sunnis would be left with loads of desert sand. That would be a recipe for endless war. A recent ABC/BBC poll tells it all: only 9% of Iraqis polled are in favor of partition. This means even Kurds have some misgivings.
What’s in it for us?
The Kurds – faithful US allies, like the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Massoud Barzani – mostly loved the Senate resolution. No wonder. Kurdistan, with its three provinces, is virtually an independent country already. Its relations with Baghdad are minimal.
With the US’s Shi’ite allies the picture is much more nuanced. The Senate resolution happens to be the Supreme Iraq Islamic Council’s (SIIC’s) plan almost verbatim. Its author is Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the SIIC’s leader, currently in Iran undergoing cancer treatment. His original plan – establishing an eight-province Shi’iteistan – was approved by a simple parliamentary majority (with minimum quorum) in October 2006. It will not be implemented before mid-2008. For the Iraqi street (not the elite), Sunni and Shi’ite alike, the fact that the US Senate and the SIIC want the same thing for Iraq says everything there is to know about where true alliances lie.
As’ad Sultan Abu Kalal, the governor of Najaf province (from the SIIC), predictably likes it. Vice President Adil Abdul Mahdi (also from the SIIC) at first was against it. Then he (slightly) changed his mind, saying that a model for Iraq would be the United Arab Emirates, which is a loose association of relatively autonomous sheikdoms. But anyway, that “wouldn’t fit” Iraq.
The Gulf Cooperation Council, which groups six Persian Gulf oil sheikdoms, is against it. The toothless Arab League is against it – accusing the US of destroying Iraq and offering it to al-Qaeda. Yemen is also against it. US ally Saudi Arabia has been mute.
Meanwhile, in Tehran, Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, former leader of the IRGC and recently promoted to special advisor on military affairs to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Iraq is bound to be broken up into a federal government anyway, and the US will keep military bases in the country for years.
Does it ring a Bell?
US senators seem to be sufficiently ignorant of the Middle East not to see that partition would set the region on fire. Turkey – a US ally – would be terrified by too much autonomy for Iraqi Kurds (who would be encouraged to help their Kurdish brothers inside Turkey). Saudi Arabia would be alarmed at Iraqi Shi’ites controlling their own, resource-rich, mini-state and enjoying very close relations with Iran.
The Iraqi daily Az-Zaman was close to the mark, noting that for the US, Iraq is and will remain a “vassal state”. A weak, dismembered Iraq makes sense only in a scenario of the US exercising control, directly or indirectly, meddling in “sovereign” decisions, keeping its “invisible” military bases and profiting from Blackwater USA and assorted mercenaries’ services till kingdom come.
Iraq as we know it is a product of Western colonialism. It was invented as a country by Gertrude Bell, T E Lawrence and Harry St John Philby, and established as a Hashemite kingdom in 1921. Very few people know that shortly before she invented her country, Bell met Sayyid Hasan al-Sadr, the great-grandfather of Muqtada al-Sadr and the key religious leader at the time.
That’s when she finally got the whole picture. She knew this new kingdom would inevitably turn out be a Shi’ite-led theocracy. But that’s not what British imperialism wanted. They wanted to control Iraq’s oil fields in the north. So Bell came up with the perfect scheme: rule by a Sunni minority, the Shi’ites excluded from power and the Kurds denied their own state. She also knew this fabricated Iraq would never be a democracy.
Whatever imperialist machinations, the fact is that Iraq, over these almost 90 years, has been constituted into a nation – at least for Sunnis and Shi’ites. National pride is an essential trait of the Iraqi character. Partition could be the US scenario towards the Korea model. This means military bases on the ground for decades. It also means – unlike Korea – endless war, because the Sunni Arab resistance (as well as Muqtada’s Mahdi Army) will never give up.
Partition could also lead to a Vietnam model. A unified Iraqi resistance eventually wins (it already has almost total popular appeal), topples the government in Baghdad and the US is forced to perform a humiliating remix of the helicopters abandoning Saigon in 1975.
The kingdom, then state, created by Bell is no more. Saddam Hussein was basically perpetuating what had been invented in the 1920s. When Bush’s troops invaded in 2003, they destroyed not only the regime but the whole state. Bell was indeed a visionary. Liberal democracy in Iraq is virtually impossible. The Shi’ite-led theocracy that British imperialism tried to prevent in the 1920s is back with a vengeance.
But for the moment, all the horrors built into the Bush administration’s disaster in Iraq have been able to engender above all a truly horrific process: ongoing, slow-motion ethnic cleansing. Kurdistan will be populated almost exclusively by Kurds. Sunnistan will be poor and resentful, with no oil, and sprinkled with US military bases. Baghdad will be an overwhelmingly Shi’ite city (it used to be majority-Sunni). And Shi’iteistan will be a wealthy beacon of the Shi’ite revival all over the majority Sunni Middle East. This will all be accomplished by overlapping ethnic cleansing.
Now let’s see whether any senators are able to at least begin to comprehend the weight of all these implications.