I imagine most of us are in the same boat: whether or not we think we should have invaded Iraq in the first place, we can’t figure out how we?ll be able to leave. So when I read the headline “How to Get Out of Iraq,” I grabbed the latest copy of The New York Review of Books. In it, Peter Galbraith says the problem is that there are actually 3 Iraqs.
A similar situation was revealed when the fist of the Soviet Union was lifted from Yugoslovia. Almost instantly, old hatreds resumed until the country eventually broke up into several smaller ones. Likewise, Saddam’s heavy hand kept warring factions in Iraq from each other’s throats. But now that he’s gone, can these 3 major religious and ethnic divisions work together to create a single country,especially after we leave?
Galbraith writes, “Early in 2005, Iraq will likely see a clash between an elected Shiite-dominated central government trying to impose its will on the entire country, and a Kurdistan government insistent on preserving the de facto independent status Kurdistan has enjoyed for thirteen years. Add the Sunis, who supported Saddam, into the mix and and it’s a formula for civil war.
“The fundamental problem of Iraq is an absence of Iraqis. In the north the Kurds prefer almost unanimously not to be part of Iraq. Since 1991, Kurdistan has been de facto independent and most Iraqi Kurds see this period as a golden era of democratic self-government and economic progress. In 1992 Kurdistan had the only democratic elections in the history of Iraq. Iraq is a bad memory, while a young generation, which largely does not speak Arabic, has no sense of being Iraqi.
“In the south, Iraq’s long-repressed Shiites express themselves primarily through their religious identity. If free elections are held in Iraq, I think it likely that the Shiite religious parties?will have among them an absolute majority in the National Assembly.
“Sunni Arabs have always been the principal Iraqi nationalists [and] have long been accustomed to seeing the Iraqi state as a part of a larger Arab nation, and this was a central tenet of the Baath Party. As Sunni Arabs face the end of their historic domination of Iraq, they may seek to compensate for their minority status inside Iraq by further identifying themselves with the greater Arab nation. By attacking Shiite religious leaders, Sunni extremists seek to provoke a civil war between Iraq’s two main religious groups.”
So why don’t we simply encourage these different factions to form 3 separate countries? The answer in a single word is: Oil. Iraq’s largest oil fields are in the Shiite south or in the disputed territory of Kirkuk (claimed by both the Kurds and the Sunnis). Splitting Iraq into 3 parts would mean that while the Shiites had plenty of oil, the Kurds and the Sunnis would be endlessly fighting over who owned the oil fields on the border between their two countries, much as the Indians and the Pakistanis have threatened nuclear war over Kashmir.
There’s also an issue Galbraith doesn’t address: one of our reasons for invading Iraq in the first place was undoubtedly to get their oil into Western hands, at a time when oil-rich Saudi Arabia is being threatened by fundamentalists within their own country. Therefore we cannot allow the Shiites to form a separate Islamic state which would likely be anti- American. Islamic fundamentalists would be happy to keep all their oil to themselves and live a simple, less affluent life according to the laws of Sharia, especially if, at the same time, this would freeze the oil-starved West. If that happened, we might have to invade again, and why should we risk that when we’re already there?
I have to believe that the Bush government knew all this going in. Were they naively optimistic, or did they see no alternative? Since candor isn’t something the current administration is noted for, I guess we’ll have to figure it out for ourselves.
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