Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Canary In The Coalmine

The struggle to write a constitution for Iraq represents all the problems and frustrations of the whole Iraq problem for the U.S. With only the Shiites and Kurds really signing off in support of the new constitutional draft, and the Sunni minority which represents about 22% of Iraq, and the lion's share of most of the homegrown insurgency, largely left out of the process, a volatile situation for continued ethnic insurgency warfare or even civil war is being set up. This is very regrettable, and likely a flashpoint for true conflict rather than mere political posturing by Sunni politicians for a better deal in the constitutional construction process.

The Shiite majority and their Kurdish allies have so far made the constitutional draft a reflection of their own economic interests in the oil revenues of Iraq, as well as for their personal political goals such as ethnic autonomy. The Sunni minority is largely left out of the process, and not only out-voted in the Iraqi National Assembly, but also largely without oil interests in their largely Western portion of Iraq. In fact, the current draft document may be setting Iraq up to be broken into three ethnic states, A Kurdish Northern state, and a Shiite Southern state, both with substantial oil revenues, and a Sunni state in Western Iraq, whose chief asset is merely sand. This document that largely excludes Sunni ethnic and economic interests will likely foster this breakup of Iraq, or even a civil war or a continued insurgency as angry Sunni interests, who feared a loss of power in Iraq with the toppling of Saddam Hussein are now witnessing a realization of their own worst fears.

This would be a difficult situation for the U.S. How would the U.S. respond to being caught up in the center of a true civil war. Or if Iraq breaks up, would U.S. troops only stay in the Sunni sectors or will they be part of deployments in three seperate states? It seems rather than preserving Iraq, the U.S. may have so fully destablized this state that it's breakup is now highly likely.

Shortly after the WWI, Britain conquered parts of the Ottoman Empire in the MidEast, and with the discovery of oil in the Kurdish area of Iraq, Britain found this a very important asset to support the growth of British industry as their industrial revolution continued to bloom. Important assets like oil could brought under British control in the aftermath of WWI, and could conceivably be justified by post-war arrangements after the major combat war with Turkey. Winston Churchill was even rumored to have written the map for Iraq that combined the three seperate ethnic groups together in a hotel room on a bit of paper. But Britain had difficulty controlling nationalist forces within Iraq, and resorted to use of aircraft, armored vehicles and even mustard gas attacks on entire villages in Iraq to settle down the antiBritish violence. For forty years, Britain battled with nationalist elements in Iraq until the 1958 rebellion forced Britain out of Iraq.

The iron hand of Saddam Hussein basicly forced Iraq to remain a single state. However with this iron rule gone, a history of a future united Iraq is highly unlikely. The Sunni conflicts with the constitution writing process prove that the old ethnic divisions that Britain had to deal with in the 40 year nationalist conflict still remain. During the rule of Saddam Hussein these ethnic conflicts were merely kept in check by his brutality, rather than actually resolved. And the mustard gas attacks of Kurdish villages by Saddam Hussein proved that the same sort of violence that the British once used to suppress ethnic dissent still proved to be effective.

Iraq was never a real nation. These three ethnic groups had nothing in common. What the U.S. will do with the three broken pieces of this state if a breakup is in Iraq's future will be a good question. But the ethnic conflicts over the constitution should be taken as a "canary in the coalmine" that ethnic divisions will likely break Iraq apart. This is yet another problem that the U.S. had not planned for, but the past history of Iraq clearly warned of.


Post a Comment

<< Home