Sunday 27 January 2013

Out of sight, Iraq breaks up in three


Iraq has long been a religious, ethnic and ideological mosaic difficult to rule as a united entity, and Saddam Hussein's removal did little to change that.
In 1919, there were no Iraqi people. History, religion and geography pulled the people apart, not together.
Basra looked south, towards India and the Gulf, Baghdad had strong links with Persia [Iran], and Mosul had closer ties with Syria.
And the current war in Syria, Iraq’s next-door neighbor, has helped reignite the Sunnite-led insurgency in northern and western Iraq, especially in Mosul and the Anbar Province.
Gunmen yesterday killed two soldiers, injured another and kidnapped three more in Anbar after seven protesters were shot dead and 60 others injured by army gunfire in Fallujah.
The attacks on soldiers came as mourners buried the Sunnite protesters felled a day earlier.
The army said the protesters were trying to cut off an international highway linking Iraq with neighboring Jordan and Syria.
The tit for tat killings in Anbar Province, which makes up roughly one-third of Iraq's territory, are the first since mass protests against the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki began five weeks ago in Baghdad and western Iraq.
A demonstration followed the burials during which protesters shouted: “Listen Maliki, we are free people” and “Take your lesson from Bashar,” a reference to Syria’s embattled President Bashar al-Assad.
The protesters accuse Maliki of being “Iran’s man in Iraq” and his government of discriminating against Sunnite Arabs, saying they are treated as second-class citizens.
Their leaders’ demands range from Maliki's removal to the release of hundreds of women detainees and the suspension of an anti-terrorism law that Sunnites believe has been abused by authorities to target their sect unfairly.
The Sunnite protests broke out in December after Finance Minister Rafei el-Essawi's bodyguards and staff were detained on terrorism charges. Sunni leaders saw the arrests as part of a sustained crackdown on their sect by Iraq's Shiite leadership.
In December 2011, another crisis erupted after Maliki sought the arrest of Sunnite Vice-President Tariq el-Hashemi, accused by the prime minister of running death squads. He fled the country and was later sentenced to death in absentia.
Complicating the attempts to ease Sunnite protests, the government -- made up of Shiite, Sunnite and Kurdish blocs -- is also caught in a standoff over oil with autonomous Kurdistan in the north.
Abdelghani Ali Yehya
Abdelghani Ali Yehya, a Kurdish political analyst and prominent writer who heads the Journalists Union of Kurdistan, says today’s Iraq has already “splintered in three, but out of sight.”
In his think piece for the leading Saudi daily Asharq Alawsat, he begins by quoting from a memo written by Iraq’s King Faisal, the first (1921- 1933) monarch in the country’s modern era.
The 1925 memo was addressed to a commission mandated by the League of Nations to look into a dispute over the Mosul region between Turkey and the British protectorate of Iraq.
"Heartbrokenly,” King Faisal wrote, “I can say there is no Iraqi people yet, but only deluded human groups void of any national idea. Iraq is one of those countries lacking the fabric of social life – namely intellectual, denominational and religious unity."
Yehya says King Faisal was right. Since its inception in 1921, the Iraqi state has not ceased being challenged.
In August 1933, for example, it had to brutally repress a revolt in Dohuk Province by the Assyrian Christians of northern Iraq.
The 1935–1936 Iraqi Shiite revolts in the mid-Euphrates region against the Sunnite dominated authority of the Kingdom of Iraq followed.
Parallel revolts also broke out that year in chiefly-Kurdish northern Iraq.
In October 1935, the Iraqi government crushed yet another revolt by the Yazidi Kurds of Jabal Sinjar.
The Yazidis of Jabal Sinjar constituted the majority of Iraq’s Yazidi population -- the second largest non-Muslim minority within the kingdom, and the largest heterodox Kurdish group in the province of Mosul.
In 1939, the region of Jabal Sinjar was once again put under military control, together with the Shekhan District.
Yehya says persecution of Iraq’s minorities precipitated the schism between its Arab and ethnic Kurdish components.
It came in the wake of the Kurds’ 1991 uprisings, which culminated in the West’s establishment of no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq and the Kurds’ creation of the Kurdish Autonomous Republic in an area of Iraqi Kurdistan.
As the years passed, the Kurds could no longer remain under the authority of a central government, thus fulfilling the first two-way partition of Iraq, says Yehta.
The three-way breakup started after the 2003 fall of Saddam’s Sunnite-led Baathist regime and its replacement by a chiefly Shiite administration.
The ethnic and sectarian cleansing of Kurds, Christians, Shiites and Yazidis by extremist Sunnite factions started that same year.
Some Shiite militias in turn began cleansing Sunnites in Baghdad and the southern provinces. Thousands of Iraq’s Arab Sunnites were driven to Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Kurdistan and elsewhere.
Mutual cleansing by the two sides, Yehya explains, eventually carved Iraq’s exclusively Arab Sunnite region.
The idea of dividing Iraq in three gained significant momentum over the past 10 years, specially after then Sen. Joe Biden – the incumbent U.S. vice president – embraced it in 2006.
Biden's so-called soft-partition plan -- a variation of the blueprint dividing up Bosnia in 1995 -- called for dividing Iraq into three semi-autonomous regions, held together by a central government.
There would be a loose Kurdistan, a loose Shia-stan and a loose Sunni-stan, all under a big, if weak, Iraq umbrella.
"The idea, as in Bosnia, is to maintain a united Iraq by decentralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group -- Kurd, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab -- room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests," Biden and Leslie H. Gelb wrote in their opinion piece for The New York Times on May 1, 2006. "We could drive this in place with irresistible sweeteners for the Sunnis to join in, a plan designed by the military for withdrawing and redeploying American forces, and a regional nonaggression pact."
Yehya says much as past Iraqi governments cracked down on Kurds, Maliki has now taken the foolhardy step of closing the Jordanian-Iraqi crossing at Trebil in order to strangle Anbar economically.
Adding to the three-way partition fuel are the pro-Maliki demonstrations in the Shiite provinces.
“If Iraqi Kurdistan is semi-independent and the Sunnite Triangle is fenced in and shut out, it means the three-way breakup has become a fait accompli,” writes Yehya.
“It also means partition in the minds has translated into partition on the ground. Either an Iraqi Gorbachev comes next to institutionalize the breakup smoothly or we enter into an unpleasant cycle of creative chaos, catastrophes, killings and bloodshed.”