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Total Comments in Report: 92

Comments on

4. Devolution to Three Regions

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This is an important recognition that it is the current situation of heightened sectarian confrontation in Iraq that is “artificial”, and not the state itself. Historically, Iraq has overwhelmingly enjoyed peaceful relations between its ethno-religious communities, and the international community should work to help recreate that peaceful equilibrium. The ISG rejects the partitionist alternative, and, at least implicitly, also the defeatist view that the population of Iraq is chronically locked in civil warfare. The sheer existence of a high number of multi-ethnic areas in Iraq with centuries-long historical traditions of coexistence should serve to refute the increasingly common misconception that Iraq can be held together only by the use of brutal force.

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Modern Iraq may be an articifial creation, but it never was neatly divided between (1) Kurds, (2) Sunni Arabs, and (3) Shiites. There were 3 Ottoman vilayets: Mosul, Baghdad and Basra, but these were just that, provinces, not independent states, and economically they were totally intertwined, with the Tigris and Euphrates serving as the principal unifying trade routes. In any case, none of these three provinces had homegeneous populations. Vilayet Mosul had Arabs, Kurds and Turkomans, as well Christians (Chaldeans, Assyrians, Syriacs, Armenians) and other, smaller groups (Jews, Shabak, Yazidis, etc.). What today is the Kurdish region was a part of Vilayet Mosul.

This whole notion of somehow dividing Iraq into three parts is an ahistoric, Kurdocentric concoction peddled in the US that was subsequently adopted by SCIRI for local opportunist political reasons. Of course, you could (and perhaps should) have a separate Kurdish entity, even one that declares its independence. But the boudaries between it and Arab Iraq will be bloodily contested, as we will soon see in Kirkuk, mostly because the Kurds now claim as theirs large territories that have historically been mixed and never were exclusively Kurdish or belonging to a non-existing Kurdistan.

But the additional idea that you somehow could divide (non-Kurdish) Sunnis from Shiites is absurd, given the high degree of inter-habitation and inter-marriage. Most of Iraq, measured in demograhic rather than geographic terms, is thoroughly inter-mixed. If you want to draw geographic boundaries between people following different branches of Islam, you will have to draw these through the middle of marriages and living rooms.

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But regardless of the longer history, important as it is, isn’t it true that the modern Iraqi state is an artificial creation? And that it was kept together, under Saddam Hussein, by brutally pitting one group against another? Isn’t it possible that these facts–plus the current civil war, under the U.S. occupation–have created a new reality, however tragic, that make the longer history irrelevant?