A KURDISH Peshmerga soldier holds a Kurdistan flag during an intensive security deployment after clashes with Islamic State militants..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The unfolding chaos in Iraq is fundamentally linked to the historic religious and ethnic enmity among its three major ethnic and religious components. Iraq was created by forcefully merging three semi-autonomous Ottoman provinces of the predominately Kurdish Mosul, the Sunni-Arab Baghdad and the Shi’ite-Arab Basra after World War I. Consequently, its history has been marked with continual sectarian conflicts between Shi’ite and Sunni Arabs, and by Kurdish uprisings for self-determination.
These trends shed light on the need for the long-awaited ethno- religious partition.
The transition from decades of dictatorial rule to the so-called democracy after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath regime has failed to address the underlying ethnic and political issues: The historic Sunni-Shi’ite divide and the Kurds’ aspiration for self-determination.
Today, Iraq is experiencing another bloody war. This time, its Sunni Arabs, with the help of foreign jihadist fighters, have risen under the banner of a most brutal Salafist jihadist terrorist group known as Islamic State (IS). This phenomenon is attributed to the marginalizing and alienating policies of the Shi’ite-led central government.
On another front, contentious disputes between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Baghdad over disputed areas, hydrocarbon rights and budget have brought the two sides to the brink of war on a number of occasions. Further, the Kurds have threatened to secede from Iraq because of the ongoing economic blockade and restrictions.
Historically, partition has been used to resolve many ethnic or religious conflicts. Most partitions have followed decades of war and bloodshed, making it the most attractive option for bringing peace and stability. Some policy analysts recommend applying the Dayton Accord (The 1995 agreement that ended the bloody ethnic war in the Balkans) as a framework to solve ethnic conflicts around the world.
The advocates of partition argue that it is more humane as the settlement is reached through negotiation rather than war, which saves lives. Some base their argument on the classical Wilsonian notion that “separatist nationalism stems from bad borders and incompatible cultures.”
They assert that depriving ethnic or religious groups of statehood causes unrest.
On the other hand, opponents argue that partition happens in the state of war and intensifies violence. Further, they claim that it could potentially inhibit economic development and that long-term solutions are connected to a state’s emphasis on rule of law, democracy, equal opportunity, resource-sharing and infrastructure development.
However, opinions aside, empirical data supports partition. In a University of California San Diego study, Chapman and Roeder concluded that partition is the best option for nationalist wars compared to unitary states, de facto separation, or autonomy. After evaluating 72 nationalist civil wars between 1945 and 2002, they found that only 14 percent of the partition cases experienced resumption of violence within two years, compared to 63% of unitary states, 50% of de facto separations and 67% of autonomy cases.
The idea of an independent Kurdistan and a Shi’ite-Sunni state with federal regions has strong grounds.
Although Shi’ites and Sunnis have always resented one another’s rule, the nature of their resistance differs from the separatist and nationalistic Kurdish revolts. Most of their conflicts were over control of the country. For instance, when the Ba’ath party took over the country in 1963, 53% of the party members were Shi’ites. Further, in the 2009 elections, Al-Iraqia, a union between the secular Shi’ites and the Sunni minorities, gained the highest number of votes.
In contrast, the impetus behind Kurdish movements has been their aspiration for independence. The unofficial referendum that was conducted in 2004 validates this notion, as Kurds nearly unanimously chose independence over being part of Iraq.
All things considered, Iraq in its current form is a failed state. The notion of preserving the territorial integrity of Iraq will continue to be disastrous. In reality, the country is unofficially partitioned along ethnic and sectarian lines.
Hence, Baghdad and the global leaders must come to terms with this reality.
In essence, KRG’s relative security and stability and its economic and democratic achievements are fundamentally attributed to its semi-independent status − in spite of Baghdad’s deliberate economic blockades and restrictions which is aimed at undermining its accomplishments. With that said, an independent Kurdistan will serve as a model for democracy and coexistence in the Muslim world. Further, it will enable Kurds to more freely engage with the international community and positively contribute to global stability and security.
Moreover, a federal Shi’ite-Sunni Arab state with a weak central authority can address the historic sectarian conflicts between Shi’ite and Sunni Arabs. The right to self-determination will reduce the mutual threat of domination and marginalization. It will also limit foreign intervention and help contain terrorist organizations.The author, a Kurdish-American from San Diego, California, is the former president of the American Kurdish Council of California and has a master’s degree in global affairs from the University of Denver.