Monday, February 28, 2005

Iraq at the Seams

The more one pays attention to Iraq’s patchwork of mixed ethnicities and religions, the more you have to assume Iraq will either fall into civil war or be based on the loosest interpretation of federalism possible. I hope for the latter (obviously), so that both the Kurds in the north and the Shiites of the south have the autonomy they deserve and suffered so long to get. This will be dicey of course, as the NYTs shows today in two stories.

James Glanz reports from Basra where Basrans and much of southern Iraq look north at the anarchy of central (Sunni) Iraq and declare, “No thank you!” Rich in oil reserves, Basra was kept poor and repressed by Hussein. Now Basrans want that oil wealth for themselves for repair and reconstruction and grimace at the idea of sending their wealth to Baghdad. The local governing council had already sought to impose a 10 percent tax on oil sent north, but it was defeated due to legal constraints. More tensions will mount as Basra holds the only port in all of Iraq, Umm Qasr, which is invaluable as a center of commerce for all of Iraq. (Halliburton subsidiary, Kellog, Brown & Root is already hip to Basra, moving its center of operations south away from the warmth of exploding cars and dogs.) But for all this talk of possible secession, the Shiite south has a majority in Iraq’s new parliament and one would expect the Shiite leadership to return enough pork down south to quell any desire for a separate nation.

Up north, secession seems more probable as the Kurds are demanding the ability to keep their militia, the peshmerga, alive. The Kurds of the north think of themselves as Kurdish first and Iraqi, well, not at all. As Edward Wong reports, the militamen he saw marching shout, “Kurdistan or death!” As I said before, “the loosest of federalisms possible…” Yet even the loosest of federalisms cannot tolerate different groups maintaining separate armies outside of command of the central government. And as Edward Wong rightly points out, there’s a good possibility Iraq will become warlord dominated fiefdoms rather than the uneasy quasi-democracy those of good will hope it will be. Let’s call this the possible Afghanistanization of Iraq.

For now, nothing’s certain, and a unified Iraq, albeit loosely federated, is possible if the long-time persecuted Kurds and Shiites can put down their defenses long enough to embrace the tolerance and compromise democracy thrives on. More daunting, they have to do this while integrating their long time persecutors into the government if they want an end to the largely Sunni inspired insurgency.

-- M. Wood