By Abid Mustafa
November 6, 2006
Over the past few months talk about the division of Iraq has gained currency amongst America’s political establishment. Most notable is the plan advocated by Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Biden purports to decentralise Iraq and give the country's three major sectarian groups, the Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis, their own regions, distributing oil revenue to all. Another US official Peter Galbraith, a former State Department employee who's advised Iraqi Kurdish leaders on political issues and is the author of “The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War without End” , said in an interview, “The country has already broken up. And actually, I'm opposed to using U.S. resources to try to put it back together again. Kurdistan in the north is already a de facto independent state. It has its own elected government. It has its own army. It flies its own flag. The Iraqi army is not allowed to go to Kurdistan. The Iraqi flag is banned there. The Shiite south is governed by the Shiite religious parties who enforce an Iranian-style Islamic law with militias. It's also not governed from Baghdad. Baghdad itself is the front line of a civil war divided between a Shiite east and a Sunni west, and the Sunni center is a battleground between the coalition and Sunni insurgents. So the country has already broken up, and this result is actually incorporated into the Iraqi constitution. The constitution creates a virtually powerless center…”
Others like the former secretary of State James Baker who is currently the Republican co-chairman of a bipartisan panel that is reassessing Iraq strategy for President George W. Bush is critical of Biden’s plan, but is open to the prospect of dividing Iraq between Syria and Iran. In an interview to ABC News television Baker said, “I believe in talking to your enemies.”
The debate amongst America’s political establishment to partition Iraq has caused consternation amongst some Arab states who are avid supporters of the old British policy to preserve Iraq’s integrity. Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal in a speech delivered in Washington on 30/10/06 said,” To envision that you can divide Iraq into three parts is to envision ethnic cleansing on a massive scale, sectarian killing on a massive scale and uprooting of families and even the divorce rate in Iraq will shoot up 300 percent.”
King Abdullah long ago forewarned that the partition of Iraq would create a Shiite Crescent stretching from Iran to Lebanon. In an article entitled’ Iraq, Jordan See Threat To Election From Iran’ published by the Washington Post on 8/11/04, King Abdullah warned that If pro-Iran parties or politicians dominate the new Iraqi government a new "crescent" of dominant Shiite movements or governments stretching from Iran into Iraq, Syria and Lebanon could emerge, alter the traditional balance of power between the two main Islamic sects and pose new challenges to U.S. interests and allies. He further went to state that Iran was the main beneficiary from the chaos in Iraq. He said that Iranians are paying salaries and providing welfare to unemployed Iraqis to build pro-Iranian public sentiment. Some Iranians, he added, have been trained by Iran's Revolutionary Guards and are members of militias that could fuel trouble in Iraq after the election. “It is in Iran's vested interest to have an Islamic republic of Iraq . . . and therefore the involvement you're getting by the Iranians is to achieve a government that is very pro-Iran.", he said. Ever since the Shiite rose to power in Iraq, King Abdullah has often repeated that American policy is bolstering Shiite power across the region.
Hitherto Washington has not officially endorsed the plan to divide Iraq and give Southern Iraq to Iran, but the facts on the ground speak volumes about America’s intentions.
Since the first gulf war, America has worked tirelessly to isolate Baghdad from the Kurdish areas to the North of Iraq and Shiite dominated areas to the South of Iraq. America instigated the infamous Operation Northern Watch to enforce the no-fly zone north of the 36th parallel in Iraq and monitor Iraqi compliance with UN Security Council resolutions 678, 687, and 688. Operation Southern Watch was enforced to protect the no-fly zone south of the 33rd parallel in Iraq and monitor compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolutions 687, 688, and 949.
After the fall of Saddam, America has become the chief perpetrator in fostering sectarian violence through employing military operations and promoting defunct political processes that by their very nature engender sectarian strife.
In the aftermath of Baath regime’s sudden collapse, America sure of Kurdish support for autonomous rule began to garner support amongst the Shias for a pseudo federalist state. To accomplish this feat, America enlisted the help of Ayatollah Sistani and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim the leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution. Both Ayatollahs’ have close ties with Iran; the only difference between the two is that the latter has 10,000 soldiers at his disposal. The Badr army as they are known is tolerated by the Americans and conduct operations under American tutelage. Hakim has aggressively pushed for federalism for the southern regions, calling for nine provinces to merge.
In October 2006, the Iraqi parliament passed a resolution after a controversial vote, agreeing to revisit how to create a federalist state in 18 months. Sunni parliamentarians boycotted the vote, saying it would divide the country, and the measure passed 140-to-0 by the largely Shiite and Kurdish members still present. Shortly after the parliament vote, Hakim said in a news conference that dividing Iraq into three regions would stop the violence, citing the relatively peaceful Kurdish regions. "There is a clear point of view gleaned from our Kurdish brothers, and that is, the Iraq problem can only be solved with regions," Hakim said.
Hakim’s declaration for greater Shiite autonomy coincides with Bush’s abandonment of promoting democracy in the region, drawing Iraq—Vietnam parallels and signaling US troop withdrawal to start as early as 2007. Unsurprisingly then that Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to Iraq, recently said that the unity government of Nouri al-Maliki, had only two months left to get a grip on the situation. It appears that the option of cut and run will be replaced by cut Iraq and watch Iran take southern Iraq.
But Washington has three major problems with this scheme. Firstly, Europe led by Britain has considerable influence over the various Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite factions- So any partitioning of Iraq may not result in oil rich regions falling completely under America’s hegemony. Secondly, Ahmadinejad is proving to be a real nuisance towards American policy in the region, despite US attempts to curb his ambitions through the likes of Khatami and Rafsanjani. Thirdly, the most worrisome matter for Washington— is what if the division of Iraq fails and leaves a vacuum only to be filled in by the Caliphate- something which Bush and his acolytes have profusely warned about.