Dismembering Iraq

01/14/2014 04:24 pm ET | Updated Mar 16, 2014

The United States made a great effort to leave behind a viable nation of Iraq. Unfortunately, two recent events demonstrate that it's now disintegrating.

The first is the agreement which the Iraqi region of Kurdistan entered into with Turkey a few weeks ago to supply oil through a pipeline. This has raised tensions with Baghdad which fears that the move could spark independence by the Kurds in the northern part of the country. (Wall Street Journal, Dec. 3, 2013, p. A10.)

The oil deal could be incredibly valuable to the Turks because it would bring oil and later gas into their energy poor country. Turkey would also gain an ownership stake in some of the oil fields. For the Kurds, it would represent a giant step to achieve their longtime dream of establishing their own nation independent of Baghdad. To appease the Iraqi government, the deal envisions that Baghdad will receive a large portion of the revenue from the transaction.

This was not enough to win the consent of Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki who is furious over the deal. His energy minister, Yildiz, has stated that any energy agreement with Turkey must be made by the Iraqi central government. (Financial Times, Dec. 11, p. 4.)

Maliki's conflict with the Kurds over the deal has thrown the ball back to Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan. He risks the wrath of Maliki if he proceeds without Baghdad's consent. Or he can hold up and not go forward. Influencing his decision will be the animosity which already exists between Ankara and Baghdad. Also, the ubiquitous Sunni Shiite conflict in the Muslim world again raises its head. Erdogan and the vast majority of the Turks are Sunnis; Maliki and the bulk of his government are Shiites.

The second development is the violence in the Western Iraq province of Anbar were Sunnis are in open revolt against Maliki's Shiite dominated government. Militants affiliated with al Qaeda have joined with local tribal Sunni leaders to expel government troops and to raise their flag over the powerfully symbolic city of Fallujah, where U.S. troops fought their bloodiest battle of the Iraqi war. (Washington Post, Jan. 7., p. A1.)

These two events accelerate Iraq's trajectory toward disintegration. During 2013, violence spiked in Iraq. More than 7,000 civilians were killed in bombings and shootings in outdoor markets, cafes, bus stations and mosques. Rarely a week passed without a report of a suicide bomber killing more than a score of people. In one incident, eight suicide bombers acted simultaneously. (New York Times, Nov. 2, 2013, p. A-18.)

Maliki's Iraqi government has been helpless to stop these attacks. In fact, his government can't do anything. It doesn't have a defense or interior minister. In Sunni areas, the government's security forces have withdrawn. They hole up in nearby barracks, virtually ceding the land to Sunni militias. (The Economist, Nov. 2, 2013, p. 51.)

Maliki is so desperate to bolster security that he made a trip to Washington to meet with President Obama in December for the first time since 2011. There was great irony here. Maliki, who practically tossed the U.S. out of Iraq and aligned his country with Iran, was now pleading hat in hand for Obama to save his country.

Unfortunately, Maliki picked the wrong time and the wrong president. Obama wants less and not more Middle East involvement. Even when Maliki played the Al Qaeda card, warning that the terrorist group was on the rise, all that Maliki has received is a promise to accelerate weapons deliveries. Positively no American troops.

Maliki bears much of the responsibility for the current chaos in Iraq. His divisive policies repudiating democracy, except in name only, and favoring Shiites over Sunnis and Kurds has drawn the country to the brink of disintegration.

The most critical fact about the diversity of Iraq is that Shiite Muslims are roughly 60 percent of the population; Sunni Muslims 20 percent; and Kurds 20 percent. These disparate and warring factions were held together for decades by British rule and then by military strongmen. The last of them was the cruel and megalomaniacal Sunni autocrat, Saddam Hussein.

The future looks grim for Iraq. There is insufficient social cohesiveness to overcome ethnic differences and bind the people. Iran, the self-appointed leader of the Shiite world, is egging on Iraqi Shiites to achieve total dominance. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are arming and financing Sunni Jihadists to attack the state and to plant powerful bombs in Shiite areas. The Kurds, recognizing the weakness of the central government in Baghdad, have been threatening to create their own nation, and take the oil in their territory with them. The agreement with Turkey must be viewed in this context.

There is a possible solution to the imbroglio: a federation for Iraq. I urged it in articles in the Washington Times and Military.com in 2004-2006 when the U.S. government was developing an endgame strategy that called for national elections. Under the federation concept, there would be within the Iraqi Republic, three separate states -- one in the predominantly Shiite region; one in the Sunni region; and the third in the Kurdish area of the North.

If the United States were to take the lead in pushing this federation concept for Iraq, it might gain traction. We would be conceding that democracy is not working and will not work in Iraq. We would also be saying that it's time to abandon artificial international boundaries drawn by Britain almost 100 years ago. Time to accept ethnic and religious animosity as realities. Unless this is done, Iraq's descent toward the abyss will continue.

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