The rapid rise of violence in Iraq and the sudden victory of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the world's most brutal Jihadist terror group, against the Iraqi Army in Mosul and the other Sunni-dominated areas and the Sunni support for the ISIL (driven by their distrust of Baghdad) illuminates the deeply-rooted and historic political issues in Iraq. Accordingly, to reach a long-term political settlement, the United States and the other international players must promote a solution that addresses the aspiration of its indigenous people.
The borders of Iraq, along with Syria and much of the Middle East, are the outcome of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, a secret agreement between United Kingdom and France (with the approval of Russia) following the demise of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. The agreement paved the way for the United Kingdom and France to control and divide the Ottoman provinces and later design the borders of new states without taking into account the demands of the ethnic and religious groups living in their own ancestral lands.
As a result, Iraq was created by forcefully merging three semi-autonomous Ottoman provinces of the predominately Kurdish Mosul in the North, the Sunni-Arab Baghdad in the center, and the Shiite-Arab Basra in the South, to be ruled under the Sunnis. It led to decades of tyranny, as the latter ruled with an iron fist -- oppressing the Kurds and the Shiites. Thus, the history of Iraq has been filled with endless uprisings and wars since its creation.
In the aftermath of the second gulf war in 2003, the Shiites, who make-up the majority of the population, became the new masters of the so-called Democratic Federal Iraq. Further, a federal Kurdish region made-up of three Kurdish provinces, known as the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), was officially recognized. Yet, after 11 years, Iraq continues to experience serious political crisis and violence has reached its peak in the areas south of the KRG borders.
The current turmoil is the outcome of the divisive and marginalizing policies of the Shiite led central government in Baghdad, which has enabled the ISIL to gain a strong foothold in the Sunni dominated areas and to receive the support of its population, including some of the tribes and the ruminants of the former Ba'ath party.
ISIL's seizure of Iraq's second largest city, Mosul, and vast Sunni territories in Iraq and Syria, along with territories captured by the Syrian Kurds, Syrian National Coalition, and other Jihadist groups, have eroded the borders of Iraq and Syria and have nullified the Sykes-Picot agreement.
Over the years, the United States' policy has been in favor of preserving the territorial integrity of Iraq, mainly to pacify its strongest regional alley, Turkey. Further, in the post-Saddam era, the Obama administration has blindly supported and armed the Shiite-led Iraqi government with sophisticated U.S. military arsenals (some of which have now fallen into than the hands of the ISIL), despite Maliki's disenfranchising and marginalizing policies against the Kurds and Sunnis.
Consequently, the United States and the other international powers should look beyond short-term strategies for reducing violence and combating terrorism, as the failure in their quest stems from disregarding the underlying issues.
The geopolitical situation in the region has changed drastically. Iraqi Kurdistan is the only proven success story in Iraq. The Kurds, along with the ethnic and religious minorities, are experiencing a thriving economy in a peaceful and evolving democracy. Further, due to its strong economic ties with the KRG, Turkey has recently voiced its support for the Iraqi Kurds' right to self-determination.
Obama ought to take into account the wisdom in President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points speech given to the U.S. Congress on January 8th, 1918: "National aspirations must be respected; people may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent. Self determination is not a mere phrase; it is an imperative principle of action."
Unquestionably, to win the turbulent war against terrorism and to reach a long-term settlement for the century long territorial disputes, the voices and demands of the moderate ethnic and religious group must be heard and respected. With that said, the solution lies in one of the key cardinal principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right to self-determination. Hence, as the historic national borders of Kurdistan and the Sunni and Shiite regions in both Iraq and Syria are now a reality, the only viable solution is to demarcate the Iraq and Syria borders accordingly.