Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Reconciliation in Iraq

Positive news is coming out of Iraq in the form of fewer U.S. military casualties and Iraqi civilian deaths and injuries. The explanation is that the surge in troops beginning last February has helped to curtail the destructive activities of Al-Quade, Sunni insurgents, and Shiite militias. The purpose of the surge is to stabilize Iraq and provide a more peaceful setting within which the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds can reconcile long-standing differences and form a unified government.

For Iraqis, the high price of oil is a godsend. Iraq exports some 2 million barrels of oil a day. At $90-100 a barrel, oil exports generate $1.4 billion a week, or $65-70 billion, a year in revenue. (It should be noted that U.S. military operations in Iraq are costing about $150 billion a year, an overhead of more than 200 percent.) This enormous flow of income, three times what it was when oil was priced at $30 a barrel, should provide an incentive for Iraqis to achieve some degree of reconciliation that would enable each community to share in this windfall. Perhaps the combination of the surge and money will achieve the U.S. mission in Iraq.

As of mid-November 2007, several U.S. generals have stated that despite the window of opportunity which the surge is providing, Iraqis have made little progress toward reconciliation. Key laws, especially the sharing of oil revenue, have not been passed. Neither greater security nor money seem to have overcome ancient enmity.

The Shiite-Sunni rift dates back fourteen centuries, grounded in the fight over who should lead the faithful after the prophet Mohammed’s death in 632 A.D. There are also important religious differences between the two sects. The Shiites were the losers in a struggle, resulting in their minority status throughout the Arab Muslim world. The Shiites have a history of subjugation at the hands of the Sunni, nowhere more so than in Iraq under the brutal regime of the late Saddam Hussein. Forgiving and forgetting is no easy task.

A dispute that is fourteen centuries old is unlikely to be resolved in a matter of years, much less the few months that the surge provides. A list of long-standing ethnic conflicts throughout the world suggests that the goal of national reconciliation in Iraq is too optimistic.

Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland were at each other’s throats from 1690 until a peaceful resolution, perhaps only temporary, was reached in May 2007, over three centuries later. Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda and Burundi engaged in genocides that killed over a million people. North and South Sudan, now including Darfur, have been locked in civil war since independence. Other countries with ongoing ethnic conflicts or civil wars since they received independence include Sri Lanka, Congo, Guyana, Cyprus, Zanzibar, and Nigeria. Yugoslavia resolved its ethnic conflicts by dissolving into six different countries; one of those, Bosnia-Hercegovina, is itself separated into the Bosniak-Croat Federation and the Republic Srpska. Even peaceful Belgium is considering separating into two countries of Flemings and Walloons.

It is understandable that the United States desires the goal of a unified democratic Iraq, both as a buffer against Iran and as a model for other Arab states. A divided Iraq, either as three countries, a confederation (Swiss-style), or a federation could have difficulty retaining its autonomy. It is possible that Iraqi Shiites in the south would pursue close ties with fellow Shiites in Iran, that Turkey would resist an autonomous Kurdish region lest it inspire Kurds in Turkey to seek union with their fellow Kurds in northern Iraq, and that to resist the growth of Shia power, Sunni Arab states would intervene providing the minority Sunnis with financial and military support. But the goal of a unified democratic Iraq may be misplaced if it is impossible to achieve.

The Swiss Confederation has managed to survive two world wars and remain independent. It may be the only practical model for Iraq if the country is to retain any degree of unity. What would be needed is for the parties to agree to limit the authority of the central government and conclude a revenue sharing agreement that transfers most of the oil revenue to the separate communities. So long as U.S. policy focuses on national reconciliation, serious discussion of more viable alternatives is put on hold, perhaps when it will be too late.

1 comment :

Wirth said...

Eureka professor you have it! Just how and why The White House has not along time ago realsied this simple solution ?
In hindsight the demobilization of the Iraqi Military was a further mistake as Winston Churchill discovered after WW11 and hat caused the advent of UK Socialism with the election of Labour and Clement Atlee as Prime Minister....National Health etc.