On September 15, 2007, General David Petraeus is scheduled to deliver his report on Iraq to the U.S. Congress. President Bush has stated that he would follow General Petraeus recommendations. According to the Times of London (8-16-07) Petraeus “would recommend troops reductions by next summer, but cautioned against a significant withdrawal.” The Times reported that Petraeus qualified his remarks, saying that the “U.S. footprint in Iraq would have to be a good bit smaller by next summer.” At the same time Petraeus also signaled “the surge would continue into next year” and, he gave warning against a quick and hefty withdrawal that “would surrender the gains we have fought so hard to achieve.”
The German weekly Der Spiegel reported on Aug. 18, 2007 that a new study released last Wednesday in Berlin on the Iraqi situation concluded that Iraq’s future is “not too bright,” and that “already today, the main priority is to prevent Iraq from breaking apart completely.” The study concluded that there is little hope of a centralized power in Iraq and that the country’s future depends on walking the fine line between decentralization of power and a civil war.” Guido Steinberg, a terrorism and Middle East expert authored the study titled Iraq Between Federalism and Collapse, published by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.
Steinberg’s basic assumption is “that a federalist solution will be the only possibility to maintain Iraq as a single country. The most important role (for) German and European policies should therefore be that of supporting steps toward a peaceful federalist solution.” If federalism fails, Steinberg asserts, “the result would be devastating, including the possibility of full scale civil war complete with foreign intervention.”
General Petraeus’ report notwithstanding, the current Iraqi government of Nuri al-Maliki is dysfunctional, and the likelihood that Maliki will be able to create a viable government is in doubt. The recent withdrawal of Sunni cabinet members has basically sealed the fate of the Mailiki government. Of the 18-benchmarks set up for the Iraqi government to act upon, key ones have been ignored or remain unfulfilled.
A unitary government in Iraq is a pipe dream that the Bush administration will be compelled to abandon sooner or later - preferably sooner. Like Humpty Dumpty, Iraq - once broken cannot be put together again. Under the cruel and punishing rule of Saddam and his Baathist predecessors, Iraq trudged through by force. The minority Sunni-Arabs lorded over a majority of Shiite and Kurds since 1932. And now the Iraqi Army is gone, as is the Baathist fear apparatus. No mechanism currently exists that could compel the Kurds and the Shiites to be subjugated once again to a Sunni minority rule. The Sunnis however, believe in their “right” to rule Iraq, and will never allow Iraq to be dominated by the Shiites - whom they consider heretical.
Winston Churchill contributed a great deal to the survival of democracy and the defeat of Nazism. He was perhaps the greatest statesman of the 20th century. But even Churchill made fatal errors. One of them being the arbitrary and irrational creation of Iraq - an inorganic mix of disparate and antagonistic groups that he hoped would allow British interests control over oil in the Kurdish north and the Shiite south.
The Kurds, who had sought independence from Ottoman/Turks, Arab, and Iranian rule, were promised autonomy in the Treaty of Sevres (1920), but had their rights to any form of self-determination squashed when the Allies signed the Treaty of Lausanne in1923. The British ignored their rights as well as those of the majority Shiite Arab population.
Today, the Kurds with their capital in Erbil, are conducting themselves as an independent state. The regional government of Kurdistan has its own assembly, flag, army, and constitution and serves as the best example of a functioning state and a nascent democracy. The Shiites in Southern Iraq are also building their own state institutions, albeit, an Islamic state modeled after the theocracy in Iran. The Sunni Arabs remain uncompromising in their quest for reversing reality. Arrangements for a fair distribution of oil revenues might help persuade the Sunnis to join in a federated Iraq, which might create a measure of stability and eventually end the current Sunni insurgency against the Shiite dominated government.
The argument for a multi-religious and/or multi-ethnic federalized Iraq is however weakened by the Yugoslav experience. Held together by its strongman Josip Broz Tito until 1980, the federation unraveled within a decade of his death, coinciding with the end of Soviet domination over the East/Central European states (former Soviet Bloc) and the emergence of nationalism and democracy. In Yugoslavia, it culminated in a series of wars between the Serbs (Orthodox Christians) and the Croats (Catholic), and between the Serbs, Croats, and Muslims in Bosnia. The wars led to the independence of all the components of former Yugoslavia.
While Iraq’s prospects as a federal state are still unclear, there are visible indications that the Kurds and the Shiites are opting for independence. Justice requires that the Kurds be granted the right of self-determination. America owes the Kurds much more than the Palestinians (the Bush administration is currently pushing for an independent Palestinian state), and a free and democratic Kurdistan would leave the Bush administration with a proud legacy.
As hopeful as General Petraeus’ report might be, it will not change the political realities in Iraq. Neither the U.S. government nor General Petraeus will be able to accommodate the demands of the three main groups that make up the current Iraq: Shiite Arabs, Sunni Arabs, and non-Arab Kurds. To prevent an Iranian takeover (perhaps unavoidable in the Shiite south) of Iraq or interference by outside forces, the U.S. might consider stationing its reduced troop levels in friendly and pro-America Kurdistan (despite the fact that the Bush Sr. administration abandoned them to Saddam Hussein’s genocide after encouraging them to rebel).
The Kurds would welcome American bases in Kurdistan as protection from the Turks (who have threatened invasion if they declare their independence) and for economic reasons. U.S. bases in Kurdistan would keep our troops safe while within striking distance of all points in Iraq, Iran and Syria.