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Iraq: One Nation, Divisible By: Micah Halpern
MicahHalpern.com | Wednesday, December 27, 2006

When in Rome, do as the French do.

We all know that won't work. So why is the president of the United States trying to impose an American-style democracy on the nation of Iraq?

When in the Arab world, think like an Arab, act like an Arab, play the game like an Arab would. Iraq has many strengths; underscore them. The region offers many natural resources, utilize them. Arab culture and customs are clearly defined; understand them. Use the history and the conflicts of the Arab world as a model to create a stable Iraq.

How do you solve the problem of Iraq? Not by trying to unify a nation that does not want to be unified. You solve the problem of Iraq by allowing the people of Iraq their individuality, by capitalizing on the hatred and division already within the country and by allowing Iraq to be divided - locally divided. By encouraging the various tribes that comprise Iraq to live in and rule their own local regions, by allowing them to create their own local governments; by emphasizing the differences, not by universalizing them; by creating one nation, under Allah, divisible for all.

The objective should not be unity. That will never succeed. It will instead promote further discord and further weakening of a very fragile national ego. A realistic objective is one that provides an infrastructure through which Iraqis can live peaceably side by side one another, not intermingled among each other. The goal of this Iraq is to have Iraqis live next to one another without murdering each other. Literally. Unification places power in the hands of the biggest and the strongest group. In this case, that would be Shiites and giving the Shiites ultimate power in Iraq would be a grave mistake. Literally. It would mean the systematic, cold-blooded massacre of Iraq's Sunni population.
Right now, it's one big jumbled mess of a country. The Kurds want independence. The Sunni population of Iraq feels disenfranchised. Once upon a time, even though a minority, the Sunnis ruled. Today they are an oppressed minority. Shiites are now attacking Sunnis because they can, because for years they were the victims and now they want their oppressors to suffer.

Revenge has a long history in the Arab world. Revenge is culturally accepted in the Arab world. Honor prevails. Honor killing is part of the culture. It is acceptable behavior: you kill for the honor of your family, for the sake of the tribe. The on-going, out-of-control killing on the streets of Iraq is motivated by honor and revenge.

Shiites are killing because they can, because they are now in power and this is payback for decades of oppression. The Shiite mantra is we did not start this dispute; do not ask us to stop it. If Shiites are allowed to maintain ultimate control in Iraq the killing will continue. The only way to stop the killing is by separating the populations. Creating local governments in Iraq will save lives. Sunnis will never have as much power as they once had, but they will have control over their own lives, their own lands, their own property.

Call it power sharing, Iraqi-style. The only way to solve the problems in Iraq is to convince Sunnis and Sunni leaders that their only hope for power is through the control of their own areas. Maliki must be convinced of this also. No administration and no authority will be able to bribe them into submission. And then the Shiites must be told that they no longer have all of Iraq to rule, rape and ravage.

Sounds good on paper, but how do you actually make this happen? You make it happen by using the region's natural resources - other Arab countries. Employ regional powers to help. This conflict is bigger than just Iraq. The fighting in Iraq extends to families and tribes throughout the Arab world. Local religious disputes link to larger, regional disputes. They stretch farther and sink deeper than parochial American interests can ever imagine. Use the festering animosity between Saudi Arabia and Iran to pressure the people of Iraq into a plan that will save them from self-destruction and provide them with a future.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are archenemies. Iran is Shiite and Saudi Arabia is Sunni. Iran is Persian and Saudi Arabia is Arab. There is no way that Saudi Arabia will permit Iran to take over in Iraq through Shiite proxy. Iraq shares a 500-mile border with Saudi Arabia; that's the distance from Boston to North Carolina, from New York City to the Florida state border. What happens in Iraq directly affects Saudi Arabia. The United States has no true clout in Iraq. The United States has a presence, but Saudi Arabia and Iran have the clout.

Nothing happens quickly in the Middle East, that is another part of the culture. But change can be affected. Iraq can be saved from itself, but Iraq must want to be saved. Iraq must be convinced.

Do it right. Do not force Iraqis to unite, force Iraqis to take responsibility for their own lives.

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Micah Halpern maintains The Micah Report.

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