A Boring History Rant
I admit that I don’t have the first clue about what it might be like to live in Iraq today. Neither does the American media, or most of the American public. For a glimpse, look at Riverbend’s blog
or Salam Pax
. It would be good idea for US voters to get very smart about Iraq in the near future. One of the major issues of this presidential campaign year is going to be “The Iraq Question”.
Not the question of whether the war was justified; I have always been convinced that it was not, and every day the evidence mounts that I was correct in that assessment (even without access to classified briefings!). Rather , the question: How do we get out of this mess without making things worse?
Without understanding the historical and current realities of the Iraqi people it is impossible to evaluate the likelihood of success that our various “exit options” present. The Bush administration has set a target date of June for elections in Iraq. This presumes that sometime after that, as the Iraqi people begin to govern themselves, the US should be able to start withdrawing our occupation force. How likely is it that elections in June will be successful and accepted? Will the Iraqis be able to function as a nation with a democratic form of government? If so, how long will it take?
Before 1920, Iraq didn’t exist as a country
. The region was controlled by the Ottoman Empire for several hundred years and was part of what was then referred to as Mesopotamia. The Ottomans administered the provinces in this region by treating with the more powerful of the local Sheiks. There was no national or even regional identity among the people in this region; only family, clan, tribe and religion.
The British gained control of the area as a result of WW I and in 1920 created the “nation” of Iraq out of the Ottoman provinces of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra. These provinces were mostly inhabited by Ethnic Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites, respectively. In 1921, after brutally putting down an uprising, the British handed control over to Iraq’s first Monarch, King Faisal. For the next 37 years, Iraq was more or less ruled by a succession of Kings (with British support) who presided over varying degrees of unrest and bloodshed.
In 1958, the last Iraqi king was deposed and an era of military, totalitarian rule began. Coups and coup attempts continued until eventually, in 1979, Saddam Hussein assumed power. Saddam is a Sunni Muslim and Sunnis tended to do better under his regime than the other groups. Western powers, especially the United States and Britain, remained heavily involved in Iraqi politics throughout the latter half of the 20th century. The United States was a major supporter of Saddam Hussein from his accession until shortly before the 1991 Gulf war.
I admit, I’ve left a lot out, but that’s it in a nutshell. Here’s what I think it means:
1. The people of Iraq have no true “national identity”. This artificiality has historically always been imposed on them from outside forces.
2. The different ethnic and religious groups residing in Iraq fear losing power in this latest change of government. The Sunnis fear the Shiite majority. The Kurds want autonomy in the north, and feel they are owed this due to their cooperation in the war effort. The Shiites are heavily influenced by fundamentalist Imams, such as the Ayatollah Sistani
, who favor an Iranian-style theocracy.
3. The Iraqi oil fields tend to lie under the areas inhabited by the Kurds in the north and the Shiites and tribal areas in the east and south.
|Ottoman Provinces and Ethnic Areas|
The Sunnis (who are currently responsible for most of the violence) will not tolerate Shiite Islamic rule. An election giving Shiites control will result in greatly increased Sunni violence. The Shiites will not tolerate being dealt out of this new government. They are the majority and they will certainly initiate an uprising if they aren’t “fairly” represented. The Kurds will accept nothing less than their own country, or possibly some form of Shiite rule. Turkey will not tolerate an independent Kurdistan on their border. Dividing the country won’t work, as that leaves the Sunnis with no oil, which they won’t tolerate.
Lastly, the US now has a substantial investment in blood and gold in Iraq. The current administration is extremely unlikely to allow an unfriendly government to be elected there anytime soon.
Pay attention to how the President and the Democratic candidates talk about this issue. Chances are, unless one of them is a no kidding genius, we are going to be in Iraq for a LONG time.