Arab Spring

A barren tree, once full of life
Stands leafless, brown ice in gloom
A barren tree, once full of strife
Stands not a spark, not a flower in bloom
A barren tree, once full of promise
Stands in sorrow, a promise but for tomorrow
As for today, not a leaf dares there stay

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Averting a Civil War in Iraq

Iraq has been sliding down a slippery slope leading to civil war for sometime now. Since the Shiite umbrella group announced that it, too, like the Kurds, wants an autonomous Shiite region in the nine southern provinces, an impending conflict has been brewing. The Kurdish leadership has made it clear that autonomy of Kurdish regions is nonnegotiable and that since it has been the case for sometime now, under Saddam Hussein, it is also irreversible. Sunni leaders are less averse to Kurdish autonomy in the northern three provinces of Sulaymania, Irbil and Dahuk but a Shiite autonomous region in the south would effectively leave central Iraq with no resources because most of the nation’s oil lies in the far north and the southern province of Basra. The constitution was ratified on October 15, by the Iraqi public and with considerable Sunni participation, only after Shiite and Kurdish groups agreed to amend it when the permanent government is elected on Dec 15, 2005. Now, in power and with a near majority of the seats in parliament, the Shiite leadership balked at making any substantive changes in the constitution, especially when it came to a strong Shiite autonomous south.

This impasse threatens to get worse, especially, because the Shiites and Kurds can garner enough seats to establish a two-thirds majority and sideline the Sunnis entirely. An already restive Sunni population is sure to protest violently. An Iraq civil war would be nothing short of catastrophic: tearing the nation apart, inflaming the region, and, not to mention, further discrediting to the United States. An Iraq civil war will be sectarian and ethnic in nature and will easily spill to the Gulf where oppressed Shiites languish under Sunni rule, to Iran, the protector of Shiites, to a Kurdish-induced volatile Turkey, and can wreak havoc on the world oil supply. Hence, it is in the best interest to avert an Iraq civil war that will make the Lebanese civil war look, well, civil. Current American efforts to avert a crisis seem to be nothing more than face-saving, time-buying fatalism at the ultimate impending outcome. The American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, is forcefully pressuring the Iraqi, essentially ethnic and religious, political parties to form a national unity government. A national unity government will remain united only as long as the parties agree but when it comes to the most contentious issue of autonomy, the battle lines have already been drawn and no one will budge.

A new strategy is needed, namely to convert the current debate from a sectarian/ethnic one to a regional debate. Regional democracies are much more successful than sectarian democracies but more importantly, central Iraq which is about to be stripped of its resource rich south has about half of Iraq’s total population, 13.5 million out of a total estimated population of 27 million Iraqis. The only reason that the Shiite umbrella group, the United Iraqi Alliance, won so many seats is because about 6.33 million Shiites in central Iraq also voted for it, surprisingly, to their own detriment. The nine southern provinces that are to form a Shiite autonomous region contain only 9.5 million Shiites which by themselves cannot account for the near fifty percent showing in Parliament by the United Iraqi Alliance. The strategy of Zalmay Khalilzad should be to unite the Sunnis and Shiites of central Iraq to work together (rather than all Iraqis) because they really do have the same interest which is not to be perpetually poor, under the mercy of southern and northern charity. Another important point for the central Iraqis is that they will bear the brunt of an Iraqi civil war. The homogenous Kurdish north and the Shiite south will watch from afar, as the flames of intercommunal strife rage in central Iraq. There are already a few candidates that are ripe for this argument such as the secular Shiite Iyad Allawi and the fiery but underappreciated Moqtada Al-Sadr. Both would love to deliver their fellow central Iraqi Shiites from the grips of Najaf and Karbala, or even Iran.


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