Iraq’s territorial unity in peril
But if you think these convulsions are the only threat to the nation’s future, pause for a moment to consider the more sinister threat that Iraq has to face up to: Dismemberment.
It is no secret that Iraqi Kurds have always harbored secessionist ambitions in their enclave in the northern regions of the country. Though these ambitions have for years remained somewhat in abeyance, recently leaders of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have become increasingly bold, acting with unabashed confidence, in their dismissiveness of the central government. And this time, the Kurds are not using guns but oil. They have cut deals, separately from the central government in Baghdad, to sell oil to Turkey, raising fears that oil independence in the semi-autonomous region could eventually lead to the KRG to declare total independence from Iraq, which in turn will lead to the nation’s breakup. And oil in the northern regions, with their overwhelming ethnic Kurd majority population, is far from minuscule. The KRG-controlled parts of the country contain 45 billion barrels of oil, making it the sixth largest reserve in the world. The region, additionally, contains other mineral resources that exist in significant quantities, such as coal, copper zinc and iron ore.
This could very well be a slow, but craftily orchestrated, strategy whose end result is the emergence of a separate Kurdish state. Indeed, Kurdish leaders are now openly advancing that strategy not only in Iraq but Syria as well, where Kurdish militants there have recently declared an autonomous administration in the northeast. What we are thinking about here, when it comes to Iraq, is the unthinkable — the emasculation of the country’s national integrity. That would represent a monumental disaster. Since the Abbasid dynasty, the country has been an Arab nation, an integrated part of the Islamic Commonwealth of Nations, an Arab nation that included non-Arab Muslims and non-Muslim Arabs alike, all of whom had lived as, well, Iraqi citizens, conscious in equal measure of the coherence of their nation’s political unity.
To be fair, neither Turkey nor the United States would like to see — if only because of their national interests — a dismembered Iraq. But Iraq went through a dreadful war, during the US occupation that left it with a lot of unfinished business, and is now going through yet another war, albeit an underground war, pitting sect against sect, while Kurds plan their next move. And wars, more often than not, have a way about them of unleashing unpredictable forces in their wake.
Consider what happened soon after the conclusion of World War I, which saw dramatic changes across Europe, Asia and Africa. Four empires collapsed, old countries disappeared, new ones were founded, new boundaries were drawn and new ideologies, such as European-style nationalism, took firm hold in people’s minds. Clearly, the Iraq conflict is different in degree, cost and scale than that of World War I, but it is the same in kind.
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