Diplomatic Malpractice: Sectarian Violence In Iraq – OpEd


Baghdad, at one time, was the most beautiful city in the world. That was 762 AD. Located where the Garden of Eden is believed to have been. However today, Baghdad and much of Iraq is in tumult.

According to “statista,” as of June 16, 2012, there have been 1,879 civilian deaths in Iraq this year resulting from sectarian violence. On July 23rd alone, 111 people were killed and nearly 200 wounded. Attacks during the month of June have killed at least 237 people, with many more wounded. Right about now someone is thinking – yes, yes, we know Iraq is a violent place, but what’s your point.

The point is it did not have to be.

Nothing comes more instinctively to the region than sectarian violence. The difference would seem to be less of kind, since most warring parties are Arabic except for the case of the Kurds, than political and religious (Shi’a v. Sunni) identity. This is comparable to the former Yugoslavia where Serbs, Croats, and Muslim Slavs, all southern Slavs, were segregated by religious identity, and fought to determine what each believed to be their birthright.

One of the great failing of the Bush Administration, and specifically its National Security Advisor and later Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, is that they did not recognize this division. And, therefore, did not have a plan of what to do in Iraq after Saddam Hussein was removed. There is no evidence that Ms. Rice did any pre-war planning as what Iraq should look like after Saddam. In fact, Ms. Rice’s preferred option for Iraq was “to have Iraqis kill one another for a while before they get the point.” The violence we are seeing today, in my view, is a direct result of that failure.

The inability to fashion a sensible accord between Iraq’s three sectarian groups, resulted in the immediate and ongoing warfare. There was no intelligent design, there was no historical perspective, and there was no applied dynamics. Therefore, there has been no peace. Again, it did not have to be this way, but both the Bush and Obama Administrations, and their principle foreign policy chiefs, Condoleezza Rice and Hilary Clinton, simple did not understand the complexities and nuances of the region’s history.

The best strategy for Iraq would have been to partition the country into three parts: the Kurds (Mosul); Sunni (Baghdad); and Shi’a (Basra). Here’s why.

There is no compelling historic justification for modern day Iraq. The 1919 Paris Peace Conference and subsequent San Remo Conference in April 1920 laid the groundwork for an Iraqi nation. But before 1919 modern day Iraq did not exist. There was no Iraqi nationalism and no Iraqi identity. There was what the British called “Mesopotamia” – referring to the Ottoman Empire’s provinces of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra. It was not until 1922, that the League of Nations conferred statehood on Iraq, that it became a Nation and legal entity. A decade later, Iraq joined the League of Nations.

The demise of Iraq will cause consternation to some. The whole Middle East has skin in the game, none more so than Turkey and Iran. In the case of Turkey, they have had every opportunity for partnership and constructive intervention in the region and have never failed to miss an opportunity. No matter what they wish to think – Kurds are not Turks and Mosul does not belong to Turkey. A Nation of Kurdistan will not be the death of Turkey. It will be however, a stable force in an unstable region. Turkey should have figured it out by now, that an accommodation to the Kurds would work toward balancing and even mitigating Iran’s position in Iraq, especially under Nouri al – Maliki, the Shi’a Prime Minister of Iraq.

With al – Maliki and his Shi’a control of Iraq’s central government, Iran will continue to exert untoward influence. Reducing Shi’a dominance to southern Iraq will correspondingly reduce Iran’s influence in the region. It is Iran who is attempting to steer policy in Iraq. Mr. al – Maliki is simply the puppet, with Iran pulling the strings.

A stable Mesopotamia is important to Middle East stability; particularly with the growing probability Syria could collapse, leaving no effective central government, much like Lebanon. It is not too difficult to predict that Iran stands poised to fill the resulting power vacuum in Syria through their surrogate Hezbollah. The new road to perdition will run from Tehran, through Basra, Damascus, ending in Beirut. The partition of Iraq would at least provide two buffer zones against this menacing tide.

Hence, the partition of Iraq between the Kurds (Mosul), Sunni (Baghdad), and Shi’a (Basra), is not only a pragmatic solution to help end the violence in Iraqi, it is a historical imperative and strategic initiative.

Iraq is an artificial state. To believe that Kurds, Sunni, and Shi’a can live peacefully together contradicts realty. Just as Bosnia became a failed state when Muslims, Serbs, and Croatians, were provided with the means to choose the conditions under which they wished to live – similarly the Kurds, Sunni, and Shi’a, are doing so in Iraq today.

A solution to Iraqi violence is to construct a new compact. That new compact will be the partition of Iraq into three distinct states.

Lawrence S. Schneiderman

Lawrence S. Schneiderman is an International Consultant and Dr. of Public Policy, Vanderbilt University. The opinions expressed are the author's own.

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