Call me naïve, but when Iraq fell to the American-led and British-followed invasion of 2003, I thought the simplest solution to the problem posed by this country to the region and itself would also be the one most acceptable to its three main ethnic groups, the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds, namely a messy but cathartic divorce that would allow each of the three groups to achieve separate nationhood and with it internal integrity and security.
Ethnic maps of Iraq revealed that the South and East of the country was and is overwhelmingly Shiite in population, while Sunnis were prevalent in the Centre and West, with the Kurds already semi-independent in the North. Given the centuries of bad blood between these three groups, exacerbated over the last few decades by Saddam's Baathist regime, it seemed a Sisyphean labor to try and force these three distinct groups to live harmoniously together.
The common sense and, indeed, moral approach would have been to appoint a boundary commission to draw up appropriate borders, and then use the inevitably limited period of American and allied military occupation to peacefully separate Iraq's three groups into three new nations and facilitate the safe relocation of those caught on the wrong side of the new national borders.
Once these three new states had been established, the process of preventing conflict would have been enormously simplified. Instead of dealing with intermixed and mutually hostile populations and the need to respond to thousands of separate and confusing incidents, the US and its allies would only have to deal with three parties. If one of the new nations decided to overstep the new boundaries, the full weight of Allied diplomatic, economic, and air power could be exerted to maintain the new status quo without any need to involve hostages in uniform – in other words: ground troops.
In the heady days following the collapse of Saddam's regime, this all seemed possible. Instead, two years later, the lives of thousands of US and British troops have been needlessly wasted, endeavoring to maintain one unstable state in which three separate nations exist with guns and knives pointed at each others' throats. Also there have been enough deaths by terrorism in Iraq to make September 11 look trivial by comparison. Only the presence of massive allied forces prevents a truly genocidal bloodbath. However, this now seems inevitable as political support for the presence of troops in Iraq is constantly undermined in both Washington and London. So, how did we manage to get it all so wrong?
Geopolitical sophists will point to the 'impossibility' of dividing Iraq into three countries in the context of the wider Middle East situation – "That's just not the way things are done, old chap." They point to the well-known fact that Turkey opposes any independence anywhere for any group of Kurds because this might ultimately embolden the Kurdish majority in its own South Eastern provinces to break away. Although undeniable, this point assumes that Turkish interests somehow override those of all other nations involved, as well as the common sense and moral arguments for dividing Iraq into three states. The fact is that in the post Cold War world, the Western powers have almost no need to pander to Turkey's obsession with the Kurds.
The other idea geopolitical sophists invariably use to dismiss division of the country along ethnic lines is that the creation of a purely Shiite state in the South of Iraq would create a natural ally for Iran and also alienate the large reserves of oil there from US commercial control. The policy of maintaining Iraqi unity is cast as a cunning piece of amoral realpolitik designed to serve national interests as well as those of the big oil companies, whom we are told – with a knowing wink – financially support Bush.
This argument would perhaps be true if the US and its allies were willing to maintain a military presence in Iraq indefinitely, or if the constant slaughter of US and allied troops and the bad PR such a blatantly selfish foreign policy creates in the rest of the World were of no account. The fact is that sooner or later we will have to pull out anyway. In the chaos that is certain to follow, the Shiites, with 60% of the population and strong support in neighboring Iran are likely to at least gain control over their own ethnic, oil–rich area, and – thanks to Western support for Iraq’s total territorial integrity – quite possibly the rest of the country as well. Dividing the country would, at least, prevent the possibility of the considerable oil reserves around Kirkuk in the North and other parts of the country falling into the hands of a potentially hostile Shiite state.
Also, the US policy of preferring Sunni Islam to the Shiite version is a case of six of one and half a dozen of another. After all, from the 1950s to the 1970s its staunchest ally in the Muslim World was the Shiite state of Iran, ruled at the time by its Shah. Whereas, Al Qaeda and the fanatically anti–Western Wahhabism from which it sprang, and which continues to flourish in Saudi Arabia, are both from the Sunni side of Islam. In other words, the assumption that Sunni Islamic states are per se more friendly to the US is highly dubious.
As we have seen, the policy of America and the acquiescent British in Iraq not only flies in the face of a common sense division of this dysfunctional and highly artificial state, but the geopolitical reasons most commonly cited to support maintaining its continued unity seem extremely threadbare. What, then, drives the West’s support for an ultimately doomed ‘united democratic’ Iraq?
If we dismiss those idiots who actually believe that democracy imported in a State Department carpet bag can transcend race, religion, and centuries of strife, there seem to be two ideas feeding into this lamentable policy, one local and one domestic.
On the local level, realistic US and British policy makers seem to be hoping that, out of the chaotic democratic experiment they are enforcing, a secular strongman will arise who will impose unity on the divided country, marginalize its ethnic and religious divisions, and do business with the West, while paying lip service to democracy – in other words, another version of Saddam Hussein circa 1980.
Such a figure would allow us to pull out, proclaiming "mission accomplished;" and, as Iraq slipped beneath the media's fickle radar, the strong arm tactics – torture, murder, stuffed ballot boxes – needed to keep such a naturally divided country united wouldn't overly embarrass Western governments. It would be like 1972 and the Vietnamization of the Vietnam War all over again – "peace with honor" (while the cameras were rolling).
Although morally ugly and overly dependent on luck, this desire to see Saddam return in all but name makes some sense in terms of saving paper reprinting maps and serving the interests of Western oil companies. The domestic factor feeding the West’s Iraq policy, however, is more troubling. This is the idea, now enshrined in the culture, society, and politics of both America and Britain that multiculturalism and diversity within a single state is an absolute moral good in itself, a belief that is held with scant regard for local cultures and histories in other parts of the World.
In other words, we are projecting our own multicultural experiment onto an area that has a completely different history and makeup and none of the ameliorating factors that make multiculturalism in the West at least temporarily feasible, such as affluence, welfare provision for disaffected minorities, the rule of law, weakening ties to locale, and the ability of most people to choose their neighbors by relocation, sometimes referred to as "White Flight." All these factors are noticeably absent from Iraq, along with the incessant din in all branches of the media of a multicultural message of tolerance and acceptance of other races that we are continually subjected to, and a main religion – Christianity – that is essentially pacifist.
The drive to force Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds to live and love together is nothing less than an extension of the West's domestic agenda in the last 40 years to force Blacks, Whites, Asians, Hispanics, and Muslims (pick n' mix) to live together in multiracial harmony. Our ill–fated efforts to get Kurds sitting round the table with the Sunnis who gassed them and the Shiites who have called down a jihad on both their houses, is, in effect, nothing more than an extension of integrationist measures, like the infamous school busing programs introduced to achieve 'racial balance' in US schools, or Chief Constable Ian Blair's attempts to fill the London Metropolitan Police with ethnic minorities regardless of ability.
The problem facing Iraq is not the tribal antipathies of its different groups and the conflict this engenders. Left to itself, such conflict would ultimately resolve itself in new boundaries and eventually new nations. The real problem is that admitting the legitimate differences and right to self-determination of these distinct ethnic and religious groups threatens the West's new religion of multiculturalism. To admit that blood has more power than oil or money would strike a blow at this golden calf that would be more powerful than anything mere terrorists could achieve. That is why Iraq, as long as it basks in the Western media spotlight, will serve as a sacrifice on our unholy altars.