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Iraq: What does one do with the broken pieces?

In Anticolonialism, Conflict Resolution, Cultural Bridges, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on June 23, 2014 at 9:31 PM

IRAQ: WHAT DOES ONE DO WITH THE BROKEN PIECES?

By René Wadlow

 

There is the legendary sign in shops selling china and porcelain “Do not touch; If you break it, you buy it”. The same sign should have been hung at the entry to Baghdad rather than portraits of Saddam Hussein. With Iraq in armed confusion as sectors of the country change side, and the Iraqi government seems incapable of an adequate response other than to call for military help, as concerned world citizens we must ask ourselves “What can we do?”

The forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have broken down a wall on the frontier between Iraq and Syria as a symbol of abolishing national frontiers to be replaced by a community of the Islamic faithful − the umma. In some ways, we are back to the early days of the post-World War One period when France and England tried to re-structure that part of the Ottoman Empire that is now Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel-Palestine, Jordan, Turkey and an ill-defined Kurdistan.

 

In March 2003 an international "coalition" led by the United States attacked Iraq in violation of international law and overthrew the country's dictator, Saddam Hussein. The problem is that, having acted without prior permission from the Security Council, the "coalition" was never able to garner support from the international community and build a real, stable democracy in Iraq. As a result, a significant part of the country is now in the hands of radical Islamist fighters.

In March 2003 an international “coalition” led by the United States attacked Iraq in violation of international law and overthrew the country’s dictator, Saddam Hussein. The problem is that, having acted without prior permission from the Security Council, the “coalition” was never able to garner support from the international community and build a real, stable democracy in Iraq. As a result, a significant part of the country is now in the hands of radical Islamist fighters.

 

During 1915, Sir Mark Sykes, a Tory Member of Parliament and a specialist on  Turkish affairs and Francois Georges-Picot, a French political figure with strong links to colonial factions in the French Senate negotiated how to re-structure the Ottoman Empire to the benefit of England and France. Although these were considered “secret negotiations” Sykes reported to Lord Kitchener, the War Minister, and Picot had joined the French Foreign Ministry as war service. However, both operated largely as “free agents”. Today Sykes and Picot are recalled for no other achievement than their talent in dividing. The agreement between them was signed in January 1916 but kept in a draw until the war was over. In April 1920 at San Remo, France and England made the divisions official.

History has moved on, but dividing and re-structuring remains the order of the day. The political structures of Israel-Palestine as one state, two states, or one state and occupied territories have confronted the best of mediators − and less talented mediators as well. With the war in Syria continuing, there have been suggestions to divide − or federate − the state into three parts: an Alawite-Shi’ite area, a Sunni area, and a Kurdish area. The same divisions had been suggested for Iraq earlier and are again being discussed in the light of the ISIS advances: a Shi’ite area in the south, Kurds in the north − already largely independent − and Sunnis in the Middle. Lebanon, although not a federal state, is largely structured on sectarian-geographic divisions.

 

In 1916 the Sykes-Picot agreement carved the Middle East into two "spheres of influence", one British, the other French, plus two zones of direct control by either of the colonial powers.

In 1916 the Sykes-Picot agreement carved the Middle East into two “spheres of influence”, one British, the other French, plus two zones of direct control by either of the colonial powers.

 

Constitution-making under duress is not the best way of doing things. Forced federalism presents even more difficulties than creating a federal state when people are not fighting each other. We have seen the difficulties of proposing federal structures for Ukraine, federalism seen by some as a prelude to the disintegration of the state. The difficulties in the wider Middle East are even greater, as we have three states directly involved: Iraq, Syria, Turkey with a well-organized and armed Kurdish community in Iraq and parts of Syria.

The Kurds had expected that a Kurdistan would be recognized after World War One. The issue was raised at a conference to set Middle East frontiers held in June 1923 in Lausanne. The failure of the Kurds to achieve their goal for independence and the forced inclusion of their mountainous homeland within the then newly created states of Iraq, Syria and Turkey caused resentment and unrest. All the Kurds received in 1923 was a pledge to respect minority rights. By 1924, the Turkish government had banned all Kurdish schools, organizations, publications, and religious Sufi brotherhoods. In 1925, there was the first of the Kurdish revolts in Turkey, which, on-and-off, continue to today.

 

The flag of the Kurdish people, a people without a nation, a people without a land, to whom the promises of history ring hollow today more than they ever have. (C) Bernard J. Henry/AWC

The flag of the Kurdish people, a people without a nation, a people without a land, to whom the promises of history ring hollow today more than they ever have. (C) Bernard J. Henry/AWC

 

As outsiders but as specialists in federal forms of government, is there anything which we can do to be helpful? Maps are deceptive, and what is drawn as Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish area in Iraq and Syria have, in fact, mixed populations. Nor are religious-sectarian divisions the only lines of fracture.

Nevertheless, discussions among Syrians, Iraqis, Turks, Iranians and outside specialists on forms of government may be of greater use than sending Special Forces as ‘intelligence’ specialists. Such discussions will not be easy to organize or to facilitate but in a period of constitutional disorder and flux, such efforts are necessary.

 

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

  1. This type of problem will continue, regardless of where lines are drawn, so long as states can be coopted by one factional group that will treat another as second class. For this reason, many things expected of nations states-such as health care, schools, and other things that “nations” or other faction want to organize differently, should be left to non-territorial organizations residing on the state–e.g. Sunni schools organized by a non-territorial Suni Nation, or even Democratic Party healthcare in the U.S. organized by Democrats for Democrats and not using government coffers. These factional facilities can coexist side by side, providing social services as the social groups deem fit.

    So long a states limit themselves to territorial concerns like border protection, highways, water, and electrical services, and leave various cultural groups to organize anything to do with financial resources and welfare to themselves, there will be no basis for structural oppression or resentment. However, as long as such groups are allow to control states under the banner of “Nation-State,” such problems will inevitably arise. Of course this problem started in Europe, but states were more homogeneous, yet some minority groups are inevitably treated as second class citizens.

    Even in the U.S., the Republican and Democratic parties are factions with ideological divisions no less stark than traditional religious or ethnic divisions. The principle is the same: if one faction gets power and can exploit state coffers to provide favors to its members at the expense of others, the seeds of violence are sown. In this regard, if one party gains control of the state and pays off its supporters with tax dollars garnered from everyone the principle is not much different than the regime in Iraq. I don’t think we can solve problems of Palestinians, or any other places where factional groups control states, without reconsideration of what is the proper definition of a “nation” and what is the proper definition of a “state,” and begin to separate these entities by function. King Louis XIV has a vision of French nationalism in which all residents would accept his views on society. This is a flawed notion, even though the world’s people aspire to it. It inevitably degenerates into exploitation of minorities by those who control government.

  2. Unfortunately people fail to acknowledge that what has occurred in Syria for over three years, and what is occurring now in Iraq, have to be called what they are: wars of aggression – the highest crimes on Earth. Those who are responsible for financing the Syrian and Iraqi “opposition” are no less than war criminals, and there is nothing any one can say to disprove that truth.

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