It is becoming increasingly likely that some form of break-up will occur to the
nation-state of Iraq. The break-up will reflect the relationships among Iraq’s
Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish groups, and the relationships of these groups to the
central government, which in turn have consequences on the region. If forces inside
and outside of Iraq responsibly manage the redefinition of the country, we can avoid
what could be a spiraling situation that subjects many more people to suffering,
deprivation and deadly violence.
The more the Iraqis and the international community help build productive
local-national bonds inside Iraq, the severity of harmful fallouts that impact the
region will be lessened. The two smaller ethnic groups, Sunnis and Kurds, will
likely accept and maintain relationships with the central government that advance
sub-nationally-driven development. Such relationships are in the self-defined
interests of the parties and are capable of becoming lasting connections, among what
needs to be a web of mutual gain connections, with the Iraqi government and among
the ethnic groups. Therefore, initiatives, such as development assisted by the
central government that is identified and managed at the local level, should be
This developmental approach of creating local-national ties also directly advances
reconciliation. Locally-driven development and reconciliation are both processes
that reflect the self-defined identities and experiences of their participants.
They should therefore be pursued in tandem with each other, rather than in separate
programs, because doing so is more cost effective and expeditious in generating the
range of intended positive results.
The procedures of locally-driven development bring people together and build trust
in the process of generating new jobs, better health, etc. By the same token, the
participants of reconciliation processes can naturally segue into joint development
planning and management of projects. Development planners from different government
and non-government agencies who operate at the local and provincial levels in the
three ethnic “enclaves” should be supported to meet and collaborate together. For
the same reason, public and private projects resulting from inter-ethnic dialogue
should also be supported.
However, even if this strategy were vigorously pursued, which it should be
regardless, the creation of distinct and self-determined ethnic entities that
formally composed Iraq is probably unavoidable. In principle, this in and of itself
is not necessarily a bad thing. If only it were peaceful, it could be in keeping
with the democratic tenets of decentralization and self-management. Among the most
serious regional concerns of a break-up of Iraq is that it could challenge to some
degree the territorial integrity of Iraq’s neighbors, particularly Turkey which has
the largest Kurdish population. Nations act without limit to preserve their
territorial integrity. If the Kurdish people, for example, who live in adjacent
parts of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, more strongly advance their group identity,
terrible regional violence could be triggered.
The tense situation in Iraq certainly warrants honest discussions among
representatives of the regional parties on possible consequences of Iraq’s
splintering, and certainly as they relate to the Kurdish people. In this case,
early planning could help ensure the territorial integrity of Iraq’s neighbors while
at the same time create a new context that allows for a level of expression
acceptable to the Kurdish people. What is important now though is that leaders in
the region and the international community quietly prepare for the eventuality of
being pressed for a solution to the Kurdish plight, and other eventualities. How
far is Turkey willing to go to ensure its territorial integrity and allow for
Kurdish expression? This is among the hard questions that need to be asked and
answered in order to effectively manage the consequences of Iraq.
Jason Yossef Ben-Meir teaches sociology at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
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