Friday, August 8, 2014

The Inevitable Fall of Iraq

Lately, I have been turning on CNN for coverage of the Middle East, and found them to be well, fair and balanced.  Anderson Cooper asks tough questions of guests and has a variety of them.  I was surprised at how well one guest summarized the roots of the conflict.  Essentially, the Shia majority under Maliki was abusive of its power towards the Sunnis.  (Of course, the Sunnis were favored by Saddam who brutalized the Shiites, but whatever.)  This has given rise to ethnic hatreds that fueled support for ISIS. ISIS claims to represent a swath of Arabic speaking peoples in the western Mesopotamia, parts of Iraq and Syria.  These people feel more loyalty to tribe than to the imagined country named Iraq.  Of course, I am not the first one to notice this. Writing in the CSM in 2007, O'Brien Browne laid out the case for separate nations to be carved out of Iraq.
Mesopotamia, as the region that includes Iraq was called until recently, had never been a "country" or "nation" in the modern senses of these words. The wise and largely benign rulers of the Ottoman Empire, who reigned over this land for centuries, realized that no outside force could ever rule this area by foisting preconceived notions of nationhood upon the population, whose loyalties lay with family, tribe, linguistic grouping, and religious orientation.
Unfortunately, when historic mistakes must be corrected, but the only means of correction is armed conflict, the most violent and ruthless group will come to the fore to lead the charge.  This is how the Bolsheviks came to power in Russia, to cite one well-known example. ISIS is nothing if not ruthless and bloodthirsty, but that will be their undoing as the administration of the apparatus of statehood requires skills other pure ideology.  Further, they have made too many enemies.  The governments of Syria, Iraq and Turkey are all going to work against them, as well as the Kurdish regional government.

Meanwhile, Browne saw the break up of Yugoslavia as instructive for what might need to happen in Iraq.
Unfortunately, this meant that wars had to be fought. Though vicious, cruel, and bloody, this process was vital. Its beneficial results can be seen on a modern map of the region: New countries such as Croatia have the telltale odd shape and wiggly lines of older, established, stable countries. Gone are those artificial border lines, the unreal trappings of a federation that should never have existed. Gone, for the most part, too, is the explosive anger that exists when ethnic groups are unwillingly thrown together. Instead, although Serbs, Croats, and the other groups do not love one another, they can now live alongside one another in relative harmony. Where this is not the case, as in Kosovo, ethnic tensions continue to bubble.
I think that ISIS has made too many enemies to survive, but the idea that the Sunnis of western Mesopotamia should have their own state will outlast these vile genocidal madmen.  There is no constitution capable of imposing trust between peoples riven by religious and ethnic conflict.

Some maps to help sort it out:  Iraq by ethnicity/religion source: Royal Burglee's Flatworld Knowledge web site:

Here is the situation today, according to a map on Wikipedia titled "Syria and Iraq 2014-onward War map" by Haghal Jagul - Own workTemplate:Syrian civil war detailed mapTemplate:Iraq war detailed map. Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Map of Syrian Civil War and the Iraqi insurgency
   Controlled by Syrian rebels 
   Controlled by Syrian government 
   Controlled by Iraqi government 
   Controlled by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) 
   Controlled by Syrian Kurds 
   Controlled by Iraqi Kurds 
   Controlled by the Qaraqosh Protection Committee


  1. Obama outsourced his foreign policy to Maliki and wants to do it again, maybe with someone different this time. If he wanted an outcome in Iraq different from the one Maliki wanted (corruption and clan-centric consolidation of power), he should have kept forces there. Obama has this delusional view of the world that everyone wants the same thing as Ivy League faculty members. He's totally unequipped to comprehend what is happening.

    As for dividing up Iraq, I think that ISIS has shown that such an idea was always a pipe dream. There's no territory big enough to hold ISIS. They are a metastasizing cancer and would have done this with or without a partition. Partitions assume that all parties will be happy with stability. ISIS doesn't care about stability at all. They want to kill you. You, B-Daddy. They want to kill Mrs. B-Daddy. They want to kill our Maximum Leader, the Catican Guards, my family, Dean's family, blow up my church, your church, kill your pastor ...

    This isn't about borders, negotiations or partitions. It's an unrestricted, old-school war of extermination.

    1. Agree about ISIS, but the current shape of Iraq is untenable, even after ISIS is defeated. The current borders help create the conditions for instability. I don't propose to give ISIS power in western Iraq, rather, redraw the map, like we should have done.
      Obama is feckless, of course, but we will still stumble through this.

  2. Here is a little article about US training Al Qaeda in Iraq .. it was blocked form the internet.. but I found a cached version