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Iraq to do a Yugoslavia, or to be partitioned like C18th Poland?

UPDATED

As Dizzy has already looked at the other implications of what is going on in Iraq, I will restrict myself to the interests of its neighbours in partitioning it.




Firstly, Syria. There are elements in Syrian politics which claim Lebanon, 'Palestine', Jordan, a small chunk of Turkey, the Sinai, Iraq and, get this, Cyprus for Greater Syria. This covers most of the Fertile Crescent and extends to the 'natural boundaries' of Syria. Map and further details here. While I cannot see the more grandiose claims of the Syrians getting anywhere near fruition, a catastrophically weakened Sunni only 'Iraq' would have a population of around nine million and be landlocked. Some kind of federation, or more, with Syria (population 19 million, with a Mediterranean coastline) might well be appealing for both sides.

Iran. It is easy to forget that one of the things that kicked off the 1980 Iran Iraq war were Tehran's attempts to subvert Baghdad and the Ba'ath regime of Saddam by encouraging both Shi'ites and the Kurds to rebel. Thus inspired, there was an assassination attempt on Tariq Aziz on April Fool's Day 1980. As Khomeini put it, 'It may be that when the people of Iraq see the progress made by the revolution of Iran, they will begin their own movement'. Another member of the Iranian leadership commented 'our aim in defeating Saddam lies in the fact that we consider Saddam the main obstacle to the advance of Islam in the region'. I cannot find a reference to a current Iranian claim to the Shia provinces per se, but they have been claimed in the past. As Patrick Clawson notes in 'Eternal Iran', 'Arab nationalists may seek retroactively to extend the present into the past, but this skews reality. Iranian domains once extended well into what is now Iraq. The first Sassanian capital was at Ctesiphon, 21 miles southeast of Baghdad'. More on Greater Iran here.

Jordan - doubtless the Jordanians would quite like a land grab themselves, but they lack the political, economic and military clout to do so.

The Kurds. The Kurdish provinces, by all accounts have functioned as a distinct entity within Iraq since the no-fly zones and so forth post Gulf War I, and with the long standing demand of the Kurds for independence, it is inconceivable that they would not seek to split from Iraq should the opportunity arise. Given that Kurds also live in Syria, Iran and Turkey, none of those three could be expected to welcome a Kurdish state with open arms, since one would expect a small, albeit sovereign, stable and successful Kurdistan to act as a beacon to the Kurds in those other states. The Turks have the most to fear, as upwards of 20% of the population of Turkey are Kurdish, and election results in the Kurdish region show high levels of support for Kurdish parties. Map of Kurdistan here

Assyrian independence

Assyrians, along with numerous other peoples, sought a nation of its own at the break up of losing states in World War One. During the last century the Assyrians have suffered massacres at the hands of Turkey, Iran and Iraq. Assyrians account for maybe 3% of Iraq's population, and have argued for the Assyrian Triangle (that area at the Northernmost point of Iraq between the Tigris and Great Zab rivers. More detailed map here. As Assyrians do not comprise the majority population of any of Iraq's provinces and lack powerful exterior supporters I would not expect any quest for independence to have much prospect of success.

Israel. Well, if some 'anti-Zionists' are to be believed, Zionists have designs on a Greater Israel stretching from the Nile to the Euphrates. map here.


With the combination of weak central power in Iraq and minimal support for its continuation by the Shi'ites and the Kurds, I suspect that the break up of Iraq is for the best for most, if not all, concerned.

A perennial moan from 'the Arab street' is that they were stitched up by the Versailles settlement, and there was a Western plot to divide and rule the 'Arab Nation' by creating a series of somewhat artificial states. As Ephraim Karsh points out in his excellent 'Islamic Imperialism: A History (although it should be termed Arab and Turkish imperialism, as he skips over the horrors of Central and Southern Asia, inter alia), Arab nationalism simply did not exist pre-WW1, with 'an estimated...mere 350 activists belong[ing] to all the secret Arab societies...and most of them were not seeking actual Arab independence but rather greater autonomy'. Hussein ibn Ali (father of the Alec Guinness character in 'Lawrence of Arabia') represented little more than his own tribe, and his claim to represent 'the whole of the Arab nation' was an utter sham. One might note that Iraq and Jordan were ruled by members of the same family, and they preferred to rule their own domains rather than unite for the supposed good of the Arabs. It has been much the same pattern ever since - a leader comes to power by fair means or foul - usually the latter - and takes on the burden of championing the 'Arab Nation', with this a smokescreen for his own imperial pretentions - see Nasser, Saddam and the next one who comes along....
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Blogger Rigger Mortice said... 1:19 pm

divide and rule.tis the only way.  



Anonymous Anonymous said... 1:31 pm

Very interesting, especially as many of the countries are post colonial constructs.Turkey and Iran will become big players in this region in the next thirty years. The Americans seem to lack any educated understanding of the history of the region. Pehaps a similar application to a map of the US would help. The South West and West Coasts would show a growing Hispanic/Catholic population, and politically the East and West Coasts would show a Liberal Culture and the rest as God Fearin' Red Neck land.  



Blogger istanbultory said... 7:54 pm

croydonian,
An excellent analysis of a complex environment. But for the presence of the US military in Northern Iraq, the Turks would long ago have staged a full-scale invasion and semi-occupation of the area. The Kurds, as you correctly point out, have established a defacto state in Northern Iraq. Ankara is itching to wipe it out. They are merely awaiting the withdrawal of US forces and formal dissolution of the Iraqi state before they settle this matter.
To our shame, the plight of the Assyrians is scarcely known in the West.
Croydonian, I have established my blog. Do drop by!  



Anonymous Colin said... 10:06 pm

Croydonian,

Thank you for this highly interesting posting including the informative maps.  



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