The debate about the war in Iraq was always really about this question: what happens now. The Americans sometimes act as if they have proven the world wrong by winning an easy victory. Nobody doubted the easy “victory”– Iraq has about 25 million people, the U.S., 300 million. But the Iraqis are not, as a rule, dancing in the streets waving American flags, Donald Rumsveld notwithstanding. They’re not. A lot of them are saying, “thank you very much, now get out.” The first large demonstrations against the American presence have already occurred.
These are the key elements of postwar Iraq.
1. The Kurds. There are about five million Kurds in Iraq. More importantly, there are about 20 million Kurds in Turkey. That’s right– that’s the number that is more important. The Kurds have been fighting Turkey and Iraq for about 30 years — well, actually, about 800 years– for a Kurdish homeland. There are two leaders among the Kurds in Northern Iraq right now: Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani. The Kurds have an army, the “peshmerga”.
2. Turkey: Turkey, as I mentioned, has about 20 million Kurds. Those Kurds are like Quebecois– they identify themselves strongly by their ethnicity and they want a homeland. From about 1985 to 2000, 36,000 people were killed in a brutal civil war in the area occupied by the Kurds in Southern Turkey, between Marxist separatists led by Abdullah Ocalan, and the Turkish government. I’ll bet you don’t remember that. Ocalan is now held in a prison on an island called Imrali. After his imprisonment, Ocalan called for a cease-fire but 5,000 of his fighters remain in Northern Iraq. Turkey has since generally “repressed” the Kurds, and imposed a “State of Emergency” on the city of Diyarbakir in Southern Turkey.
Turkey has two primary concerns. Firstly, it does not want another deluge of refugees like it experienced during the first Gulf War, when 500,000 Kurds fled Saddam’s forces (while Bush Sr. stood by and did nothing). Secondly, it does not want an independent Kurdish state to be established in Northern Iraq, and including the oil-rich area of Kirkuk. Turkey has strongly indicated that it would deploy it’s forces in Northern Iraq to prevent such an occurrence. The Americans have cut a deal here. They will stop the Kurds from taking control of Kirkuk or declaring a Kurdish state, and Turkey will keep its troops within it’s own borders.
About 90% of the population of Turkey– and this includes the Kurds– are against the American-led invasion of Iraq. The Kurds in Turkey are against it because they believe the Turkish government will impose new restrictions upon them for fear of incipient Kurdish nationalism coming to the fore in the post-war chaos.
It was reported in the New York Review of Books that after Turkey’s foreign minister Yashar Yakis, explained the complications of his situation to President Bush, Bush told him, “I understand. Now go back to Turkey and do the job.” Yakis thought about this for a moment and then said, “the man is ill.”
3. The Shiites and “The Surpreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq” (SCIRA). This organization is headquartered in Iran(!) and headed by Ayatollah Baqir al-Hakim. It has links to Iran’s radical Revolutionary Guard, which, of course, is an arch-foe of the U.S. About 60% of Iraq’s population is Shiite, as is the large majority in Iran. After the first Gulf War, SCIRA led an uprising of Shiites in the south of Iraq. The administration of Bush Sr., fearing that Iran would become too powerful if it had a toe-hold in Iraq, allowed and even encouraged Saddam to crush the revolt (General Schwarzkopf released seized helicopters and tanks to the Iraqi forces to be used in the action).
Iran is not stupid. Though it officially opposes U.S. intervention in Iraq, it is no friend of Saddam Hussein, who fought a bitter war against Iran in the 1970’s and 80’s, during which he employed chemical weapons, and was supported by the U.S.. Hussein was defeated only when Iran threw thousands of suicide fighters into the fray, whose fanatical efforts turned the tide. So Iran, apparently, is quietly encouraging Ayatollah Baqir al-Hakim to be nice to the Americans, to ensure that he will play a role in post-war Iraqi politics, and thereby be a conduit of Iranian influence.
Ahmed Chalabi is a protégé of the CIA, but is opposed by the U.S. State Department. In other words, Colin Powell, ever aware (and probably singularly aware) of long-term consequences, does not see him as an asset to post-war reconstruction in Iraq. He has been out of the country for 45 years and may well be perceived by Iraqis as a tool of the U.S. Chalabi keeps protesting that he has no interest in a political role in post-war Iraq. Well, why the hell shouldn’t he say that? Is anyone going to tell President Chalabi to step down because he once said he didn’t want to be President?
4. OPEC – Will a postwar Iraq administration join OPEC, which is, of course, an illegal oil cartel? If it doesn’t, won’t Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other members have a fit– the price of oil, with Iraq’s huge reserves– could fall dramatically if Iraq competes with OPEC on the open market? Keep buying those SUVs.
Those are the key elements, aside from the remnants of Saddam’s regime, a constituency of unknown character and composition.
There are a few possible outcomes of this entire enterprise, and it is difficult to predict which one will prevail. The optimistic view is that all of these groups, the Kurds, the Shiites, the Sunnis, and the remnants of Saddam’s government and civil service, will come together to form some kind of federation with a constitutional government that respects minority rights while giving structure and coherence to a democratic federal government.
Questions have to be answered.
Thomas Friedman, in the New York Times (April 15, 2003) says this: If Lebanon, Iraq and a Palestinian state could all be made into functioning, decent, free-market, self-governing societies, it would be enough to tilt the entire Arab world onto a modernizing track.
Do you believe that? Doesn’t that sound like “pie-in-the-sky” nonsense? On what basis could you make a prediction like that? How much more believable is it than a prediction that the surrounding Arab states, terrified of possible U.S. intervention, simply accelerate their efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction and build up their armies, and crack down even more brutally on dissent? What if Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are taken over by Islamic fundamentalists and decide to curtail exports of oil to the west? The U.S. will invade, of course. But then you will get an intifada in Iraq, requiring more U.S. troops to suppress and maintain order. And you could have a hell of an intifada in Saudi Arabia, with all those oil wells to blow up. Then Pakistan tilts the wrong way, and India gets aggressive about Kashmir, and before you know it, you have a global disaster.
Or… you could have a democratic, federated Iraq, with a constitution that guarantees minority rights, equitable distribution of wealth, a free press, labour unions, and other intermediary institutions. Democracies, as a rule, don’t threaten their neighbors, so Iran, if it no longer feels threatened, could chill out and de-accelerate it’s drive to acquire nuclear weapons. Mahmoud Abbas leads a democratic Palestinian leadership into negotiations with Israel. Sharon, having proven his mojo with years of hard-line tactics, feels free to make a deal and stops Israeli settlements in the disputed territories and cedes back a good portion of the Golan Heights.
In short, peace breaks out. China and the U.S. cut a deal with North Korea. The stock market revives. The Democrats win the White House in 2004 and pass legislation providing health care insurance for every American. Life is great.
Crazier things have happened.
There was a recent meeting of Iraqi opposition leaders in the Kurdish-controlled town of Salahaddin. Americans, from the “Diplomatic Security Service”, were there in force to make sure nobody shot each other, especially Zalmay Khalilzad, whom President Bush calls a “special envoy” to the free Iraqis. Abdulaziz Hakim was a player, with the cooperation of the U.S., even though he is connected to the radical Islamist movement in Iran (his brother is the leader). Everyone at this meeting is holding their cards very close to their chests. No one wants to declare themselves as the provisional government of a new Iraq. No one wants to start disparaging the claims of rival ethnic or political groups because they fear that the Americans will freeze them out of the post-war reconstruction.
There are two large cities in the Kurdish-controlled areas of Northern Iraq: Mosul and Kirkuk. Both cities are located near vast deposits of oil. The Kurds will claim Kirkuk as their ancestral home, but not Mosul. After the first Gulf War, the Iraqis tried to “ethnically cleanse” Kirkuk by moving Arabic families into the homes of the Kurds and driving the Kurds further north, into the mountains. As the current war drew to a close, some Arabic families, who had been forcibly settled into the area in the first place, began to leave, voluntarily, and Kurds began to move back in. There is no doubt that many, many Kurds will immediately try to move back to Kirkuk at the first opportunity.
The Kurds entered Kirkuk with American forces, but were asked to leave once the city had been secured. They politely agreed, for the moment.
Why does Iraq have so many diverse ethnic groups? Because the nation of Iraq is an artificial construct of the area of occupation by British forces in the early 20th century. They gave it an administrative identity that has no relationship to the ethnicity of the inhabitants. The same problem exists in Africa and may be one of the main reasons nations like Rwanda, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe continue to writhe with civil disturbances, wars, and forced starvation.