As of this writing, another murderous attack against American soldiers has taken place in Iraq, leaving a total of 4,459 American soldiers killed since the beginning of “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” This does not include the thousands of Iraqis that have murdered each other over the years since Saddam Hussein was deposed in 2003. Whether it is Sunni, Shia, or Christian; Arab, Kurd, or Assyrian, it appears that Iraqis of different ethnicities and religions cannot co-exist in one state. From its Frankenstein-like creation, Iraq has been nothing but an artificial entity that has caused untold misery to its inhabitants, neighbors, and the world at large.
This begs the question if the only real solution to the Iraqi problem would be its dissolution into three separate states: One Sunni, one Shia, and one Kurdish. The reason that this may be the only logical conclusion lies in the history of the founding of Iraq. From its creation some ninety years ago, Iraq has been nothing but a failed state, still-born at birth and held together only through brutal coups and dictatorships. Indeed, its past history may be a prelude to its future if it continues as one entity.
In 1920, upon the decaying corpse that was the Ottoman Empire, the victorious allies of World War I — England and France — captured the former Ottoman territories of the Middle East. One of these territories consisted of the area known in ancient times as Mesopotamia, which was historically the homelands of the kingdoms of Assyria and Babylonia. From the 7th century A.D. and after, Arab Muslims conquered the region and Arabized and Islamized the indigenous inhabitants. A small Aramaic-speaking Christian Assyrian Orthodox and Chaldean Catholic community continued to exist, along with Jews (who had been there from the time of the Babylonian Exile in the 6th century B.C.), as well as the non-Arab (yet Islamized) Kurds. In 1517, the Ottomans swept down into the Middle East and established their rule that would last for over four hundred years.
When British military forces arrived in 1920, Mesopotamia consisted of three provinces (vilayets) originally created by the Ottoman Turks. These were the provinces of Basra in the east (mainly Shi’ite), Baghdad in the center and south (mainly Sunni), and Mosul in the north (mainly Kurdish Muslim and Assyrian Christian). The British, under Secretary of State Winston Churchill and Colonel T.E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”), decided to cobble together this motley crew of peoples and religions into one country.
In April 1920, the League of Nations granted Britain the “Mandate of Mesopotamia” and Britain created the Kingdom of Iraq, granting it independence in 1932. The name itself is of disputed origin, some claiming that it comes from the ancient city of Uruk, or a Perso-Arabic word meaning “lowland.”
A Hashemite constitutional monarchy was established, and lasted until 1958. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, from the years of 1925 (when the first Parliament met) until the end of the Hashemite monarchy in 1958, ten general elections were held and at least 50 different cabinets came and went. This was the era of “Iraqi democracy.”
Revolts and internecine warfare between the years of 1920 through 1958 were numerous. However, most notably, there were revolts by Arabs and Kurds against the British in the 1920s, and the hardly known Muslim atrocity committed against the Assyrian Christians in the village of Simele in 1933. (The Assyrians — the oldest indigenous Semitic Christians — had campaigned for an independent state upon the breakup of the Ottoman Empire. They had been promised a measure of independence by the Treaty of Sevres in 1920. However, this treaty was supplanted by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, which inevitably ignored the right for both Assyrian and Kurdish independence.)
Iraq’s political and fratricidal convulsion finally exploded in 1958, when the Hashemite monarchy was brutally overthrown by General Abdul Karim Qassim. The members of the royal family were butchered and mutilated in the most barbaric ways. Ironically, Qassim himself would meet a similar fate some five years later in 1963, when he was overthrown by various elements of the military. From 1963 until 1968, different factions of the Iraqi army (Ba’athist and non-Ba’athist) held power. In 1968, the Ba’ath party officially took control under Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr, and in 1979, Saddam Hussein pushed his cousin Bakr aside, becoming the president of Iraq until his overthrow by the American invasion in March 2003.
With the above (and abbreviated) history of Iraq, it seems that only a peaceful “divorce” between the various populations may stanch the bloodshed. What can be envisaged is an equal counterbalance of power. An independent Shi’ite state in the east of Iraq along with an independent Sunni state in the center of Iraq may finally lead to the end of the conflict between the two sects. This may neutralize Iran, which would have no excuse to invade Iraq if Sunnis and Shi’ites can agree to a peaceful separation.
An independent Kurdistan, the only pro-American area of Iraq, recognized by the Arabs would obviate any kind of Arab-Kurdish war. The arguments over the oil rich city of Kirkuk with its ethnic divide would be a bone of contention, but some sort of economic and ethnic agreement might be worked out. And of course, the legitimate rights of the Assyrians and other Christians must be recognized and protected by the international community.
This scenario then leaves only an Islamized Turkey and its possible irredentist motives. Even this situation might come to some alleviation. An independent Kurdistan can sign an agreement with Turkey pledging to end any and all support for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in return for Turkey’s recognition of an independent Kurdistan. This would prevent Turkey from using the PKK as an excuse to invade and occupy Kurdistan.
Of course, in the Middle East, the above scenario seems Pollyannaish. But with America withdrawing, and the blood still running, the only alternative seems to be a protracted civil war, with Iran and Turkey waiting in the wings to fill the vacuum. Would America and the West be better off with the Iranians and Turks occupying Iraq? If the history of Iraq has taught us anything, it is that Iraq has never functioned as a democracy, only as a tyranny. There are times that one must stare reality in the mirror and come to painful conclusions. The chance of Iraq becoming a paradigm of democracy after ninety years of monarchy, dictatorships, wars, and oceans of spilled blood is nothing more than a mirage in the desert. Let the different peoples go their separate ways in peace.