The Tripartite Division of Iraq revisited.
Nearly seven years ago, during his ill-fated attempt to gain the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, then candidate Senator Joe Biden argued, amidst much criticism, for a tripartite division of Iraq along sectarian lines. Though current happenings in Iraq have seemingly vindicated the vice-president, certain critical obstacles to this plan have remained. These must be resolved in any peaceful agreement establishing a federation of tripartite regions along sectarian lines. Three stand out: First, there is the issue of division of oil monies. Without a fair participation in the division of oil revenue, there is no chance for Sunni peaceful participation in such a division of Iraq. Kurdish sharing of Kirkurk Oil monies may be even more problematic. Second, there is the issue of participation by significant Shia and even Kurdish minorities in largely Sunni cities, and, to a lesser extent, those with sizable Suni minorities in cities with a Shia or Kurdish majority. A corollary to this obstacle is the existence of regional minority populations that nevertheless make up municipal majority cities within the areas marked off for division. Third, how to bring the most militant groups into even a loose federation, or failing that, to isolate them so completely that their effectiveness is severely compromised.
The issue of sharing of oil revenue has been present and remains largely an unfulfilled promise due to the administration of Nouri al-Malki. His presence at the head of the government seems a significant barrier to peaceful negotiations. It is fair to say that there is a consensus among the Americans and British that al-Maliki must go, while recognizing that since he was overwhelmingly elected, change must come from within the Iraqi halls of power. In any event, even the slightest subterfuge on the part of the Shia led government will torpedo any peace negotiations. Given the history of corruption in the current method of accounting for oil revenue, a transparent process must be striven for. Even moderate Sunnis will demand participation in the governing of oil. A negotiated settlement of the civil war in Iraq right now will require an agreement for something approximating proportional sharing of oil revenues, Sunni sharing in the ministration of oil revenue and transparency in the process. To achieve credibility, al-Maliki must be replaced by someone with the reputation for fairness and a proponent of integration, from the top down, in governing Iraq.
The often sizable Sunni minorities in Kurdish cities were largely encouraged to emigrate there during the regime of Sunni Saddam Hussein. Many of those recently emigrated Sunnis fled during the war but quite a number still remain. Equally significant are the Sunni minorities in Shia majority cities. Though it might well be very uncomfortable for minorities in sectarian ruled areas, any agreement must address their rights and protection. Finally, there are pockets of Shia minorities in Sunni cities, though outside of Baghdad, Shia majority cities are largely to the south of Baghdad.
Up to this writing, al-Maliki has shown little appetite for integrative policies and for sharing oil revenue from the large oil fields in the south. In fact he has blatantly rejected that. It is almost a certainty that U.S. diplomacy has been reaching out to alternatives to al-Maliki within the Iraqi Parliament. Republican hawks who have been critical of President Obama’s failure to move more forcefully militarily to counter the ISIS takeovers, would do well to avoid repeating the same errors that got us into the current mess.
Meanwhile, Kurdish President Masseur Barani, in an exclusive interview with Christiane Amanpour, seemed to many to be warning of a possible Kurdish breakaway from Iraq when he noted that Kurdistan can’t remain “hostages for the unknown” and mused as to how long they would be expected to wait before striking out on their own. Yet my reading of his interview saw a pleading for integrating the Kurdish and Sunni populations into Iraq on a fair and sharing basis. He pointedly noted that a reconciliation would be possible, “if there was understanding between Shias and Sunnis, and if there is a guarantee of a true partnership in the authority.” Prime Minister al-Maliki, he added, “had not asked for Kurdish help (and) he rejected every offer to assist. He was warned (by him) a few months before the fall of Mosul.” Without naming names he pointedly announced that “the one who is responsible must step down.”
If al-Maliki is replaced by someone who is credible in the goals of truly integrating and sharing both authority and oil revenue, some of the groups who have joined with ISIS are likely to join a loose federation based on such principles. In fact, Sunni participation could be drawn, in part, from the more moderate leaders now fighting with ISIS..
Rescuing Iraq from all out civil war is possible but each day that goes on without replacing al-Maliki and offering a plan for a true sharing as the basis for negotiations makes it that much more difficult and risks more of Iraq falling into the hands of ISIS.