The NY Times contemplates the long-term partition of Iraq with little enthusiasm.
Redrawn Lines Seen as No Cure in Iraq Conflict
By Robert F. Worth
ISTANBUL — Over the past two weeks, the specter that has haunted Iraq since its founding 93 years ago appears to have become a reality: the de facto partition of the country into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish cantons.
With jihadists continuing to entrench their positions across the north and west, and the national army seemingly incapable of mounting a challenge, Americans and even some Iraqis have begun to ask how much blood and treasure it is worth to patch the country back together.
Yes, and not just how much bloood and treasure, but whose?
“At least a third of the country is beyond Baghdad’s control, not counting Kurdistan,” said Zaid al Ali, an Iraqi analyst and the author of “The Struggle for Iraq’s Future.” “But any effort to make that official would likely lead to an even greater disaster — not least because of the many mixed areas of the country, including Baghdad, where blood baths would surely ensue as different groups tried to establish facts on the ground.”
Yes, we would be waxing nostalgic for the India/Pakistan debacle in 1947.
They also allude without explanation to a wild card:
For the most part, Iraqis (with the exception of the Kurds) reject the idea of partition, according to recent interviews and opinion polls taken several years ago. In that sense, Iraq forms a striking contrast with the former Yugoslavia, where militias worked consciously from the start to carve out new and ethnically exclusive national enclaves. The sectarian strain may have led to Iraq’s current impasse, but it coexists with other sources of regional and ideological solidarity, some deeply rooted in history.
What are these uniufying sources? Offhand I would make the disheartening guess that we are talking about hatred of Western colonialism, Western cultural imperialism and hatred of the encroaching Jews, but the Times leaves us hanging.
One expert believes that the problem of governance in this paert of the world is fractal:
“You could split these countries into two or three or four, and you’d have the same practice of power in each of those units,” said Peter Harling, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group who spent 15 years living in Iraq and Syria. “The problem is the divisive and autocratic and corrupt way power is practiced, not the borders.”
And the Times notes that the new ISIS caliphate spanning northern Iraq and Syria will be landlocked but will also control a key water resource:
Similar problems would afflict any effort to forge a new Sunni state in Iraq and Syria. For such a state to become sustainable it would need a real economy, and for that, it would require a major city — Aleppo is the only option — and probably a port on the Mediterranean, Mr. Landis said. Negotiating a land corridor that would achieve those goals without endangering the Alawite state would be nearly impossible, he added.
In Iraq, it has long been assumed that the Shiite heartland of southern Iraq, where the major oil fields are, would give the Shiites a tremendous advantage, leaving the Sunnis with only the vast landlocked deserts to the north and west. But northern Iraq also controls both of the country’s major rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, which flow southward toward Basra. That could provide one more reason for Mr. Maliki, or his successors, to fight hard for the recapture of the north and west.
In the 21st century water will be the new oil.
As to whether ISIS can avoid past jihadist excesses in the territory it is now trying to govern, Time Will Tell. But the Times offers this:
For all the jihadis’ boasts about founding a new caliphate — or Islamic state — the prospects of building any sort of cohesive or sustainable new Sunni entity in the region are slim. Already, there have been reports of factional battles among the gunmen who captured Mosul two weeks ago. The jihadists’ main partner in the north is a network of Iraqi Baathist former military officers with links to Sufism, an Islamic sect the jihadists view as heretical.
There ought to be room for an Awakening II in which moderate Sunnis ally with "Someone" to retake Sunni Iraq. I have a hard time imaginging the Sunnis would then seek to re-unite with the Shiite majority, and I can't guess who "Someone" might be (maybe Iran?). But at least Sunni Iraq would be led by relative moderates, not insane jihadists.