Iraq has always been ruled by a strong central authority, whether the rulers were the Turks, the British or the Baathists. The reason is that the differences are too wide and too deep to be bridged by political compromise.
Compromise requires that all the parties agree to the same basic premise. The easiest example is the sale of a house. If I wish to sell my house and you wish to buy it, then we can reach a compromise on the price. That’s because we both want the same thing — to transfer the house from my ownership to yours.
But if I don’t want to sell and you want to buy, no compromise is possible. For you to get what you want, I would have to lose what I want.
In Iraq, the Kurds want autonomy, and the Sunnis want a strong central government. You can’t have both, as we discovered in 1860. The Shiite faction wants government based on Islamic law; the Sunnis and the Kurds want a secular state. Again, you can’t have both. The Sunnis, who have ruled Iraq in modern times, don’t want to be under the thumb of the Shiites and the Kurds. The Shiites and the Kurds, who were the underdogs, now intend to be the top dogs.
The United States, which set up the rules for adopting the Iraqi constitution, has probably shot itself in the foot, as it usually does when it tries to play the imperial game. One of those rules states that the constitution is dead meat if it fails to get a two-thirds vote in three provinces. The Sunnis are a majority in four provinces. They call the draft constitution a plan for civil war.
The Iraqi politicians may try to follow the American way and paper over these differences, putting off the unpleasant reckoning until a future date, but I wouldn’t bet a nickel on their success. The draft constitution obviously contemplates that the Kurds will establish an autonomous region in the north that will control the northern oil fields. The Shia religious parties will establish a Shia region in the south that will control all the southern oil fields. There is no oil to speak of in the Sunni region. Thus, the Sunnis see the constitution as starving them of revenue and influence and eventually breaking up the country. The draft also contains punitive measures for former members of the Baath Party. Any Sunni who had no reason to fight will soon have plenty.
The Bush administration, as short-sighted and ignorant as ever, is so intent on following the artificial deadlines it set for this process that it has bought into the draft constitution. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who sometimes seems to be approaching his dotage, is blithely unconcerned about the prospect of civil war and dismisses it. Well, we shall see. So far the Bush administration has not been right about anything in Iraq, and I suspect its record of wrong guesses will remain intact.
The original goal of the neoconservatives — academics and chicken hawks all — was to establish a secular democracy that would influence the surrounding countries. Well, that scheme is in the ashcan. What they have done is establish a religious ally of Iran, while the surrounding states, all Sunni-dominated, are unhappy as heck. They have also established a major recruiting and training ground for terrorists allied to al-Qaida.
Those who opposed this war have been proven right, and those who advocated it have been proven wrong. Those who now say we have to stay and see it through are saying we have to stay and participate in a civil war and the imposition of a theocratic state. So, what are we going to get if we do stay? Nothing any sensible American would want.
Those who say we have to fight the terrorists in Iraq to avoid fighting them in the U.S. will soon, no doubt, be disabused of that stupid idea. A federal bureaucracy that bans toddlers, babies and entertainers from flying but can’t control the borders, where millions come in unseen and unknown, is certainly not going to be able to protect the American people. We’ve just been lucky so far, but as every gambler knows, luck never lasts indefinitely.
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.