A Divided Iraq

By: Greg C. Reeson

Strategic Forecasting, a private intelligence company based in Austin, Texas, recently reported that jihadist groups in Iraq are attempting to create an independent region in Sunni-dominated areas. The jihadists recognize that there is a concerted drive among the Shiite and Kurdish ethnic groups in the country for separate, autonomous regions, each responsible for their own security and each with control of their own resources.

With the Shiites in control of southern Iraq, and with the Kurds running their own governmental operations in northern Iraq, the prospect of a divided republic is quickly becoming the reality on the ground. The only region remaining for the Sunnis is the area located just north and west of Baghdad. Of course, this area is largely devoid of oil resources and will be economically stagnant as an independent region.

If the push for a divided Iraq succeeds, the Kurds will control the northern oil fields while the Shiites will control the wells in the south. Knowing that such an arrangement leaves them without a revenue base, the Sunnis will continue to use a violent insurgency to force the Shiites and Kurds into some sort of political accommodation that would guarantee Sunnis a share of Iraq’s oil-related income. The jihadists joined this fight alongside the Sunnis with the goal of creating an Islamic state subject to Taliban-style rule, and to take advantage of the opportunity to wage war against the United States. Now, with the increasing likelihood of separate, autonomous regions in Iraq, the jihadists are trying to ensure a space for themselves in the only area available to them.

The Sunnis are adamantly opposed to dividing Iraq because they will inevitably be squeezed out of Iraq’s future. So far, the Sunni campaign of violent extremism has forced the Shiites and Kurds to recognize that the minority sect that once ruled Iraq must be reckoned with. The Sunnis have demonstrated that they have the ability to destabilize the country, leaving the Shiites and Kurds no real option short of all-out civil war but to reach an agreement that includes Sunnis in the political and economic future of Iraq.

Still, the drive for a divided Iraq continues. Despite the opposition of President Bush, U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison recently called for more consideration of a division along ethnic lines. Rumors are circulating that the Iraq Study Group, whose members include former Secretary of State James Baker and newly nominated Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, will recommend the division of the country into semi-autonomous regions, with some sort of central government in Baghdad to administer oil revenues.

Despite the pleas of the current Iraqi government’s President and Prime Minister, Kurdish and Shiite lawmakers continue to push legislation for regional autonomy. And despite Sunni efforts to prevent a divided republic, the jihadists have stepped up to take advantage of the stalled political process.

As the violence continues to worsen, and as the political negotiations continue to go nowhere, the possibility of an Iraq divided into three autonomous regions seems more and more likely. Options are limited and time is short. Pressure is mounting for the Iraqis to take control of their country and for the American-led coalition to leave.

Perhaps a divided Iraq is the answer to the sectarian violence that is tearing the country apart. Still, the problem of revenue sharing will have to be dealt with. Neither the Sunnis nor the jihadists will be happy with a desolate region devoid of any real income potential. Until this reality is addressed, the violence will continue and the future of Iraq will remain as bleak as it is today.

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