Iraq – nationalism and annexation
The headlines from Iraq are once again all about bombs and sectarian violence. In disturbing the surface tension that held together a notional Iraq nationalism, it could well be that the US cast a die it will regret. The violence today has many causes - settling old debts, ancient tribal spats, territorial squabbles for oil revenues, and Shia repayments for past abuses. We have postulated before that as the US draws down, for the first time many in the local populace are considering what it means to be an Iraqi? For at least the last 100 years, being an Iraqi meant merely obedience – to the British, to the King , to Saddam Hussein, and of late to occupying US military forces, Many outside observers believe that Iraq’s future is as a subject state of Iran, but for now perhaps there is a slither of time for the Iraqis to ponder their identity.
To the majority of the populace, there was never a conscious acceptance of national identity, it was a just a matter of survival. Iraq has never been a ‘natural’ country. Its borders have been drawn and redrawn many times by occupiers. Sunni, Shia, Christian, Kurd and Turkmen are told they are now one people and one country. This is not a natural state of affairs. Iraq is facing a brief and probable transient period of self-determination. It is normal at this stage in a country’s early existence as a new political state for the people to ask themselves fundamental existential questions; can I be a Sunni, Shia, Kurd and an Iraqi all at the same time. Do I consider the interests of my tribe, faction or religion, or do I consider what is best for the country as a whole? Do I trust a central Baghdad government to act in my best interest, or is local governance where I will find justice? Will I get my fair share of the spoils? However, in actuality these are all sub-sets of the same question, what does it mean to be an Iraqi?
The Western conviction that democracy is the ultimate form of governance. Democracy has somewhat of a checkered history, however, in the region. It is something that the Iraqis have not had any great experience with, and this makes them naturally nervous of the future. There is also the influence of their neighbors. Some of these are at best nominal democracies, and other formulated under absolute allegiance to a spiritual or tribal leader. This is a much more familiar experience for an Iraqi that the concept of self-determination.
Signs are already emerging that the Iraq as singular entity, may not survive the transformation process. Kurds wants autonomy of government, and are acting independently in terms of granting oil exploration contracts. Shias in the Basra region, appear to want the same consideration. Will Iraq splinter into multiple regions? Democracy in Iraq may not be sustainable at a central level, or in fact, at all. The West can attempt to influence, but cannot control the outcome. You can’t grant a ‘conditional’ freedom in that way. Iraq is in virgin territory and the country it becomes can only be decided by its people and in their own selected way. While the bonds that link Iran and Iraq may be religion, the objectives are secular. A strong Shia coalition changes the strategic balance of power in region, and weakens the position of several US key allies. It also leads to a greater instability for Israeli interests, making second guessing their responses much more difficult. While the Iraqis ponder their questions of national identity, Jerusalem and Washington also are mulling alliance questions. The consequences of the deliberations on both sides are of major relevance to all.
Of course, these existential ponderings may be a moot point. Tehran appears to be increasing its influence daily. Iraq’s Prime Minister Maliki has a perosnal guard that is Iranian, many members of government received their political education from groups birthed in Iran, and Iraq has already shown several times that it will follow directions from Iran. In strategic terms, the Iraq War was an abject failure. It birthed a subject state for Iran, allowed Tehran to take its eye off a Sunni competitor on its border, and facilitate pursuit of hegomingistc agendas in Afghanistan and beyond. Iraq has become an Iranian proxy, and as a result another complex problem for the new US Administration to address.