News / Middle East

Is the Partition of Iraq Inevitable?

People inspect the site of a car bomb attack on cars lined up at a gas station in the oil rich city of Kirkuk, in northern Iraq, July 10, 2014.
People inspect the site of a car bomb attack on cars lined up at a gas station in the oil rich city of Kirkuk, in northern Iraq, July 10, 2014.
Mohamed Elshinnawi

As Sunni jihadists continue to make gains in Iraq, Kurds have taken control of two oil fields in northern Iraq and have pulled out of the Shi'ite government of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki. Experts say that that the country’s future may have already unfolded.

Edmund Ghareeb, professor of Middle East history at the American University in Washington, D.C., agrees. He believes that the current situation could easily deteriorate into long-term civil war that could entail ethnic cleansing and the devastation of the country’s infrastructure.He warns that the Shi'ite-led government would be acquiescent to Iran and argues that any amount of U.S. involvement now is not likely to make much of a difference.

At the same time, the crisis provides opportunity for at least one segment of Iraq’s population.

“Perhaps, more than any time in modern history, the Kurds have an opportunity to establish an independent state of their own,” he said. “Not only taking over Kirkuk, but also discovering oil in their region, which makes it economically viable.”

But the formation of an independent Kurdistan by Iraq’s five million Kurds won’t just change the face of Iraq. Nine million Kurds in Iran and 22 million Kurds in Turkey could be tempted to emulate their Iraqi counterparts, and that dynamic could threaten the nation-state system of the entire region.

Staving off partition

The better scenario for Iraq, says Ghareeb, would be reconciliation and the formation of national unity government to give a political voice to all of Iraq’s factions. He said the U.S. is actively pressuring Iraqi leaders come to such an understanding.

“The U.S. realizes that the disintegration of Iraq carries with it dangers and consequences that not only threaten the Iraqi state but are also likely to upset regional stability and the interests of many parties including the U.S.,” Ghareeb said.

He also advocates a system of federalism that would distribute a fair share of Iraq’s national wealth to localities based on their percentage of the total population.

But Richard Brennan, a senior political scientist and Iraq expert at the Rand Corporation, says that keeping Iraq intact would depend on there being a single Iraqi figure who could appeal to Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds – and even if such a personality were to exist, it may be too late to bring factions together.

“Fear and mistrust govern the Iraqi politics,” Brennan said. “Sunnis fear not having a stake in the future of Iraq, and the Shi'ites fear being dominated by Sunnis and repressed as they have for hundreds of years.”

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Comment Sorting
by: Not Again from: Canada
July 12, 2014 9:15 PM
We can continue to be nostalgic, and continue to go along by historical wrongs for the sake of retaining a name which means very little to the people, and IRAQ is not the only state with these issues.
We continue to see great conflict, great suffering, the creation of millions of refugees, because as ostriches do, we want to stick our heads in the quicksands of the past; those quicksands of the dastardly imperial legacies, that have created millions of victims around the World. Colonial tribal dividing borders, the cause of conflicts, are wrong and are one of the main causes of the conflicts we observe. Millions of innocent people are paying a huge price for the negative colonial legacy= bad borders; be it in Ukraine, be it in Syria, "Iraq", CAR, Libya, Yemen, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan..... an endless list of countries in turmoil.
At this stage Iraq is a nightmare, with the potential of far greater bloodshed than even Syria. Advocating to forcefully keep people in a totally undesired union, is morally and concretely wrong. People that can't live together need to be separated, in time, as the Europeans have done, the countries may decide to form unions, for advancement, not for the current common denominator, of extremists, of all sides, killing innocent civilians and destroying all structures/infrastructure, and even enslaving their opponents.
Maliki has clearly shown no desire to resign, so that this mirrage called Iraq can survive for a few more years. The Kurds have oil in their region, the Shia have oil in their region(South), and the Sunni have oil in their region (North West). So oil should not be what keeps them from separating. All of them face the super threat, which is IS (ISIS/ISIL). A four way conflict will only strengthen IS, and not just destroy Iraq's tribes, but far beyond.
Bottom line, forcing people to stay in a murderous union, will just postpone the separation, with far more victimes to be created, while forcing them to stay in the union.

by: John Quaye Quao from: London
July 12, 2014 5:25 PM
Yes I think the best solution is for Iraq to be divided according to the three main tribes to prevent ethical conflicts in many countries in Africa for an example which is the main African problem regarding the progress of Africa
In Response

by: 1worldnow from: Earth
July 12, 2014 8:50 PM
Fisrt, you're in England, so Engalnd only knows what's best to create conflict!! Second, WTF was that comment about Africa????

by: Peter Beswick from: Southampton UK
July 12, 2014 4:54 PM
In Response

by: 1worldnow from: Earth
July 12, 2014 8:47 PM

by: Climp Jones
July 12, 2014 4:30 PM
Clueless Title. Iraq is already "partitioned" and has been for over two decade's. VOA should either stop posting irrelevant 'content' or at least make an effort to try and keep up with reality rather than taking a cue from the President pretending to be "shovel ready."
In Response

by: 1worldnow from: Earth
July 12, 2014 8:46 PM
Oooooooh snap!!!! Excellent!

by: Carl Leitz
July 12, 2014 4:26 PM
Iraq just HAS been partitioned, or more accurately, re-partitioned.
The 3-way partition of Sunni, Shiia & Kurd sections worked for 100's of years in the Ottoman Empire.
When the Brits took over from the Ottomans post-WW1, they tried to remake Iraq on the unified, Euro nation-state model; it never worked.

by: Abdus-Salaam from: U.S.
July 12, 2014 3:59 PM
Basra, Dhi-Qar, Masin, Qadisiyah, Karbala, Wasit and Babil is all that is left for the Shi'ite. Go and live in peace build your nation state, do not let Maliki and Iran bring death and destruction to your provinces.

by: Ed-L from: Walnut Creek, CA
July 12, 2014 3:48 PM
With enlightened leadership, Iraq could become similar to Switzerland, where it is partitioned into three distinct official regions, and yet share the same nation... In Switzerland each region even speaks a different language --- French, Swiss-German, and Italian.
In Response

by: Brian from: Olympia WA
July 12, 2014 5:31 PM
The Canton that formed Switzerland is populated by different ethnic groups. But they are united by a common catholic faith and the original desire for independence from the Holy Roman Empire. Even today the Swiss have no desire to integrate into a wider Europe.
The "Iraqi" people are a colonial mishmash of peoples squeezed into borders drawn by English an French diplomats to serve the agendas of their own empires.

by: Ken Collinsn from: Virginia
July 12, 2014 3:31 PM
Iraq is an artificial country created by drawing lines on a map after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. It could be kept intact if everyone were reconciled, and of course that is an easy process that could be done in a week or so. NOT.

What is the problem with partitioning Iraq and putting each nation in its own country? It should have been that way all along, and they'd get along better that way.
In Response

by: Mark from: Virginia
July 12, 2014 11:03 PM
During the Ottoman Empire, Iraq was partitioned into three regions, each faction having its own lands. Even then, and for nearly 100 years during that time, those three factions still were at each other's throats, waging war between themselves, each trying to dominate the others and take over each other's regions. It didn't work then, and will not work today.
You can't keep them separated, you can't keep them together, no matter what you do, they will fight each other...

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