Sunday, 8 January 2012


 Leslie Gelb among others has proposed that the best way for the US to exert influence in the Middle East and contain Iran is to divide Iraq into a federation of three groups - Kurdish, Shi'ite and Sunni. After all, Yugoslavia was divided and the small republics seem to be doing just fine, after a decade of war, so why not do the same with Iraq now that US troops have withdrawn. Why not give the US to send troops back to Iraq once conflict flares up between these three entities and that way Iran will stay out Iraq and the US can keep containing it?

Those familiar with the history of the Middle East know that divisions such as Gelb proposes are a reflection of Western divide and conquer mode of thought, more precisely of the US right-wing and Israeli lobby position. Gelb's proposal creates more problems than it allegedly tries to solve owing to a lack of appreciation of complex problems, and a single-minded purpose of undermining Iran at any cost to the region, the world, even to the US that cannot possibly benefit from such a reckless scheme.

During the Paris Peace treaty negotiations between President Woodrow Wilson and his European counterparts, the division of the Middle East and its oil fields was very controversial and exposed the Great Powers as imperialistic, just as Vladimir Lenin responded to their designs when he publicly proclaimed that the USSR would have no claim in spheres of influence. The situation became even more complicated after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk defeated Greece in the Asia Minor War and began making demands of his own in Iraqi oil fields. We are now looking at a similar situation with regard to Iraq, except that the US is not holding all the cards it needs in order to have the leverage it needs.

Let us first consider that the Gelb proposal is actually as old as the US invasion of Iraq and it came from inside the Bush administration. Gelb is merely rehashing old material that experts inside the various government agencies have discussed in the last decade and then set aside. This is partly because the US cannot draw the map of Iraq in the manner that the Great Powers drew the map of the Middle East under the 'Mandate system'. Russia, China, Europe and the Arab countries must have a voice, so the Gelb proposal is worthless because unilateralism is out of the question on this matter. The only way that Iraq's division could take place is if the US instigates conflict among the various factions in order to realize the country's division.

Let us also consider that the US is desperate to have some sort of control in the region and Gelb as an old-style imperialist who equates Israeli security with US interests reflects exactly that mindset. But would not a division of Iraq strengthen Iran even more and weaken the Arab countries? Would not a division of Iraq strengthen Syria - no matter who is president - and Turkey that has publicly proclaimed it wishes to revive the influence it enjoyed under Ottoman rule? Would not such a division entail a great threat of what the US calls 'terrorism' and instability in Turkey, Syria and Iran owing to the Kurdish question that involves all of these countries? 

Above all, let us consider Gelb's assumption that Iran wants to gobble up Iraq. Would the rest of the Arab states, Turkey, Russia and China allow for such a 'gobbling up', even if Iran had the inclination, means and intent? Is Gelb aware that Iran and Iraq have a history of conflict - remember the Iran-Iraq War in which the US backed Saddam Hussein? Gelb's position is a reflection of extreme right-wing propaganda intended to beat the war drums against Iran, and it is shallow and simpleminded thinking on foreign affairs.

Those who have studied US-Iraq relations know that there is not one ounce of consideration for what happens to the people who live in Iraq, for if that were the case proposals to destroy the country even more than the US has done in the last ten years by dividing it would not be in any kind of discussion. If Gelb and those who claim to be concerned about Iraq really care, they would try to convince the US government to ameliorate relations with Iran and deal with it in accordance to its current power, instead of trying to find one pretext after the other to have Israel bomb it, or to have drones hit various military and nuclear program installations. As paradoxical as it may sound, the best (meaning cheapest and most beneficial to its own interests) way for the US to secure greater influence in the Middle East is to normalize relations with Iran and forget the old Cold War style confrontation that does not apply, and even if it were tried the cost would be immense.

 Facts about Iraq's constitution:
1. Iraq drafted a constitution in 2005 under military occupation conditions and with the considerable oversight of the US regarding both process and substance. Iraqi participants at the time of the drafting explicitly stated that the US had 'input, oversight, and evaluation'.
There are many aspects of the Constitution, such as human rights protection, that are excellent. But how legitimate is a Constitution drafted when a country is under military occupation and the occupying force has a dominant role in process and substance?

2. The Constitution was an attempt by the US as a military occupation power to demonstrate that: a) the country had 'legitimacy' emanating from domestic bases and not from the occupying forces, and b) to set the foundation for a type of regime the US would accept. Owing to domestic American and world-wide criticism of the US role in Iraq, the Constitution was intended as much to serve political purposes of the US as it was to provide a sense of constitutional order in Iraq, especially against the background of substantial Iraqi opposition to the US.

3. Representatives from Sunni, Kurdish and Shi'ite were apprehensive about the US role and the push toward federalism owing to suspicions that they had about each other's ambitions and about which faction the US would favor at any one time. Despite the reality of religious and ethnic divisions, the federalism element in the Constitution was a US insertion. However, Chapter V, Articles 116 through 121 of the Constitution that deal with regionalism are open to different interpretations of what federalism means, depending on the particular religious, ethnic and regional group. That the US continued to 'encourage' federalism more than the Iraqis as a means of keeping Iraq a weak American satellite reflects the nature of US military, political and economic interests, and it has nothing to do with the people of Iraq.

4. It is one thing drafting a Constitution under military occupation, and entirely a different story trying to implement it after the occupation forces have left the country.  

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