Why Not a Three-State Solution?

Here’s something I just wrote. Comments?

Why Not a Three-State Solution?

An important sticking point in the rush to an agreement over the Iraqi Constitution is whether or not the heavily Shiite southern region will be allowed a similar degree of automony as Iraqi Kurdistan in the north. The majority of known Iraqi oil reserves are located in the north and south. Sunni-dominated central Iraq representatives on the constitution-writing committee are worried that any federal system of government will deprive them of an equal share of oil revenues. Those living in countries without oil reserves might well ask, “So what?” Indeed, the question is more important than its phrasing might suggest.

A major tenet of democracy is sovereign states’ right to self-determination. Iraq — as a geopolitical entity — is the artificial creation of the Anglo victors of the First World War. Its distinct ethnic communities were lumped together willy-nilly to satisfy the spoils-of-war hunger of imperial Europe. Thus, the current civil war we are witnessing may be the first kicks of newborn democracy; not the writing of this constitution. The question then morphs from “So what?” to “So why are we trying to keep these people in one state?”

This is where we leave the realm of fact and interpretation and enter into imagination and theoretical thinking. Even I am not fully convinced of the foolhardiness of this idea, but it does deserve debate.

The northern region of Iraq, also known as Iraqi Kurdistan, has enjoyed a wide degree of autonomy since the Gulf War in 1991. With US- and British-enforced no-fly zones protecting the area from attacks by Saddam Hussein, the region was able to modernize and enjoy a relative level of safety and comfort. Aside from a Saddam-funded terrorist named al Zarqawi who, with his group Ansar al-Islam (Helpers of Islam), staged low-level terrorist attacks against the Kurds.

Iraq’s Shiite-dominated southern region has, since the invasion, been a fairly quiet area — aside from some early demonstrations by the young firebrand cleric Sadr and his militia, who have now joined the political process (but kept their arms) — patroled by British military forces. Both Iraqi Shiites and Kurds were violently oppressed by Saddam Hussein and his almost-exclusively Sunni government.

Iraqi’s Sunnis, centered in the middle of the country where little known oil exists, are understandably frightened by the possibility that Kurds and Shiites in the streets and on the constitution-writing committee may be aiming for retribution for their years of suffering. Splitting Iraq and keeping the oil wealth for themselves, the Shiites and Kurds will exact revenge, the Sunnis think. Iraqi Sunnis are concerned that they will lose out on Iraq’s oil wealth and be relegated to a poor minority status.

Well, why not? This isn’t intended as offensive, but given that the country’s borders were arbitrarily drawn and that a country has the right to determine whether or not it should remain in its current structure, why exactly do the Sunnis deserve the benefits of oil-rich areas?

As much of the world knows, there are other avenues to economic success. Sunnis had exclusive access to higher education, technological training and governmental experience under Hussein’s rule. Why not use those knowledge and skills to shore up other industries in the region? There seems to be no reason they can’t use a separate Sunni area to foster their own modern, non-oil-based economy, government and society. Should Sunni insurgents desire a theocratic government, they can have one. If moderate Sunnis honestly believe in a secular government, the insurgency will become an issue they have to overcome — just like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia and other Sunni-dominated countries struggling with internal fundamentalist elements.

The Kurdish north could continue its path to modernization and security. Iran worries that an independent Kurdistan could incite the growing automony movement in its southern region and further destabilize their border with Kurdistan (Iraq). How do the Kurdish demand for democracy and self-determination from an enemy theocratic state hurt the United States? And if the international community doesn’t like it — hell, we didn’t seem to concerned about what they thought when we initially went into Iraq. Why worry about that now?

Shiites in the south could begin focusing on reconstruction and working through their internal problems, as well. There are already growing rifts within the Shiite community, and a separate state for them to work those issues out seems logical. Otherwise, Iraq risks fostering both a Sunni-led insurgency and a Shiite civil war. Or, in short, a double civil war.

So what’s wrong with the three-state solution in Iraq? Why not recognize the people’s right to determine their own borders (for once), their own system of government and fight their own wars? These questions need to be answered. If only because the United States’ may not have recognized that “regime change” in Iraq included removing Saddam Hussein’s strong-arm tactics that ensured Iraq’s survival in its current geopolitical form.

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