Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Fractious State of the Ummah in Iraq

The position of the prime minister, al-Malaki, is extremely vulnerable. Two Shia parties have withdrawn from the government in recent months, and, although the largest Sunni political grouping in parliament--the Iraqi Accord Front--has for the time being abandoned its threat to pull out, avoiding other ruptures will soon become impossible. The forthcoming referendum in oil-rich Kirkuk should presage an increase in violence in the city, and possibly the eventual establishment of a de facto Kurdish zone, or state. Some Kurdish separatists are attacking Turkey, of course. States' rights should be respected without having to resort to violence. But the majority of Kurds still appear to think about their independence in a democratic and non-militant way. The Kurdish Democratic Party of Turkey says this on their website,

The KDP supports the struggle of Kurdish people in Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Russia for their just national rights and reiterates its support for the way in which they determine their own future within the state they live in and agreements they reached within their central governments.

Similar statements of separatist solidarity are emerging elsewhere. The Coalition Forces don't acknowledge separatism as a legitimate political desire. Washington, as we know, has always insisted on a single-state solution. Maliki's benefactor, the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, has recently withdrawn his followers in parliament in the wake of the Samarra bombing. The leader of Sadr's legislative bloc said that "the Maliki government will surely collapse if the situation continues as it is right now."

These political withdrawals and boycotts have a specific purpose, although the media simply mentions it (like in the 2005 elections) without providing any analysis. The boycott, obviously, is rejecting the legitimacy of this Iraqi state--and the disproportionalities, like the representation of Shia and Kurd, built into the system. All for the sake of unity in Iraq. The government of Iraq is a failed project, decidedly, and will most likely collapse within a year or two. Unless nations are granted rights. A new formation or federation of states will emerge in place of the Maliki government. This possibility should have been considered long before it came to this. Four years into occupation, and it still hasn't happened.

Earlier this year the Fadhila Party staged the first direct challenge to Shiite unity when it withdrew its 15 members from the United Iraqi Alliance, the ruling Shiite coalition in the 275-seat parliament. As Iraqis withdraw their support from opposing sectarians, they draw closer to the ideologies that hold the individual groups together. Some observers see the Shiite leadership in Najaf as one of the last bonds holding together an increasingly fractious political grouping and uncomfortable coalition-making. Republican candidate Mitt Romney says the Shiites will dissolve into Iran. But it's no surprise the neo-conservatives are saying such things about a true Iraqi independence movement. Our leaders plan on occupying Iraq for, as General Patraeus said, "Nine or ten years".

Sadr and Hakim are now powerful rivals who command large militias, and Sadr might be attempting to expand his disparate following at a time of transition for the Islamic Council, the largest (Shia) party in the Iraqi Council of Representatives. Sadr is a fierce nationalist and militant, while Hakim has already pushed to create a semi-autonomous region of largely Shiite provinces in southern Iraq. This should be made an easy process. But the neo-cons call this "Balkanizing" Iraq to quell enthusiasm for it. Historically greater autonomy and self-government has been the natural and most productive answer to national or ethnic separatism. When Balkanization begins to happen, there is nothing the paternalists can do to stop it. Tito and Milosevic wanted to hold the Yugoslavian People's Republic together. And after prolonged war with every one of its seven separatist nations except Montenegro, it still has no sense of the national unity it hoped to maintain. With the right to self-determination, as it is called, there can finally be peace.

The only thing holding Iraqis together now is the Ummah, the global community of Muslim brotherhood. They will eventually separate themselves politically, join factions, rival tribes, and eventually form their own nations. That has always been the history of the Arab peninsula, from Bedouins and Gokturks to Sadrists and Kurds. We in the West shouldn't view their "unity" as necessarily under federal government rule from Baghdad. This is a Western perspective, and it is biased towards state unity. We will still see them as "Mesopotamian" peoples. But they deserve this special right to, as Woodrow Wilson said to the leaders at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, "national self-determination". All over the world the wounds and frustrations of bottled nations are swelling. "State unity" carries with it a mystical impression of national unity. Yet the two are radically incompatible when the state is so violently fractious as in Iraq. Peoples have rights. Individuals and groups of them. All classical liberal thinkers have said this. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights agrees with this; the UN Charter also says this. Since 2003 the neo-conservatives have struggled with the question of "nation-building". It's simple. Autonomous nation-building in Iraq should be determined freely by public referendum.

At any rate, change in the Gulf peninsula is imminent, and the path toward stability and self-governmental satisfaction is always an open door.

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