Sunday, May 31, 2015

Iraq is an idea not a country

So opines Fareed Zakaria in his column in the Daily Star this morning.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter did misspeak with recent remarks that caused a firestorm in both Washington and Baghdad. He explained the Islamic State’s takeover of Ramadi by saying, "Iraqi forces showed no will to fight." He just forgot to complete the sentence by adding the words, "for Iraq."

It’s clear that there are many people willing to fight fiercely and bravely in that part of the world — just look at the levels of violence. The Kurds fight ferociously for Kurdistan. The Shiites have been fighting doggedly for their people. The Sunnis of the Islamic State are killing and dying for their cause. But nobody is willing to fight for Iraq. The problem really is not that Iraq’s army has collapsed. It’s that Iraq has collapsed.

The vast majority of Sunnis oppose the Islamic State and flee every place it seizes. But they cannot find towns where they can resettle. The ethnic cleansing of Iraq — with Shiites moving to Shiite areas, and Kurds and Sunnis doing the same — began with the civil war in 2006, but has accelerated dramatically. Even Baghdad, which was a diverse and mixed city, has been segregated into sectarian ethnic enclaves.

Iraq today no longer exists. In 2008, 80 percent of those polled said they were "Iraqi above all." Today that number is 40 percent. The Kurds have taken every opportunity to further enhance their already considerable autonomy. I recently asked a Kurdish politician how many Kurds would support independence for their provinces. He replied, "Somewhere between 99 percent and 100 percent." Twelve years after Saddam Hussein’s fall, the Kurds and the Baghdad government still cannot agree on a deal to share oil revenues.

The problem, really, is that under the surface Iraq never existed. It was never more than a collection of religious and ethnic groups assembled by European colonial powers. And that undermines US policies. It also is a warning against calls for more military intervention to "save Iraq".

Washington can provide aid, training, arms, air power — even troops. But it cannot hold together a nation that is falling apart.

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