A person close to 'happenings in Iraq' over a decade has appropriately warned that indeed this may be Iraq's last chance. Two positive developments are coming right on time:
- Nouri al-Maliki is gone and
- finally Iraqi and Peshmarga fighters are making progress against Jihadis.
But we all know these are just few small things before lot of right things need to happen for peace to return. Given that, it is an appropriate time to appraise the whole notion of Iraq as a country. The country was drawn arbitrarily by colonialists is obvious. On top of it, each of the main three ethnic groups - Kurds, Shiite and Sunnis have suffered genocide scale suffering from other groups (except possibly Kurds who might not have inflicted suffering on other sects on the scale by which other groups did to Kurds) making it harder to 'forgive and reconcile'. Iraq did not experience continuity of its political institutions with a peaceful transfer of power in all these decades; essentially robbing Iraqi people a vehicle with which these groups would have overcome deep chasms.
I believe the premise for Obama Administration for any further involvement should be that Iraq as it has been might not survive. What America and Iraq's neighbors should strive towards is a plan where these 3 groups can practically live in their regions as semi-sovereign entities and as they build upon the regional co-operation, as it works and as it delivers to subjects of these 3 regions; it will have a well laid path to achieve further integration. In other words, if Iraqi themselves start answering the question "do they want to live together" in more affirmative manner, these groups and regions would embark upon further integration.
The problem in the current political process seems to be a-priori commitment needed from everyone that Iraq as is must be maintained. Rather, the goal should be to arrive an arrangement where different groups are able to live more peacefully and are able to chart their future - either individually or collectively.
What could be such an arrangement then? For a starter, each group will have to own its security arrangement - Peshmarga defending Kurdistan area while Shiites defending from Baghdad to all the way Basra either through Shiite dominated current Iraqi Army or even their own Shiite militias. Sunnis are already demanding essentially guarantees from America in order to pick up arms against IS. Needless to say America will have to nurture Sunni Security abilities while working with Europe to strengthen Kurds. American involvement in building Shiite Security capabilities in forms of training and support to Iraqi Army (I am taking current remaining Iraqi Army as proxy to Shiite Security force) will need to continue.
Once autonomous financial sources are identified and security responsibilities are delegated to their own means, rest of the things for these 3 regions could be lot shared as it is in today's Iraq - same currency, same central bank, shared water resources and free movement of goods, people and capital. It should be relatively straight forward as well to agree for a common law for commercial purposes. Apart from these common interests, each region can decide its own social policy. In foreign affairs, all these 3 regions will still have to speak in one single voice.
The fundamental issues in any such arrangement are:
- How do you finance a stable and prosperous Anbar / Sunni region? (Oil fields near Basra and in southern Iraq are established sources for Shiite region while newly acquired oil fields in addition to existing ones would provide necessary backing to a semi-sovereign Kurdish state.)
- How do you address antagonism of an Iranian vessel state of Shiite southern Iraq against any Sunni mini-state carved out of western Iraq? (Shiite centered around Southern Iraq no doubt will become a vessel state of Iran. Let it be. Iran will realize soon that it hardly changes its current isolation with rest of the world nor strategic influence of America & West get any diminished as Sunni province and Kurds will continue to side with America.)
- How do you ensure that these 3 mini-states talk in one single voice in foreign affairs? Shiite would sure like to tow the line of Iran while Kurds would like to increase co-operation with Germany and EU (as like Turkey).
Question is how insurmountable these issues are. Agreed that undertaking 'armchair cartography like colonialist' is easy; but given the history of last decade - around trillion dollars spent and thousands of lives lost - starting from a minimalist position might be lot prudent for American and rest of the world.*
(*) - It is a moot point, how much co-operative Russia will be in this endeavor. In the end, Sunni mini-state carved out of Iraq will likely coalesce with substantial part of Syria. Essentially we are talking territory controlled by Jihadists today - except that instead of a caliphate it is a modern mini-state in a loose federation called Iraq. That means Syrian territory loss for Assad - Russia's allay. And that could be a reason why Russia might not come on board with this 3 mini-states plan.