some of Europe’s intellectuals talk without qualification, or with approval, of an Iraqi “nationalist resistance” to the American Empire . . This prism, Europe’s “conventional wisdom”, distorts constructive thinking about the constitutional reconstruction of Iraq.
To say this is not to offer any apologia for the mistakes – and indeed any crimes – of the Bush administration. But, it may enable a hearing for three obvious considerations required for realistic as well as forward-looking appraisal. First, the enemy of one’s enemy - assuming George Bush’s administration is the enemy of liberal intellectuals - is not necessarily one’s friend. Second, the pivotal friends of democratization in Iraq are among people who rarely call themselves “Iraqis”, namely Kurds, and Shi‘a Arabs . . .
The Kurds are neither Arabs nor Iraqis. They speak Kurdish; have a different culture, look different, do not fly Iraq’s flag, and insist that Iraq should not be defined as part of the Arab nation.
Kurds are willing, with extreme caution, to build a democratic, pluralist Iraqi federation. They have no love for the American prompted arranged marriage on offer after 2003. Kurdistan’s citizens prefer an immediate divorce. In January 2005, in a parallel private referendum held at the same time as the elections to Iraq’s constitutional convention, 98 per cent of two million voters endorsed an independent Kurdistan. “We deserve independence”, says President Masoud Barzani of Kurdistan, precisely because of what Kurds have suffered under successive Baghdad regimes, e.g. the destruction of 4,000 villages, forced displacement of hundreds of thousands, and the mass killing of up to 180,000 of their people under Saddam.
But, Kurdistan’s leaders, and their people, may compromise their maximal preferences if their minimal interests are met.
Insurgent Sunni Arabs are at war with Shi‘a Arabs and in their dreams would re-conquer Kurdistan. The fallacy that they constitute an “Iraqi” nationalist resistance should be laid to rest: it is an illusion beloved by both Sunni Arabs and critics of America’s decision to depose Saddam.
The non-insurgent Sunni Arabs are hopelessly divided. A minority are liberals, democrats, human rights activists, excellent people, but most have their heads cowed, for good reasons.
Sunni Arabs constitute a majority in four of Iraq’s governorates, eighteen of which were established under Saddam. To vote down the constitution Sunni Arabs need to mobilize two thirds of the voters to vote “No” in three of these governorates. They can deliver such an outcome in Anbar and Salahaddin, but, in my view, are most unlikely to be able to do so in Nineva (where there is a significant Kurdish population as well as Christian minorities), or in Diyala, where there are significant numbers of Shi‘a Arabs and Kurds. In these two provinces, provided they are supported, the relevant minorities can go to the polls to stop a jihadist victory or a B‘athist restoration (whichever they fear most). Provided that a constitutional draft largely composed by the Kurdistan and United Iraqi alliances protects the core interests of Sunni Arabs it is a fair bet that some Sunni Arabs will not vote against the constitution.
In short: there is a demographic, democratic, reasonable and realist constitutional path to the renewal of Iraq, in principle, as a democratic and pluralist federation.
The Bush administration has wanted a centralized (rather than federal and pluralist) Iraq for only two reasons that make any sense, at least to me. First, to have an Iraq that is a counterweight to Iran. (It had hoped it would also be secular). That cause is lost; Iran and Shi‘a Arab Iraq, at least, will be at peace. . . Second, the Bush administration has wanted to appease Turkey’s fears of an independent Kurdistan. But, the best way to discourage an independent Kurdistan is to promote an Iraq that Kurdistan accepts, namely, a democratic, pluralist and federal Iraq that meets Kurdistan’s “red lines”.