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Moving from the Past into the Future? The Pitfalls in Iraq Today
If memory serves me right, I have been contributing to SOMA for well over three years now. And every time I put my thoughts down on paper, I tend to inject an optimistic note into the most pessimistic scenarios...

24 August   |   2008   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

... This is not a case of “pessoptimism” that disguises itself in the form of the fabled ostrich hiding its head in the sand, or even of foolhardy pietism in the face of adversity, but simply one of compelling forward any items of good news that add hope to the daily afflictions or ordeals of ordinary Iraqis from all backgrounds.

So today, again, I do not wish to indulge my pen with the horrible stories of bloody attacks and sorrowful deaths screaming out of many parts of this once-fertile Babylonian land. What I wish to do instead is to explore the fresh hope that is highlighted by the latest UN analytical report on the different territorial disputes in Iraq - including those between Kurds and other communities in Iraq. The publication of the comprehensive multi-chapter report is slated to be completed by next October and will endeavour to facilitate a UN-brokered deal that could defuse tensions over Kirkuk let alone over other regions of Iraq.

According to the UN mission chief in Iraq, this report being drawn by lawyers, academics and diplomats is the fruit of extensive field investigations into the history and make-up of thirty to forty parts of Iraq where local government is in dispute. The UN hopes it would produce a document that adjudges the merits of competing claims - including those in the oil-rich and demographically challenged Kirkuk. In so doing, its methodology also argues against holding a referendum on the future of the city that would inevitably pit Arab and Turkmen residents against Kurds. Rather, it adopts the more judicious approach of negotiating a broad political deal for the whole area that would be sanctioned by all political parties and then put to a ‘confirmatory referendum’.

I, like many of my readers, am acutely aware of the simmering tensions in Kirkuk. It is about oil, of course, but not about oil alone. Although any local governance of Kirkuk would effectively control oil supplies and tap important revenues, there is another potent psychological factor at play here. It is a throwback to the times when former president Saddam Hussein “arabised” this city and its environs with the import - sometimes forcibly - of many Iraqi Arabs from other governorates and cities in order to shift population numbers. It is also about raw control and sheer power, as evidenced by the fact, for instance, that the provincial elections of October 2008 have been stalled again since the Iraqi parliament failed to pass the necessary electoral law.

Yet, my overriding fear for Iraq today is that such critical tensions could lead to renewed outbreaks of violence between Arabs and Kurds and cause more dehumanising carnage at a time when the devastating sectarian feuds between Shi’is and Sunnis have noticeably begun to subside despite occasional deadly outbursts.

Much like elsewhere, it is clear that coming up with sensationalist media headlines by revved-up journalists or facile political assessments by supine politicians are both dangerously redundant. After all, there are multiple facets to the Iraqi equation, which is why the UN - not the current coalition government headed by PM Nuri al-Maliki or the occupying forces headed by the USA - is the most appropriate body to deal with this dispute.

At the expense of being labelled naïve once more, let me come back to my initial premiss in order to caution all major political players in Iraq of the political “boomerang” theory, whereby the constant pursuit of maximalism eventually rebounds on its claimants - if not now, then in the future. History must have surely taught us all this much by now? Cleaving Iraq, dismembering its federated adhesion and sapping further its natural strengths for the sake of partisan interests would hurt everyone and render the country prey to more - not less - instability. Would it not be wiser - and politically more astute in the long term - to learn from the Arabic maxim that one bird in the hand is better than three on a tree? Otherwise, Iraqis of all persuasions might end up losing not only the birds they hold but also the whole tree. Would it not also be wise to avoid creating fragmented and bellicose parts to define an Iraq that struggles to move from the past into the future?

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2008   |   24 August


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