Hollow Harmony

… So Churchill chose the out-of-work Faisal as his candidate. Summoned from exile, he was crowned King of Iraq in Baghdad in August 1921… Faisal’s task was enormous; he had not inherited a well-defined nation, but rather a collection of diverse groups — Shia Arabs and Sunni Arabs, Jews and Kurds and Yazidis — …most of the countryside under the control of local sheikhs, and with little common political or cultural history, but with a rising Arab nationalism. The minority Sunni Arabs held political power, while the Shia Arabs were by far the most numerous.

To complicate things further, the Jews were the largest single group among inhabitants of Baghdad, followed by Arabs and Turks. To this religious and ethnic mosaic, Britain sought to import constitutionalism and a responsible parliament. Faisal depended upon Britain to support his new kingdom, but his position would be gravely impaired if he were seen as being too beholden to London.

The British government had to cope not only with Arab nationalism in Iraq but also with oil men, who were clamoring for some word on the status of the Iraqi concession. Britain was all for oil development, hoping that the potential oil revenues would help finance the new Iraqi government and further reduce its own financial burdens… ” From The Prize: the Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power by Daniel Yergin (1992).

From history one can not help but wonder, if the British were not able to persuade the three dominating ethnic groups in Iraq to reconcile their differences in a truly democratic manner during the 20th century, what makes the Americans assume that they will be able to persuade the Iraqis to unite in the 21st century.

And more importantly, did the three ethnic groups ever wish to be united under one flag in the first place? Is unity necessary for their survival or is it a pre-requisite for the survival of the foreign oil companies?

Though highly improbable, perhaps a “Happy Iraq” is “No Iraq”, as it was in the days before the British arbitrarily drew up the lines on the map of the Middle East, creating countries and forcing unity among ethnically different people, while separating others by the same arbitrary lines.

Every leader is a reflection of his/her followers. If a Sunni Iraqi leader is able to use biological weapons on a group of Kurdish Iraqi citizens who live within the legal boundaries of his/her country, then there is no denial of stark alienation between the two groups.

In Iraq as everywhere else, sharing a common constitution requires a minimal sense of mental solidarity among the people. It is extremely doubtful that within less than two decades, the remnant thoughts of the harsh treatment of the various groups by the dominating group could have been eliminated completely.

A signed and sealed constitution is only a piece of paper if it is not a true reflection of the hearts and minds of a people. The real constitution is already written in the minds of the Iraqis, however the only problem is that it may not cater to the needs of the foreign oil companies operating in Iraq.

The dream of a united Shiite/Sunni/Kurdish Iraq living in harmony in the near future is highly improbable, given the distinct differences in the respective cultures and religions. On the other hand, the possibility of a dissolved Iraq where the three groups live completely independent of each other as in the pre-Faisal (1921) days is also highly unlikely.

Therefore and probably, the most reasonable option is a federal Iraq where each ethnic group enjoys conditional autonomy within the boundaries of Iraq. The exact balance between their respective unity and autonomy is the key to a stable Iraq. Otherwise the killing and the carnage will continue until their oil runs out. And that’s not a short time.

It would be foolish to assume that the constitution signed by the current leaders of Iraq will be readily accepted by all sides and easily enforced. In fact a signed constitution, however well intended and designed, is only the beginning of a long, educational and therapeutic process.

It will take years for any democratically designed infrastructural agreement to be fully woven into the mental fabric of the various ethnic groups’ minds. And at least a generation is needed to forget the injustice done by one group onto the other and to justify the reasoning behind the concept of unity among the different ethnic groups.

Iraq, like any other nation, has its own problems which it must sort out at its own pace. Verbal arguments and physical battles are therefore inevitable and expected to follow the ratification of the constitution.

It is doubtful that the foreign forces behind the Iraqi stage care much about the human cost of the upheaval in Iraq as long as the path is paved for oil to flow to the right tanker at the right price.

However, for long term stability one can not over emphasize the need for understanding and sensitivity to the political history of Iraq and the over all human aspect of the current transition. While inflicted wounds need time to heal, years of political injustice can not be forgotten overnight.

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