Posted by: sean | October 31, 2006

The end of Iraq?

Zaid Al-Ali, an Iraqi lawyer, reviews Peter Galbraith’s book, The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End. The review focuses on Galbraith’s idea that a federal division of Iraq (or even a confederation) is the only option that remains. But Al-Ali also take a look at Galbraith’s role in advising the Kurds on the issue of the constitution:

“I realized that the Kurdish leaders had a conceptual problem in planning for a federal Iraq. They were thinking in terms of devolution of power – meaning that Baghdad grants them rights. I urged that the equation be reversed. In a memo I sent Barham (Salih) and Nechirvan (Barzani) in August (2003), I drew a distinction between the previous autonomy proposals and federalism: ‘Federalism is a “bottom up” system. The basic organizing unit of the country is the province or state. […] In a federal system residual power lies with the federal unit (i.e. state or province); under an autonomy system it rests with the central government. The central government has no ability to revoke a federal status or power: it can revoke an autonomy arrangement. […] The Constitution should state that the Constitution of Kurdistan, and laws made pursuant to the Constitution, is the supreme law of Kurdistan. Any conflict between laws of Kurdistan and the laws of or Constitution of Iraq shall be decided in favor of the former.’ These ideas eventually became the basis of Kurdistan’s proposals for an Iraq constitution.”

The question of what such a breakup of Iraq would mean for the country, not to speak of the region, is one that I’m fairly uncertain and ambivalent about, although Al-Ali argues that not only would it be a disaster, but that only the Kurds want such a weakening or even disolution of the state:

It is true that many western policymakers and commentators agree with his characterisation that Iraqis are being made to live together “against their will”, but Galbraith, whose ties to Iraq run deeper than most, should know better than to make such a vague and inaccurate assertion.

By way of example, a survey was conducted a few months ago in Karbala, one of Shi’a Islam’s most holy cities and main intellectual centres, on the issue of whether the city’s residents support the territorial division of the state. Only around 5% of respondents supported the formation of regions, or states, based on ethnicity or religious identity, whereas 91.6% of respondents said that they either favored a centralised form of government or a decentralised system based on administrative divisions that were independent of factors such as religion and ethnicity. Even if Galbraith is right that a majority of Iraqi Kurds are in favour of independence, he fails to mention that their wish is not shared by a large majority of the remaining 82% of the Iraqi population.

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