Dr. Srdja Trifkovic’s “Iraq: The Way Out” (American Proscenium, August) is the most promising piece I have seen since it became apparent that our initial military victory marked the beginning of our warfare in that country, not the end. For more than a year, I have been advocating to those (precious few) who would listen that Iraq should be reconstituted along ethnic lines as three separate nations. Such worked reasonably well with the former Yugoslavia. The Croats, Slovenes, Bosnians, and Serbs behaved better once they had, or were confined to, their own countries. I would think that, faced with the prospects of having to pacify the Sunni Triangle, most Shiites and Kurds would vote for, at most, a loose federation rather than tight integration with that land. At the same time, the prospects of serious Sunni troublemaking in the neighboring states seem remote.
But there is a serious complication that Dr. Trifkovic did not address. Not all the ethnics conveniently reside within the boundaries of their ancestral homelands. Should the many Shiites who live in Baghdad be forcibly removed, as refugees, to the south? Should there be some kind of asset (e.g., oil wells) or territory exchange as compensation to the otherwise dispossessed? Or should it be assumed that, once secure in their own nation-state, the Sunnis would allow the resident Shiites to live in peace, albeit with the limited political power of a minority?
The Bush administration could certainly use some guidance as to where to take its next step strategically. Where is the vision? Is the “Yugo solution” tainted because it happened under Clinton’s watch? Is President Bush seeking to be the “Lincoln of Iraq,” “preserving the Union” at all costs? Our legitimate objectives in Iraq do not require national unity there in order to be achieved.
—Dr. George R. Compton
Dr. Trifkovic Replies:
Dr. Compton raises important questions to which I can give only tentative answers. I offer them in the awareness that, of distant lands, we always know less than we think we know.
The real Sunni objection to the setting up of Shiite and Kurdish autonomous regions is not the yearning for a Lincolnesque union but the legitimate fear that a decentralized Iraq would leave Sunni areas economically disadvantaged.
Article 109 of Iraq’s draft constitution stipulates that “the oil and gas of all the regions belong to the entirety of the Iraqi people” and that all oil and gas revenues “should be equitably distributed throughout the country according to the population size of each region.”
There is a killer proviso in that article, however, inserted by the Shiite-Kurdish majority on the Drafting Committee. It says that it is necessary “to reserve, for a determined period, part of this wealth for the neglected regions which were deprived of it under the former regime.” The United States should exert her influence to have this addendum removed, as it opens the back door for Shiites and Kurds to keep the bulk of oil and gas revenues for themselves.
It is necessary to place Kirkuk—a major center of oil production—in the Sunni Arab unit in the middle of the country. Many Kurds will complain that successive governments in Baghdad have implemented a policy of deliberate Arabization of the city in order to ensure Arab control of the oil fields. The United States must not allow conflicting claims over such historical rights (or wrongs) to alter the outcome.
That outcome is clearly dictated by our interest: We need a Sunni stake in the coming Iraqi oil bonanza. For p.r. purposes, it can be presented as “democratic”: That there is no Kurdish majority in the city of Kirkuk, or in the region, is an empirical fact. Kurdish nationalists may claim it as their regional capital for reasons both emotional and financial, but they should be told in no uncertain terms that they cannot have it all. De facto statehood in the northern third of Iraq—minus Kirkuk—is more than the Kurds could have hoped for a mere decade ago. They should count their blessings and play along.
Giving all three constituent communities an equal share of Baghdad, as a federal capital, is the only solution that avoids the unpleasantness of ethno-religious cleansing.
More problematic for the United States is not the area of disagreement among the drafters of Iraq’s constitution but a key point on which they all seem to agree: the role of Islam. “Islam is a main source for legislation and it is not permitted to legislate anything that conflicts with the fixed principles of the rules of Islam,” the draft states, and these principles are reported to have been approved by American diplomats in Baghdad.
This is light years away from the concept of “spreading democracy in the Middle East” that has been used as a justification for the war in Iraq. Its ultimate fruit may well be an Iraq that is more detrimental to our interests than Saddam had ever been.
Dr. Compton asks, “Where is the vision?” I am afraid that it exists only in the minds of those operatives who delight in the notion of “benevolent global hegemony,” or whose primary loyalty is to a foreign country.