Iraqis don't want their country broken up
July 16th, 2014
10:57 AM ET

Iraqis don't want their country broken up

By Amal Mudallali, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Amal Mudallali is a senior scholar at the Wilson Center. The views expressed are her own.

The conventional wisdom in Washington is that Iraq is heading for partition. The argument is that Iraq is on the cusp of being broken into three states: a Sunni, a Shiite, and a Kurdish state to replace the current state of Iraq. But while many of the proponents of this view contend that the Iraqis themselves want this because they simply cannot live together, I believe nothing could be further from the truth.

Sunni Iraqis do not want to be separate, they want to be equal. And for the Shiite Iraqis, the definition of equal is for Iraq to remain whole, but under a Shiite-dominated government. These views may appear somewhat inconsistent, but a regional and international coalition that sees the dangers of dismembering Iraq two sides should be able to help them walk back from their positions.

I know this is possible because Lebanon, another Arab country that suffered a bloody 15 year civil war, managed to step back from the abyss through a political settlement. Thirty years after the end of that civil war, and despite the suicide bombings that have blighted the country in recent months, Lebanon is still united.

Of course, Iraq faces its own, specific challenges. Sunnis cannot forget that they once ruled the country through a strong man, and the Shiites cannot bury their grievances over the Saddam Hussein era. Meanwhile, it is clear that the sectarian system that became the unintended consequence of the U.S. invasion of Iraq from 2003 isn’t capable of building a new Iraq, and is instead a recipe for continued civil wars.

These shortcomings were compounded by the sectarian and dictatorial tendencies of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the political class that surrounds him. Under the al-Maliki view, the Sunnis were to pay for all the sins of the Saddam era, so instead of bringing them under the big Iraqi tent, his regime pushed them to the margins.

As a result, Iraq’s Sunnis have for the past 18 months been in near constant revolt while Washington seemed to be looking the other way. They conducted sit-ins, but instead of addressing their grievances, the al-Maliki government responded with bombs, killing dozens in the process. Such policies drove Sunnis into the arms of radical Islamist groups and ultimately to a temporary alliance with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

The militants’ seizure of Mosul and other Sunni strongholds should therefore not have surprised anyone in Washington. What was surprising was the belief that what has not worked for most of the past decade will somehow work now. The rush in advocating a military and security solution, as al-Maliki has done, won’t resolve Iraq’s problems – security only approach won’t be enough to bring all the components of Iraqi society together.

What is needed is a political solution that keeps Iraq whole, including ensuring the Kurds are an integral part of the country. And the Kurds are not only patient but also realistic – they know the current regional restraints on Kurdish independence and recognize they will be best served by a new Iraqi leadership that keeps its commitments to them.

For the Sunnis, living in a united Iraq is better than the alternative – existing in an extremist and oil poor caliphate, as Iraqi oil is concentrated in the Shiite south (comprising 70 percent to 80 percent of Iraq’s oil reserves) and the Kurdish areas. In addition, it is hard to imagine that Sunni Iraqis – politically or culturally – would prefer to leave a united Iraq. After all, Baghdad is not just the current capital for Sunnis and Shiites alike – it has a rich identity and history.

Fighting extremism is important for Iraq’s stability, but it will not bring unity and it cannot be done by Shiites alone. The Sunnis have to be part of the fight if Iraq is to stay one country.

So where do we go from here?

Iraq’s Sunnis are by no means all behind ISIS, but they are caught between the rock that is the al-Maliki government and the hard place of the new caliphate of ISIS. Time is therefore not on Iraq’s side, and any delay in forming a new government with a fresh face plays into the hands of al-Maliki and those who have used his intransigence as an excuse to split the country.

A good recent sign that Iraqis are determined to step back from the chaos is the election of Salim al-Jabouri as the new speaker in parliament. His election is the first step in a political process to forming a new government and illustrates that the Sunnis can accept a compromise, as they had previously made the departure of al-Maliki a precondition of joining the political process. The Sunnis apparently prefer to stick with the Iraqi state that they know over the unknown of the Islamic state.

Yet despite the majority of the Shiite leadership in Iraq, including the religious Shiite leadership, wanting a new government, a major obstacle remains in the way of convincing al-Maliki that his time is up: Iran. Sadly, Iranian support for al-Maliki is mirroring Tehran’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Syria, Iraq, and even Lebanon now appear to be viewed by Tehran as a single theater of operations in which to challenge the West.

The Obama administration has sent the right message to Iraq by encouraging the formation of a government of national unity and inclusiveness. But the United States must not allow itself to again get embroiled militarily in an Iraqi civil war. Instead, this should be viewed as a political fight to try to put Iraq back on the right track in a way it failed to a decade ago.

It isn’t too late to save Iraq, but this cannot happen by tearing it apart. The Arabs still feel betrayed by the Sykes-Picot Agreement that split them into states nearly one hundred years ago. Dividing them into tribes and sects with flags today would be the ultimate betrayal.

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Topics: Iraq • Middle East • Syria

soundoff (68 Responses)
  1. Lokman

    Calling Iraq "another arab country" is insulting to the kurds, who were the biggest victims of the Sykes-Picot agreement. You cannot call it another arab country and expect the kurds to be a part of it. Tearing it apart is the way to go and you know it.

    July 16, 2014 at 11:43 am |
  2. frred

    seems like splitn Iraq they wud fight over oil. oil pretty much where they get all there money

    July 16, 2014 at 11:53 am |
    • c4ifford

      Please learn to spell before you post.

      July 16, 2014 at 3:51 pm |
  3. frred

    theyd fight over regions receiving more oil then them

    July 16, 2014 at 11:56 am |
  4. The Kurd

    Two things need to be pointed out that arent mentioned specifically in this article:

    1) 99% of the Iraqi Kurdish population (20% of the Iraqi popluation) would vote for independence if a referendum takes place. This is mostly due to Kurdish citizens want a "home" called Kurdistan where they can live in peace and prosperity as well as have their neighbors (Arabs, Turks and Persians) welcomed as guests and not as invaders. It is fuelled by the fact that every single Iraqi government has continued state discrimination and resentment to Kurdish citizens (and by Kurdish citizens, I am not including Arabized Kurds).

    2) The Kurds feel much more betrayed by the Sykes-Picot Agreement than the Arabs (Arabs in general were big winners after the Sykes-Picot Agreement, despite the fact that one Arab nation was never achieved but rather 22 Arab nations). Arabs, particularly Syrian and Iraqi Arabs, need to understand this very well in order to succeed in achieving long-term peace, stability and fraternal relations with the Kurdish regions and citizens of Syria and Iraq. Turkey is already taking the lead in this area.

    July 16, 2014 at 12:00 pm |
  5. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    What does this fool Amul Mudallali take us for? Of course the Kurds want their well deserved independence but were betrayed by the British in 1923 under the Sykes-Picot Pact with Turkey. Until Iraq is split into three different states, there will be no true peace.

    July 16, 2014 at 1:30 pm |
  6. jamal

    The biggest problem that those live within the borders of what the French and the British and for the past few decades, the Americans take it as their baby, has never been a country for those who live in it and will never be no matter under what conditions it is brought back to life. Turning a blind eye on the conditions and the pressure that these three or so candidates have finally been selected, is an insult to those who constantly loose and have lost their lives and loved ones. For those with a bit of wisdom, they can step back and think what has happened in the past and know that it is a matter of total differences in mentalities. For those who are prepared to sacrifice every living body for keeping the name of Iraq intact, either their decision is for personal benefits, or they have not made their calculations correctly. In fact letting the different sects to live their own lives and be responsible for their actions, is the best prize that the world community can give to them. With the resources that each side have, they can lead the world instead of being a burden as they have ever been. Can't anyone ask why the cradle of civilization has become a nest of terror? When enough is enough?

    July 16, 2014 at 1:48 pm |
    • sly

      Yup – the imperialist French, English and Americans have totally screwed up the Middle East so they can steal their oil.

      Simple fact, and there is no point in pretending we're there for 'democracy' or 'wmd' or to fight terror.

      America IS terror! That's how we've won the Worlds Biggest Killers for the past 36 straight years.

      July 16, 2014 at 1:59 pm |
  7. GlobalONE

    Really? Who the hell made it the way it is? England, France and the US... dividing up peoples, countries and lands all over the world, and still paying the price for it. For example, Kuwait was ALWAYS Iraqs – since antiquity – and we attack them for wanting back what was their's in the first place. Go figure. We promise to give back the Kurdish land that was wrongly taken from them after WWI and WWIIand divided up among the surrounding five nations, and STILL they sit as the largest ancient people on earth without a homeland of their own (THANKS TO US) and we chide them for wanting it back? Really? Did you actually read history? What a A$$.

    July 16, 2014 at 2:26 pm |
    • jenneva

      globalone, you said it clear...........

      July 17, 2014 at 4:37 am |
    • Jumping Jack

      Kuwait did not and does not want to be part of Iraq.

      July 18, 2014 at 8:06 am |
      • George patton

        Neither does Kurdistan, Jumping Jack. The problem is that the right-wing thugs in Washington refuse to realize it!!!

        July 19, 2014 at 12:40 pm |
    • 13th Legion

      As you say, read history. The United States was not involved in Sykes-Picot Agreement. In face we did not become formal allies of England and France until after the agreement. It should also be pointed out that before Sykes-Picot the "Arab" lands in question, along with Jordan, Lebanon, and most of Egypt, were under Ottoman (Turkish) control. They were not independent nor free. The Rashidian Emirate occupied very little of southern Iraq.
      While one might argue that Sykes-Picot boundaries were ill-conceived, and were more about English.French, and Russian control, it also removed control by the Ottoman Empire.

      January 4, 2015 at 1:32 pm |
  8. George patton

    Good posting, GlobalONE. Thank you.

    July 16, 2014 at 3:12 pm |
  9. jamal

    History has shown that Iraq as a unity, with all the natural resources and the social diversity there is, can only be run by a dictator. Given the history of Saddam, the new dictator will have to be much more of a dictator than Saddam to keep it together. Maliki is trying well to get into his Saddam's pants but clearly he has a bit more to do to get into that level and if he is left, he will. However, for those who want to benefit from Iraq intact, they will have to remind themselves that creating such dictators to rule over populations out of their will, will create the 9-11 style monsters that his the heart of the civilised world sooner or later.
    The Kurds in their entire history have never bombed, never blown themselves up. They have become martyrs searching for peace, just like Abdul-Rahman Qasimlu of Iran or defended their land against invaders and they are pro civil life. They deserve the chance that they are expecting from the international progressive community.

    July 16, 2014 at 3:42 pm |
  10. Ahmed

    The author is Arab, of course she does not want an Arab country to break up!!! It is time for the Kurdish people to declare a democratic state of Kurdistan and break away from the barbaric rest of Iraq.

    July 16, 2014 at 4:31 pm |
  11. Joe

    Don't talk to us like we're the ones who are going to divide Iraq. It looks like that is very much what they are on course to do themselves.

    July 16, 2014 at 5:03 pm |
  12. Aram Kokoy

    The fact you are saying Arab country you insult all kurdi, if it's hard on you heart to include kurd in Iraqs vocabulary, how could you expect them to stay united within so called "Iraq" is the fair state. Since it's creation at 1919 it's going through many bloody courses of violent. Kurds being marginalized and discriminated. The current Iraqi government cut their shar of budget. And their region is the only peace haven in Middle East obviously they don't want to be part of that mess.

    July 16, 2014 at 8:48 pm |
  13. safeen

    Vast majority of Kurds want to have their own state.
    Sunni and Shiite feud started 1400 years ago and it will continue.
    It is unethical to force Kurds to be part of this mess.
    Kurds never agreed to be part of Iraq, it was forced upon them by UK, France and Turkey.

    July 16, 2014 at 10:41 pm |
  14. jenneva

    Maybe southern Iraq wants to work it out and try again, but the Kurds do NOT..they don't want another try, they don't want to be with an Iraq that keeps better commitments...they want their own country and I've been on multiple sites conversing with them, including here on CNN Int'l , in depth, and the sense of fateful time come , is exhilarating in haven't gotten close enough to it if you think this is the prevailing wishes...not even close...they want OUT , yesterday...and it is already a fait accompli...the US needs to get on the right side of evolving history... a functional one.

    July 17, 2014 at 4:35 am |
    • George patton

      Good posting, jenneva. Well said.

      July 17, 2014 at 6:59 am |
      • jenneva

        This subject is a joy to behold...a future developing right in front of us...there is an immediacy and excitement about knowing you are witnessing a monumental event in history, and that we can interact with the people for whom it gives such completion...
        Unlike other types of site, this one PUTS YOU the stopping by to sit at a café and talk with the locals and visitors from nearby areas..
        The conversation, for the most part, is elevated much beyond the usual, there is palpable anticipation that it's already in process...with quiet confident calm...amazing and heartening...

        July 27, 2014 at 6:50 am |
  15. j. von hettlingen

    The Sunni Iraqis are in the minority and the areas they hold are not oil-rich. It makes sense that they prefer a unified Iraq and reap benefits from Baghdad. They want equality and be treated with respect by their Shia compatriots.

    July 17, 2014 at 11:21 am |
    • j. von hettlingen

      The problem is that the Shia Iraqis had been suppressed for decades by Sunni autocrats. They still have to come to terms with the past, before they can look forward and treat the Sunnis as equals.

      July 17, 2014 at 11:24 am |
      • j. von hettlingen

        The Kurds have realised their dreams in recent months and have no desire to return, what they have gained.

        July 17, 2014 at 11:25 am |
  16. usa number 1




    وردتني هذه الرسالة انقلها لكم كما هي: للتعميم / رجاء عاجل

    وردت معلومات مؤكدة من جهاز المخابرات العراقي مفادها ما يلي:

    1) تم نقل حاويات كيماوية لغاز السارين وغاز الخردل إلى العراق لاستخدامها بواسطة مدفعية الميدان ومدافع الهاون المتوفرة لدى الجيش العراقي.

    2) تم تخزين هذه الأسلحة الكيماوية في مخازن خاصة بأطراف مدينة الحلة ومدينة كربلاء وتحت حراسة عصائب أهل الحق.

    3) يشرف على أوامر تنفيذ القصف بالأسلحة الكيماوية مباشرة نوري المالكي، واللواء طالب جغاتي، وفالح الفياض، وقيس الخزعلي، وأبو مجاهد وآراس حبيب الفيلي.

    4) سيتم تنفيذ ضربات كيماوية منسوبة زورا للثوار ضد مناطق شيعية تحتوي على مزارات دينية لغرض تأجيج الوسط الشيعي وإعلان الحرب الطائفية... يرجى التعميم لإحباط هذا المخطط الخبيث ضد الشعب العراقي، ولدرء الحرب الطائفية التي يسعى المالكي وإيران إلى إشعالها.

    5) ستقوم حكومة المالكي بقصف مناطق في بغداد والمحافظات الشيعية بالكيماوي لتنسب هذه العملية للثوار، لأنه بالآونة الأخيرة، وقبل أيام، أرسلت حكومة المالكي رسالة إلى الأمم المتحدة حول سيطرة الثوار على مخازن الكيماوي في منشأة المثنى.

    ونحيطكم علما بأن العراق خال من الأسلحة الكيماوية من العام 1998، وإن الأسلحة الكيماوية الموجودة في العراق حالياً نُقلت من النظام السوري لاستخدامها ضد مناطق شيعية في بغداد والمحافظات الشيعية، وخاصة الكاظمية وكربلاء والنجف وسامراء وبلد، حيث مراقد أهل البيت (رضوان الله عليهم) وإنسابها إلى الثوار، وهذه خطة قاسمي سليماني لإثارة حرب طائفية شعواء، ومبرر لدخول الجيش الإيراني للعراق لحماية المراقد... وهذه آخر أوراق المقبور نوري المالكي.

    يرجى التعميم /

    جميع المحافل الدولية


    July 18, 2014 at 9:20 am |
  17. superknz

    This is typical Pan-Arabist viewpoint, clinging to a fantastical world were the middle east is dominated by Arab hegemony. It's ridiculos that Lebanon is brought up as a good example of a stable multiethnic state, where a militia "Hezbullah"has more power than the government itself, and clearly the country would fragment if it wasn't for the "evil" western powers. Not even Libya, which is made up mostly by Arabs, can achieve stability let alone attempting to unify with other Arab countries.
    The writer didn't present any reasoning for the advantages of maintaining the unity of Iraq. It's contradictive to blame Sykos-Picot for forming a country that ultimately benifited the intrests of Britain and then defending its existence by citing betrayal. Unity is NOT based on language, religion, ethnicity or culture, it's pure mutual interests.

    July 18, 2014 at 1:20 pm |
  18. Jonathan

    What planet is this writer living on? The Arab world is in the throes of an uprising against the Anglo-French political order imposed on it after WW1, an order based on the infamous Sykes-Picot treaty in which both countries carved up the Middle East into several totally arbitrary and artificial countries (Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan). Britain was given Iraq and Jordan as its spheres of influence, France Syria and Lebanon. The only reason Jordan has been spared is that it is one of the few Arab countries to have given its people relatively good governance.

    July 21, 2014 at 7:47 am |
  19. nothing

    But kurds whant to be free and they have right to chose their desiney.

    July 25, 2014 at 5:21 pm |
  20. nothing

    US should accept this that kurds, sunis and shia can not live togethere. why just why you try to keep them together to fight?

    July 25, 2014 at 5:25 pm |
  21. 37v609

    Most often economy is a good indicator of a country well being and right now, ONLY kurd area enjoy a boom never seen before in Iraq. Furthermore all minorities are fleeing to the Kurd area. I must agree that dividing Iraq would be best unless you want a dictator to rule with an iron fist:)

    July 28, 2014 at 10:09 pm |
  22. Mudabber

    The bad intentions of US were evident in 1991 when they started all that mess to dismember Iraq to safe guard their illegitimate child Israel.

    August 9, 2014 at 5:42 am |
  23. desertvoice

    Not to say Einstein, but every normal child can figure out that the Iraqi PM's mistake is in measuring Shia-Sunni equality as directly proportionate to each one's number! This means a frightening no-equality! For, in the West, each single person has equality with all othrs. In Iraq, the Sunnis, under al Maliki's formula, only have a 22% equality, given that their number is 22%!

    August 9, 2014 at 4:13 pm |
  24. Bakhtiar

    Iraq is not natural state. It is a manufactured state. in the 2005 unofficial referendum of Kurdistan, 98% percent of the Kurds voted for Kurdish independence. Why Kurds be the only nation on the face of this planet to be denied the right of self-determination? What a sick argument by this author to keep Iraq together. Iraq is dead. RIP. Good riddance

    August 10, 2014 at 2:11 pm |
  25. Korursr

    OK look this is what is really happening. Splitting Iraq is not good for the US BUT, is in the interest of Israel. The talk of splitting Iraq is really about the access Israel would then have to Kurdish airstrips in the north of what is presently known as Iraq. THIS would then enable Israel to sustain an Aerial assault on Irans nuclear infrastructure. As it stands Israel can not carry bombs and enough fuel to assault Iran. Splitting Iraq, even if just temporarily would allow such a possibility.

    So splitting Iraq is really about Iran and its Nuclear program. IF you believe that Iran is attempting to make nuclear weapons from its Nuclear program AND you think such a prospect would be disastrous for the world THEN you support splitting Iraq. ELSE you think Iran as any nation has a right to have peaceful Nuclear Program THEN you do not support the splitting of Iraq.

    Splitting of Iraq is primarily about this issue.

    As for me I feel every sovereign nation has the right to pursue science and nuclear power for peaceful purposes and national defense (not offense) thus i think splitting Iraq would be a tragedy for all in the middle east.

    September 5, 2014 at 8:33 pm |
    • CelestialNavigator

      Thanks for posting this interesting comment. After doing some researc there is some truth to yoyr observation.

      October 5, 2014 at 7:15 pm |
  26. Robert Gillies

    I completely disagree. The Kurds deserve their own country. They have been a mistreated minority in several different countries for many years. They have been severely mistreated by Turkey for a very long period of time. They would make loyal allies of the USA if we supported them. Unlike the Palestinians whom many people are saying should have independence, the Kurds have their own language and are a distinct people. The morally correct thing to do is to support an independent Kurdistan.

    September 6, 2014 at 1:13 pm |
  27. m.s.mohamed ansari

    next BBC All press and media Arabs leader and G20 leader ELECTRONIC VOTE ,,WHITE HOUSE HOUSE OF COMMAND,HOUSE OF LORD,,MICROSOFT, under control by CONGRESS ATO Z CONTROL BY QUEEN ELIZABETH still British rule the global 21 st century

    Royal budget and wedding cost. 10 generation total $ 57 trillion
    Each every politician rolling 8 years only
    But queen family enjoying 10 generation

    GLOBAL ECONOMIC FALL REASON WAR. Improve economy only peace and prayer
    WAR cost total $ 3.5 TRILLION. Every poor human blood tear .please saves economic
    POVERTY FAMINE &Effected education many people suicide. Many people Drug addict
    Effected All liberal democracy. Billion of people tax pays.
    FDI INVESTOR &Joint ventured, effected global Federal Reserve
    Effected CNC manufacturer & energy power
    Million of people death and is wounded. NATO &US. Coalition troops 8000 wound 35000, public 800000
    Increase every day by day OPEC. Every good leader 8years but queen family enjoying10 th generation Y
    Global environment climate change this leads to agricultural &human health problem
    WHITE HOUSE +52 =114. QUEEN+62 POPE +52 =114
    Please bring original HISTORY .Six thousand journalist are suppressing the truth of history but in one day it will come out
    Now we are in 21st century there were times former journalist exposed truth and sacrificed their precious life for the sake of truth, they unveiled the real history. Perhaps contradicting to their present power and money clouded their mind and our upcoming generation becomes a victim.
    We do not believe politicians as we used to, we do not believe the media, and whereas we believe each other”
    Thanking you this is turning point of improve GLOBAL ECONOMIC
    1. Press freedom 2.libral democracy 3.all country equal emigration trade policy 6.avoid electronic vote 7. Every one equal right

    Your’s sincerely
    Pragmatism has now fallen foul of the continuing power of the press.
    Economic save only 6 point. Peace, prayer, liberty, unity, friendly, simple

    September 21, 2014 at 3:16 am |
  28. jbloombe3

    To say that Lebanon is united is simply not true. Hezbollah absolutely controls the southern half of that country and rules with absolute impunity. Iraq is in trouble. The Kurds deserve to be independent. The Muslims will never treat them as equals.

    October 12, 2014 at 9:24 am |
  29. Philip

    Keep California in less than 5 pieces, rather.

    October 31, 2014 at 11:06 pm |
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