Middle East set for a great sorting?
August 12th, 2014
10:55 PM ET

Middle East set for a great sorting?

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about Iraqi President Fuad Masum's decision to nominate a new Prime Minister on Monday. This is an edited version of the interview.

Nuri al-Maliki, the current Iraqi prime minister, may not go quietly. He may try to use the forces loyal to him to effectively engage in some sort of coup. What's your analysis?

My own sense is that he won't do that. There are many, many forces within the Iraqi political system that would be very strongly opposed to them. Most importantly, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the chief Shiite cleric of Iraq, has always been clear that Iraq needs to be on a democratic path. You remember early on, when we were watching Iraqi politics begin, Sistani was very clear on the need for elections, for democracy. So I would suspect that he would come out strongly opposed to this. And in that case, al-Maliki's support would collapse.

Indeed, Al-Maliki's support has largely collapsed. What he’s now holding onto is the thin reed that says technically he was meant to be asked first because he's the leader of the largest bloc. That's an academic issue because his bloc, the support, has disintegrated. I would suspect he might mount some kind of legal challenge, but he won’t try to use his position as commander in chief to do what you rightly say would be effectively a military coup.

So let's see what he does in the next few days. Haider al-Abadi, the nominee to be prime minister, is a Shiite. Can he unite the country? There's a Kurdish new president. There's a Sunni speaker. Can this group effectively take Iraq to a position that all of us had hoped it would be at, but clearly has not reached.

That's the million dollar question because what we have focused a lot on is the fact that al-Maliki is the bad guy, he didn't reach out to the Sunnis and, you know, we need change. And that's true. Al-Maliki has been a very sectarian and also somewhat incompetent leader. But there’s a larger sectarian dynamic in Iraq, which is to say al-Abadi is himself a Shiite from the same party that al-Maliki is from. The party is a pretty tough, hard line party. These guys spent most of their time in Iran before, in exile. So they're often somewhat pro-Iranian. They're pretty tough in terms of viewing themselves as Shia first and Iraqi second.

The other positions in the government aren't very important – the speaker and the deputy speaker and all these positions. So what we've seen in the past is, you have a lot of personalities and you have the right ethnic mix, but it doesn't matter because the dynamic of the system is making the Shiite politicians act more sectarian. That makes the Sunnis act more sectarian. The Kurds essentially trying to retain their independence. So I'm not very hopeful.

I think that it might be better. But you have a sectarian dynamic at work in Iraq. If you just look at the people who are guarding these various groups, it's the Shiite soldiers who are essentially guarding the Shiites. The Sunnis are more in the Sunni areas. Even the army, in other words, has fragmented into kind of sectarian units.

So when all is said and done, what Joe Biden and others recommended years ago – some sort of partition if you will of Iraq into a Sunni area, a Shiite area, a Kurdish area – may be the best solution when all is said and done.

I think there's a lot of wisdom there. I think people do need to take a second look at what Joe Biden was suggesting, which was, by the way, to be fair to him, a loose federation. He always understood you couldn't really partition as cleanly because, as you know, the middle of the country, which would be the sort of Sunni land, is actually full of Shias. Baghdad has lots of Shias in it.

So how would you do it? Historically, the way these happen is you have a certain amount of ethnic cleansing. In other words, the Sunni leave the Shia areas. The Kurds are, in any case, pretty much sealed. Maybe there's going to be a great sorting out in the Middle East. It's very sad to see. But think about what's happening. Hundreds of thousands of Christians have already left Iraq, even before these latest strategies. You've seen Christians flee Syria. You're seeing Kurds flee Syria. You're seeing the Sunnis flee out of Shia areas.

In other words, what you're seeing is the end of any kind of polyglot, multicultural Middle East. And what you're seeing is a very stark division where people are moving into their ethnic and religious corners.

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Topics: Iraq

soundoff (95 Responses)
  1. itscion

    When people with differences can't get along segregation is the answer. Good old Joe. Seriously though. It's not as if everyone hasn't had that thought but you would need to force large groups of people to another part of the country. I think it would end up being by force.

    August 13, 2014 at 11:02 pm |
  2. virginia

    the division won't work cause the sunni's ISIS won't respect division...or borders..

    August 14, 2014 at 3:05 am |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      Folks who don't respect borders may not respect guns either, but those same folks will respond to thee guns.

      August 14, 2014 at 6:13 am |
    • izakk

      who created the ISIS? it was the us and brits. now us is bombing them. what a joke. they prop up these dictators who oppress these people and when they fight them, they are kept quiet with brutal force. EX: egypt. Morsi for good or bad was elected official. so why couldn't the army who is backed by us and israelis wait until the next election? let the people of egypt via election decide who stays and who goes....no there had to be a coup. If you think anything goes on in the mid east w/out US approval, you are naive at best. so the whole democracy narrative is BS. It's democracy from whom US chooses. well guess what, people now know the truth, the cat is out of the hat...and that's why they are fighting back...these neocons are doing this country a disservice.

      August 14, 2014 at 9:08 am |
      • JC

        Not true. . While most of ISIS may have fought for the rebels in Syria, they were a small portion of the Rebels at large in Syria.

        August 15, 2014 at 12:03 pm |
      • Putin888

        I am sorry but trying to make these people out as freedom fighters is a LONG stretch that would take further to travel to than Alpha Centauri. They are mongrels who want to stamp out any freedom that anyone has except them.

        August 17, 2014 at 7:30 am |
      • Ibrahim

        Yes the US is responsible for ISIS being created. We seem to forget the # of Sunnis killed off by the US especially civilians indiscriminantly. The US sought to handover control to the Shia and disenfranchising the Sunnis. MOST the inmated at Abu Ghraib were Sunnis. If the US thinks it can get away by swinging their pendulum without problem they are sadly mistaken

        August 18, 2014 at 1:25 am |
    • joe

      agreed, but to some degree its not just ISIS, its Sunnis and to a lesser extent Shia in general. don't forget, the ethnic and religious cleansing of the middle east has been going on for decades as the intolerance that is becoming synonymous with islam spreads and strengthens. places where christians have been killed by muslims or churches burned or under extreme threat: Egypt, Sudan, Nigeria, Mali, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria. No foreign religions are allowed in much of the arabian peninsula. these are not the policies of out of touch dictators, significant portions of these societies support this hate, and there is good survey data to back this up.

      August 15, 2014 at 6:08 pm |
  3. virginia

    it will have to end up being dictatorship by the kurds that will bring peace to the area at great efforts to keep it together...

    August 14, 2014 at 3:16 am |
  4. Middle East Great New Opportunity ...

    for peace, economic development, democracy, stability, multi-cultural society. EU, NATO have great interest for Peace in Middle East – the bordering region to the Mediterranean – They are negotiating with US Officials a peace deal, that also The Pope supports.

    August 14, 2014 at 5:35 am |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      "Multi-cultural society," you say, @ Middle East et al?
      I have all of the culture I've chosen, right in my own back yard. I don't wat any more, thank you.
      I'm sure that many others feel the same way.

      August 14, 2014 at 6:22 am |
  5. Democratic order of planets

    13 Muslim countries have killing humans for leaving Islam on the books, dozens of OTHER Muslim countries use torture and imprisonment for apostasy and blasphemy..

    Where are the protests to stop the slavery of millions? Where is the call from the so called moderates to stop the killing, torture and threats for converts?

    Just to be clear.

    Killing humans for not converting to Islam = bad
    Killing humans for apostasy from Islam = "good" or moderate Islam..


    August 14, 2014 at 8:01 am |
    • izakk

      you love to bash muslims...is that the solution? did iraq have anything to do with 911? did they have wmd? us started this unilateral war on iraq on LIES. You don't say anything about that. over 100 000 iraqis killed, torture chambers like abu graib, close to a million iraqis displaced. have you no shame? us did this on what ground? look at the mirror yourself first. iraq war gave birth to more terrorists than ever existed before. do you not get that? you can't create the conditions where you make terrorist and then bash the same people. SHAME ON YOU.

      August 14, 2014 at 9:02 am |
      • realitycheck

        Yes, Saddam Hussein did have "weapons of mass destruction", as chemical bombs are considered "WMD's" by definition. You can see videos of him using these weapons on innocents all over the internet. It only takes a simple google search to find out all the proof you need of the slaughter of the Samaritans and many others.

        So, yeah. Welcome to reality.

        August 18, 2014 at 6:48 am |
  6. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    I agree, especially in the case of Iraq. That country should not have been created in 1919 by the French and the British and the British should have kept their 1920 promise to the Kurds in allowing them to set up their own homeland. Moreover, we need to quit trying to run the Middle East. Our stupid interventionist policies have only made matters far worse over there than they otherwise would have been!

    August 14, 2014 at 8:25 am |
  7. izakk

    who created this mess? It's the US. The whole WMD BS. It was planned to destabilize mid east...the neocons planned it and that's what they want. after iraq, it was syria, then it will be iran...it was almost iran...russia intervened. there was no suicide bombing in Iraq. Yes saddam was a disctator but it's worse now then when saddam was in power. creating these power vacuums is very dangerous. US needs to learn to mind their own business and not start wars on LIES.

    August 14, 2014 at 8:57 am |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini

      We'll put, izakk. I couldn't agree more!

      August 14, 2014 at 10:47 am |
    • wazoo

      I agree with u 100%. We created this mess for poor iraqis that gave rise to all these extremists. Saddam was evil but he was no threat to the USA.

      August 17, 2014 at 10:38 pm |
      • realitycheck

        Saddam Hussein was proven to financially support many terroist groups around the world, some of which (i.e. Al-Qaeda) are responsible for direct attacks on US soil. So, how exactly was he not a threat to the U.S.?

        P.S. You admit he was evil...so, how exactly is letting an evil madman run around massacring people in the best interests of the United States? I would LOVE to hear your opinion on this.

        August 18, 2014 at 6:53 am |
  8. Michael Stewart

    Puppets on a string, or manipulation of the inherent desires to hate and kill? Both, since it is conflict that is older than we, so why are we even bothering with them. They want to kill each other, they have always killed each other, so let them kill each other off!
    I am tired of hearing about "the humanity" when these are not human beings. Never were, never will be..
    How dare you filthy creatures threaten the world.

    August 14, 2014 at 10:16 am |
  9. Plantation ownah

    Polyglot is for the western world. In Islam its all about being separate and unequal. Its very much like a the Republican plantation policy. There will always be a plantation owner and the slaves that goes with it. Back to past. Thats the motto of the world today.

    August 14, 2014 at 11:56 am |
  10. virginia

    ISIS was created and founded by the Arabs who feel they need to protect their interest in the regions...

    August 14, 2014 at 4:47 pm |
  11. virginia

    it was the fight within that killed Robin Williams...he couldn't understand the outside forces he was also being confronted with...

    August 14, 2014 at 4:53 pm |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini

      Robin Williams also suffered from Parkinson's disease as well as a severe depression. He was an extraordinary actor, virginia.

      August 14, 2014 at 7:29 pm |
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

        @ My Troll,
        Isn't it nice when we agree?
        I think that assisted suicide should be legal in cases of terminal illness. You may differ.
        Severe depression is treatable, and I think that suicide, in almost every instance, is irrational.

        August 15, 2014 at 11:19 pm |
  12. Democratic order of planets

    We started seeing the end of a multicultural Middle East when Muslims put killing humans on the books for leaving Islam and torturing and imprisoning humans for blasphemy.. No sane person would be a minority in a Muslim country!

    13 Muslim countries have killing humans on the books for leaving Islam, dozens of others use torture and imprisonment for apostasy and blasphemy.. This it he purest definition of slavery!

    August 15, 2014 at 3:47 am |
  13. Sick and fed up

    Islamic posters love to blame the west for Islamic atrocities but it really comes down to the fact that the extremest want a global Inquisition, convert or be a slave or die. When they target a innocent tribe they show their true colors.

    August 15, 2014 at 9:26 am |
  14. bigdakine

    No polyglots any more in the middle east?

    Except for Israel of course.

    But don't tell that to the crackpots (Chomsky et al.,) of the far left which thinks the only polyglot nation in the mideast is an apartheid..

    August 15, 2014 at 4:40 pm |
  15. inachu

    Per the internationalist such as Barbara Lerner Spectre who thing that Israel should not be the only country that should have desporas and so this secular desporas are to do away with one thing and one thing only.

    To destroy any and all monocultures except that of Israel so that no country has a strong voice of any kind.
    That is the goal of Israel to all nations on planet earth.

    August 18, 2014 at 11:25 am |
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