Can the Fragile Equilibrium Among Ankara, Erbil and Baghdad Endure?

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kirkuk.flares.jpg
Atlantic Council Senior Fellow David L. Phillips has an excellent post at the New Atlanticist blog explaining the emerging strategic partnership between Turkey and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Erbil, Iraq.
Phillips explains:

Turkey’s military strikes against the PKK in northern Iraq were a tactical and political success. Applying military pressure catalyzed Ankara’s decision to offer Iraqi Kurdistan political and economic rewards in exchange for cooperation against the PKK, a U.S.-listed terrorist organization that Turkey holds responsible for 30,000 deaths since 1984. As a result, Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan are fast becoming indispensible strategic partners collaborating commercially, working together on energy development, and strengthening security cooperation.

But both Ankara and Erbil are engaged in delicate balancing acts. The Turkish government is trying to reap the economic benefits of a prosperous, energy-exporting Iraqi Kurdistan without providing the basis for Kurdish independence or threatening its friendly relations with Prime Minister Maliki’s government in Baghdad, which believes that it should govern the oil-rich province.
At the same time, the KRG wants to consolidate its control of northern Iraq without risking an armed confrontation with Maliki’s security forces.
For the past several years, the United States has persuaded the KRG to refrain from making any aggressive moves that would compel Baghdad to respond with force – but the U.S. is losing leverage as it withdraws its combat troops.
The KRG recently adopted a new constitution that officially lays claim to the oil-rich province, an indication that the KRG is prepared to assume a bolder posture. The new constitution has already raised fears among Kirkuk’s Arab and Turkmen populations and earned harsh rebukes from Baghdad.
How the Ankara-Erbil-Baghdad triangle evolves will be one of the developments to follow closely as U.S. combat troops withdraw from Iraqi cities this week.
For background on the relationship between Turkey and Iraqi Kurds, check out this excellent International Crisis Group report.
— Ben Katcher

Comments

30 comments on “Can the Fragile Equilibrium Among Ankara, Erbil and Baghdad Endure?

  1. Paul Norheim says:

    Yes, I know.
    In a Norwegian newspaper some years ago, there was an article about a CIA-agent working in Norway around 1970. In one
    of his reports to his organization, he described it as a very peaceful, homogenous small country, and also wrote about the
    different political groups on the left – Maoists, Castro-supporters, the Soviet-friendly Norwegian Communist Party etc. He
    concluded his report by saying that if a revolution were ever to happen in Norway, it would be because of boredom.
    ————
    BTW, Ethiopia has around 80 ethnic groups with their own language.
    Before the ethnic clashes in Kenya one and a half years ago, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and perhaps also Rwanda and
    Burundi were seriously discussing a regional “Great Lakes” union with a President (Uganda`s Museveni was suggested). I
    think this is the way to go – regions, especially based on trade – also in the African Horn, Southern Africa etc., as concrete
    steps towards an African Union in more than the name.

    Reply

  2. Paul Norheim says:

    Yeah, it must be karma.
    As far as I remember, Conrad compared Brussels with a coffin in Heart of Darkness.

    Reply

  3. WigWag says:

    By the way, Paul, in case you’re interested, according to the CIA World Factbook, Norway is one of the most ethnically, religiously and liguistically homogeneous nations in the world. The degree of homogeneity based on these characteristics is 94 percent, just slightly behind Japan at 98 percent and slightly ahead of Greece at 93 percent.

    Reply

  4. WigWag says:

    “Then the Belgians came, and with them a demand that Hutus and Tutsis should get identity cards telling whether they were Hutus or Tutsis -thus fixing their identity for eternity”
    Well at least the Belgians are getting their just desserts. The Flemish speaking, German speaking and Dutch speaking Belgians can’t stand living together any longer and its only a matter of time before the Capitol of Europe disintegrates just like all those other multinational and multilingual states.
    The political parties in Belgium are divided strictly according to sectarian lines and the acrimony is such that they are resembling the Hutus and Tutsis more and more every day.
    Considering the role they played in Africa, I guess it’s just karama.
    What goes around, comes around.

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  5. Paul Norheim says:

    “I think Africa would be a far better place if artificial nation states had not been created by the imperial powers of Europe.
    Placing Hutu and Tutsi as competing groups within the same nation states has resulted in nothing but needless death and
    genocide.” (WigWag)
    I agree with the claim in the first sentence, but perhaps not the example in the last one. I think the Hutus and Tutsis in
    Rwanda and Burundi actually are examples of rather fluid and evolving identities. Before the Belgians came, if you owned
    less than two cows (if I remember correctly), you were a Hutu. If you advanced economically, and got two or three cows,
    you became a Tutsi. The wealthy and the ruling elite were Tutsis, but there were no rules saying that you couldn`t
    advance to Tutsi status or – if you lost your wealth – become a Hutu again.
    Then the Belgians came, and with them a demand that Hutus and Tutsis should get identity cards telling whether they
    were Hutus or Tutsis -thus fixing their identity for eternity. This – and the fact that the Belgians first favored the Tutsis,
    then suddenly the Hutus just before they left the country – made the problem much bigger when the population grew in
    the these tiny countries, and land became scarce.
    There is absolutely no difference in language (kenyarwanda), culture, dances, food, whatever – between the two groups.
    When OAU (Organization for African Unity, now AU) was created around 1960, they agreed not to touch those randomly
    chosen borders created by the imperial powers – afraid that starting to make claims and change them would result in a
    chaotic mess for decades on the continent.

    Reply

  6. WigWag says:

    Speaking of ethnic disaggregation, now this from Scotland:
    BBC News
    Page last updated at 14:17 GMT, Tuesday, 30 June 2009 15:17 UK
    “An opinion poll commissioned by BBC Scotland has shown a clear majority (58%) of Scots want a referendum on independence next year.”

    Reply

  7. WigWag says:

    In answer to your question, Dan, I guess my answer would be that ethnic disaggregation should be accomplished to the extent than it is practical to accomplish it. Trying to hold nations together where the largest constituent groups don’t want to be held together is a recipe for failure and violence. The West’s original inclination to hold Yugoslavia together was a fools errand, and a hypocritical one at that, given Europe’s history of ethnic disaggregation that started in the mid 19th century. Similarly if anyone was inclined to hold Belgium together by force, that would be a mistake too.
    No, I don’t think all 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria are entitled to their own states but I think the Indian subcontinent would be vastly more violent than it already is had Pakistan not broken off from India. Similarly I think South Asia is better off because the 98 percent Bengali nation of Bangladesh declared independence from the mostly Punjabi and Pashtun Pakistan.
    I think it would be better if there was some way the Chinese could be induced to leave Tibet so that the thousand year old Tibetan culter was not destroyed by the invading Han Chinese hordes. I regret that there is no way to save the Tibetans and that their culture will be exterminated in the same manner that Native American culture was destroyed.
    I am ambivalent about independence for Kosovo; Kosovo was dear to the Serbs and in fact it was called Old Serbia. But there is no doubt that the Serbs oppressed the Kosovar Albanians with whom they share neither language, religion, ethnicity or culture. I do think that if Kosovo is to be independent, North Kosovo which is almost entirely Serb should be annexed by Serbia.
    I think the Kurds are as entitled to a nation of their own as much as any nation on the planet. The Kurds are oppressed, often violently, in every nation where they exist; Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. The Turks have suppressed their language and culture; the Iranians suppress their religion, the Iraqis under Sadaam Hussein gassed them and the Shia regime in Iraq wants to steal their oil wealth mostly to benefit the Iranian Shia.
    Clearly it would be better for the Palestinians to have their own nation. Their language, culture, religion and aspirations are different from that of Jewish Israelis. The idea that they should be ruled by Israel indefinitely is in no one’s interests. The Palestinians probably have a poorer case for their own nation that the Kurds do, but they have a good case nonetheless.
    I think Africa would be a far better place if artificial nation states had not been created by the imperial powers of Europe. Placing Hutu and Tutsi as competing groups within the same nation states has resulted in nothing but needless death and genocide.
    It is easier to achieve ethnic disaggregation if the various ethnic, religious, cultural or linguistic groups exist in homogeneous or partially homogeneous geographic areas. When this is not the case, the type of disaggregation which improves prospects for peace and tranquility may not be possible.
    But the extraordinary success in Europe suggests that ethnic disaggregation should be the default position and should be contravened only when it is not practical.
    Even in democratic nations, ethnic minorities are terribly treated; often the treatment is brutal. Turkey’s barbaric treatment of the Kurds is a prime example. Their schools have been defunded by the Turkish State for allowing children to sing nursery rhymes in Kurdish and in some instances speaking Kurdish has been outlawed altogether.
    Except in the tiny number of “melting pot states” or states where strict rules apportion representation without regard to precepts of “one main-one vote” (e.g. Switzerland or Lebanon) failure to disaggregate leads to violence, oppression, lack of freedom and unhappiness.
    The United States is doing Iraq no favor by trying to insure that it holds together. When our efforts fail, the unavoidable question will be how many American and Iraqi lives were wasted for nothing?

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  8. Dan Kervick says:

    WigWag, do you think we should try to divide Nigeria into 250 independent Fulanilands, Yorubalands, Ijawlands and Ibibiolands? How do you think that would go? Do you think people who are disposed to fight their rivals now will stop fighting them just because somebody draws a border between them? Usually when people fight it is because they are competing for dominance of the same territory or resources, not because they are already effectively divided into their own self-sufficient territories.
    Yes, people identify themselves in different ways, and those identities are often the basis of conflict. But the process of attempting to divide a political community into parts is often just as painful and violent as the process of preserving or unifying one, because people aren’t just attached to their tribes but to the places they live, and the ethological distributions are never neat and clean. People also spontaneously and continuously develop patterns of interdependence with their neighbors that can make the prospect of living separately just as troublesome as the nuisances of living together.
    There is never any one uniform answer to the problems of conflict in the direction of more fragmentation. No matter how many fragments are created, the people in the independent fragments might well divide themselves further along various new lines, based on other historical associations and ancestries, and there will be the same tension between unity and division in the new land. How small should we go? How big does a clan or tribe have to be before it constitutes a “nation”? And when you divide an organized political community, that pleases the separatists, but creates a new group of people who are aggrieved by the fragmentation of a place they believe should be unified, and by the memory of a lost, greater order. Some of them may then fight to restore that unity.
    A political community takes a long time to build and reflects a lot of useful labor. They shouldn’t just be broken up because some people like to hang more with people who have the same way of dancing or wearing their tunics or conjugating their verbs or cooking their lamb.
    This has nothing to do with liberal enlightenment ideologies but with a realistic recognition of the unavoidably of the stresses and strains inherent in the processes of civilization. Human groups are always in conflict, and those groups are always in dynamic processes of change and reorganization.
    Which parts of the ancient world were more peaceful? The ones that were unified under the Roman order, and whose proclivities toward conflict were suppressed by the central authority? Or all of those independent barbarian tribes and bands who were constantly at each others throats? There is no single best answer. Sometimes the prospect of peace and progress in a troubled region lies more in the direction of division, other times in the direction of unity. But it would be a misguided assume that that the interests of peace and progress are best served by bowing to every group that has a sense of itself as having a common history or principle of connection, and as separate in some way from those around it.
    How about Russia? How many ethnic pieces do you think Russia should be divided into?
    And do you really mean to suggest, as you did in the previous post, that identity is *not* fluid and evolving? Do you think human beings fall into eternal national sub-species?
    If you go back just a few centuries, you find all sorts of European dynasties, clans, orders, bands and tribes that are just as worthy of distinct existence as the African and Southeast Asian tribes and ethnic groups you allude to. Should we divide them all up again?
    Every one of these nations or classified ethnic groups is the historical remnant of some ancestors that started out as separate clans and were then unified under some powerful leader. Why the preferences for the political unities of the past rather than those of the present?

    Reply

  9. arthurdecco says:

    For those people like questions who seem to attach inordinately weighty importance and significance to statistics rather than to facts on the ground I only have this to say: “Look around at the people breathing, rather than at the myths your media has created to make you feel more comfortable.”
    And because I’m a Canadian, I”ll include “Please”…

    Reply

  10. questions says:

    arthurdecco,
    http://www41.statcan.gc.ca/2007/50000/ceb50000_001-eng.htm
    The piece below would seem to corroborate my experiences in Montreal where the class differences seemed to be tied to language, not to immigration status. Perhaps you know better as you are (I guess) Canadian. And this study dates from 2003, so maybe it’s better now.
    Sometimes, just seeing who the hotel maids are is telling.
    *****
    Results of the 2003 International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey indicated major differences in literacy and numeracy levels among anglophone, francophone and allophone Canadians.
    Fewer differences were found among the younger people in the survey and differences almost disappeared when education levels were taken into account. So level of schooling—not language—is strongly linked to the literacy skills required to process written information, be it words or numbers.
    In the survey, people whose mother tongue was English scored higher than the other two linguistic groups in various literacy and numeracy tests. Almost 21% of anglophones obtained the highest level of competency in reading comprehension of narrative texts such as editorials, news articles or brochures. By contrast, 13% of francophones and 10% of allophones scored at the highest level. Scores were similar in reading documents such as job applications, pay stubs, transport schedules, road maps, tables and charts.
    Chart 22.4 Literacy and numeracy proficiency, Level 3 and higher, population aged 16 to 65, by mother tongue, 2003
    View data for Chart 22.4
    According to the survey, 42% of the adult population aged 16 to 65 did not obtain at least a Level 3 in reading comprehension, which is seen as the minimum competency for responding to the demands of today’s information-based society.
    Literacy varies by province. For example, in New Brunswick, 66% of francophones did not achieve the minimum competency level for narrative texts, compared with 55% of francophones who did not in Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba. New Brunswick also had the highest proportion of anglophones who did not achieve the minimum levels.

    Reply

  11. arthurdecco says:

    “The groups that succeed are the smartest, strongest or luckiest.” Wig Wag
    No they’re not. They’re the most immoral, corrupt and vile. We have history to confirm that.
    John Maynard Keynes wrote: “Capitalism is the astounding belief that the wickedest of men will do the wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.”

    Reply

  12. WigWag says:

    Dan, I refer you to the CIA World Factbook. It lists the ethnic composition for many of the nations in the world.
    Here are the data from several world trouble-spots:
    Afghanistan: Pashtun 42%, Tajik 27%, Hazara 9%, Uzbek 9%, Aimak 4%, Turkmen 3%, Baloch 2%, other 4%
    Belgium: Fleming 58%, Walloon 31%, mixed or other 11%
    Bosnia-Herzegovina: Bosniak 48%, Serb 37.1%, Croat 14.3%, other 0.6% (2000)
    note: Bosniak has replaced Muslim as an ethnic term in part to avoid confusion with the religious term Muslim – an adherent of Islam.
    Democratic Republic of the Congo: over 200 African ethnic groups of which the majority are Bantu; the four largest tribes – Mongo, Luba, Kongo (all Bantu), and the Mangbetu-Azande (Hamitic) make up about 45% of the population
    Eritrea: Tigrinya 50%, Tigre and Kunama 40%, Afar 4%, Saho (Red Sea coast dwellers) 3%, other 3%
    Ethiopia: Oromo 32.1%, Amara 30.1%, Tigraway 6.2%, Somalie 5.9%, Guragie 4.3%, Sidama 3.5%, Welaita 2.4%, other 15.4% (1994 census).
    Iran: Persian 51%, Azeri 24%, Gilaki and Mazandarani 8%, Kurd 7%, Arab 3%, Lur 2%, Baloch 2%, Turkmen 2%, other 1%
    Iraq: Arab 75%-80%, Kurdish 15%-20%, Turkoman, Assyrian, or other 5%. Note that about 60 percent of the Arab population is Shia with most of the rest Sunni.
    Israel: Jewish 76.4% (of which Israel-born 67.1%, Europe/America-born 22.6%, Africa-born 5.9%, Asia-born 4.2%), non-Jewish 23.6% (mostly Arab) (2004)
    Kazakhstan: Kazakh (Qazaq) 53.4%, Russian 30%, Ukrainian 3.7%, Uzbek 2.5%, German 2.4%, Tatar 1.7%, Uygur 1.4%, other 4.9% (1999 census)
    Nigeria: Africa’s most populous country, is composed of more than 250 ethnic groups; the following are the most populous and politically influential: Hausa and Fulani 29%, Yoruba 21%, Igbo (Ibo) 18%, Ijaw 10%, Kanuri 4%, Ibibio 3.5%, Tiv 2.5%
    Pakistan: Punjabi 44.68%, Pashtun (Pathan) 15.42%, Sindhi 14.1%, Sariaki 8.38%, Muhagirs 7.57%, Balochi 3.57%, other 6.28%
    Philippines: Tagalog 28.1%, Cebuano 13.1%, Ilocano 9%, Bisaya/Binisaya 7.6%, Hiligaynon Ilonggo 7.5%, Bikol 6%, Waray 3.4%, other 25.3%

    It is a sad but obvious and unavoidable fact after scrutinizing the list that the more ethnically diverse a nation is, the more unstable it is and the more violent it is. Conversely, the more ethnically homogeneous a nation is the less unstable and violent it appears to be.
    This reality is quite discouraging but averting ones eyes doesn’t make it any less troubling.
    By the way if you Google any of the ethnic groups mentioned by the CIA for any of these nations you will see that the vast majority of these ethnic groups have a very, very long history (far longer than the “few generations” that you mention in your last comment.)
    The take home message seems to be that the liberal message inherent in the enlightenment is an American and European conceit. Most of the rest of the world is not governed by this ideology which we hold so dear and in fact, they couldn’t care less about it.
    The largest ethnic or religious groups, like the Shia in Iraq or the Pashtuns in Afghanistan are more than happy to incorporate the aspects of democracy that call for majority rule (after all, they are the majorities) but they are largely disinterested in all the other critical aspects of democracy like the rule of law and equal protection.
    Obviously not every ethnic, religious or linguistic group gets to govern itself. But international law has nothing to do with it. The groups that succeed are the smartest, strongest or luckiest.
    Unfortunately.

    Reply

  13. Dan Kervick says:

    Some ethnic identities are ancient, but they all are subsumed and disappear eventually. All of the modern European identities – “French”, “English”, “Italian” etc. – are fusions of older groups, some well-remembered, some not so well remembered, with a modern identity built on the evolution of a common language over a forcefully unified political community. These modern identities will also pass away eventually, even if there are no large collective choices to change. Change chooses people, whether or not people choose change.
    Just look at an account of the history of the Kurds. One quickly encounters a list of names of ancient and medieval peoples, clans and tribes that may or may not have been ancestor groups of the Kurds. Apparently nobody knows the complex lineage for sure.
    People are often deeply and violently attached to some group – religious or ethnic – while that group thrives. The cultural tectonics always produce potentially violent stresses and strains, no matter which way they are moving. But the descendants of tightly unified groups will some day find themselves more closely attached to other groups, and acquiring new senses of identity. They migrate, intermarry, convert, etc., or are conquered or culturally dominated by another culture that provides a new potential focus for primary identity that replaces the older sense of identity over time. During that period of historical transition, there may be intense longings among some for rebellion and separation. But these longings don’t last forever. And at any given time, most people find themselves torn by conflicting loyalties and identities.
    Once we look at time scales that extend longer than a few generations, we see perpetual flux, life and death.

    Reply

  14. arthurdecco says:

    “For the past several years, the United States has persuaded the KRG to refrain from making any aggressive moves that would compel Baghdad to respond with force – but the U.S. is losing leverage as it withdraws its combat troops.” Ben Katcher
    That’s quite a flight of fancy, Mr. Katcher. As if the U.S. is losing leverage because it’s withdrawing its combat troops OR, if in fact, it IS withdrawing its combat troops. A plugged-in guy like you is surely cognizant of the shell game the U.S. is engaged in in Iraq with their troop and contract-killer numbers. Come back in six months and tell us again exactly how many less American-paid gunmen are engaged in the crushing control of Iraq than there are now. And tell us again at that time how it’s because of the draw-down in American troop levels that sectarian violence is rising in Iraq.
    Scriptwriter…
    “To use the Thomas Friedman metaphor; once everyone has their own olive trees they can start focus on building their Lexus. Friedman is right.” Wig Wag
    Friedman is not right if he said that. If he said that, he’s disingenuously full of shit.
    Though the thought: Once everyone stops STEALING someone else’s olive trees they can start focusing on building their Lexus, seems about right.
    “Francophones in Canada do less well…” Questions
    Provide me with some proof for this ridiculous assertion. As in all countries that encourage large-scale immigration, it is our new immigrants who generally do less well in Canada, despite their relatively better-but-not-recognized educations. You know the thing – engineers driving cabs, doctors working as technicians in health care clinics, yada, yada, yada. French Canadians are as likely as English-speaking Canadians to do well or not.
    “According to former President Bani Sadr, the US National Security Council official he met was very close to Israel. This official informed Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad, of the plot. Mossad then warned the Khomeini government through a third party of Sadegh’s coup. If true, this piece of breathtaking cynicism occurred because Israel was in the process of negotiating the sale of $5 billion of US arms and spare parts to Iran during its bitter was with Iraq.” Eric Margolis
    Will I ever learn a fact about Israel that doesn’t turn my stomach?
    EVER!?!?

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  15. WigWag says:

    And, right on cue, more evidence of what a wonderful multiethnic democracy Iraq is likely to become. Why could those Kurds possibly want to leave such a wonderful nation and instead form their own?
    Last update – 19:23 30/06/2009
    Bomb kills 25 in Kirkuk as U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq cities
    By Reuters
    “A car bomb in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk killed at least 25 people on Tuesday, just after U.S. troops handed over full control of Iraq’s cities to the domestic security forces six years after the invasion.
    The bomb, which wounded at least 40 people, struck a busy market in a largely Kurdish part of Kirkuk, a city viewed as a potential flashpoint between the Shi’ite Arab-led central government and Kurds. Police said the death toll could rise.
    Many Iraqis fear the U.S. pullback from towns and cities and into rural bases, the first step toward a full U.S. withdrawal by the end of 2011, leaves them open to attack.”

    Reply

  16. samuelburke says:

    Can these legislators really be unaware the US and Britain have spent hundreds of millions in recent years trying to destabilize Iran and overthrow its elected government? Or that Western powers are conducting an unprecedented media and telecom assault on Iran’s Islamic government?
    http://www.lewrockwell.com/margolis/margolis153.html
    WASHINGTON – We keep making the mistake of dealing with each new foreign crisis as a distinct and unique event, rather than as part of a historical-political continuum. Here is a sad example:
    In 1982, my old friend and Georgetown University Foreign Service School classmate, Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, was executed in Tehran after mounting a failed attempt to overthrow Iran’s Islamic Republic.
    I cite Sadegh’s death because of the increasingly strident demands by Republicans and some pro-war Democrats for President Barack Obama to intervene in Iran’s post-electoral crisis, and his insistence that the US is keeping its hands off.
    Can these legislators really be unaware the US and Britain have spent hundreds of millions in recent years trying to destabilize Iran and overthrow its elected government? Or that Western powers are conducting an unprecedented media and telecom assault on Iran’s Islamic government?
    Back to my old friend.
    Iran’s former president, Abolhassan Bani Sadr, told me that Sadegh begged the Americans not to show any support for his planned coup. “If you do, we are finished.” Sadegh’s planned coup against the government of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had to appear to be internally-generated and have no links to the US or Britain.
    Sadegh met with a senior official of the US National Security Council, then returned to Tehran, where he was arrested and subsequently shot for treason.
    According to former President Bani Sadr, the US National Security Council official he met was very close to Israel. This official informed Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad, of the plot. Mossad then warned the Khomeini government through a third party of Sadegh’s coup. If true, this piece of breathtaking cynicism occurred because Israel was in the process of negotiating the sale of $5 billion of US arms and spare parts to Iran during its bitter was with Iraq.

    Reply

  17. WigWag says:

    “Identity is fluid and evolving…” (Dan Kervick)
    “I tend to think it’s not ethnicity that is the biggest problem so much as it is the fact that ethnicity is used as an economic distribution tool” (Questions)
    I’m afraid that neither of these propositions is true.
    While some aspects of identity may be fluid, for the most part, ethnic, religious, linguistic and racial identities are very long lasting if not ancient. Most of the clashes in the world today based on those characteristics (and most of the clashes in the world are) are of very long duration. They can be suppressed by the violence of a Sadaam Hussein, Joseph Stalin, Marshall Tito, Hapsburg clan or British Empire but they have proven to be remarkably enduring and difficult to extinguish. Despite your correct observations about French history, there are very few examples of ethnic groups choosing to live in communion with other ethnic groups except under threat of force. Minority ethnic groups almost always feel oppressed (and they are correct to feel this way because they are usually are oppressed) and majority ethnic groups almost always use force to insist that minority ethnic groups adopt their language, religion or cultural characteristics. Harmony only results when these group are put in charge of their own political lives.
    I don’t say this with any pleasure, but it is an unavoidable lesson of history. It’s why Iraq is far more likely to disintegrate than thrive when the Americans leave. If Iraq is to thrive it is likely to happen only when one of Iraq’s “tribes” dominates the others by force.
    As for your suggestion, Questions, that economics is at the root of all this; that just doesn’t appear to be true. Economically Bosnia Herzegovina would be far better off as a single entity than divided into ethnic enclaves. In fact the former Yugoslav Republics would be better off economically as a single unit. Despite this, as soon as they were given the choice, the various ethnic groups making up Yugoslavia raced towards the exits. Does anyone believe that the Kosovar Albanians will be better off economically as an independent state or in league with the perennially backward Albania? Nevertheless, this is the choice the Kosovar Albanians made.
    A particularly pertinent example is Lebanon. Before its civil war, Lebanon was one of the most prosperous nations in the Middle East. This didn’t prevent Lebanon’s “tribes” from fighting with each other and destroying their own nation in the name of a fuller expression of their individual ethnic and religious identities.
    The Marxists are wrong; tribalism is not rooted in economics; it’s probably rooted in our genes. Want more proof? The most peaceful people in the world; the Danes and the Norwegians couldn’t stand the prospect of living in comity and instead violently broke into two different nations. And anyone who knows anything about Denmark knows that those good natured, liberal and tolerant Danes never tire of complaining about what drunks the Swedes all are.
    Accommodating these realities as much as possible, not ignoring them, is the way to a more peaceful and happier world.

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  18. questions says:

    I tend to think it’s not ethnicity that is the biggest problem so much as it is the fact that ethnicity is used as an economic distribution tool. The firefighter case was less about ethnicity than it was about class, prior school experiences, a social desire to compensate group injustice on the backs of individuals, a desire to avoid being the individual on whose back group level social injustice is ameliorated.
    I don’t know if there’s a way to handout social goodies without using race/ethnicity/language as a marker. Francophones in Canada do less well, Spanish speakers in the US do less well, African-Americans do less well in the US and so on. It’s not likely that there’s any innate quality in the success and failure rates.
    We are good at figuring that people “like us” are more deserving of goodies than people “not like us.”
    And we’re very good at harboring suspicions of the motivations of people “not like us.” It’s a skill that allows demagogues to do quite well.

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  19. Dan Kervick says:

    The European history suggests that the smart thing to do is not to encourage multiethnic states that almost never work but instead assist states into dividing along ethnic lines as peacefully as possible.
    This would be utterly impractical, WigWag. Maybe Friedman has some personal manual of human zoology that explains how human beings are properly divided into their most natural ethnic, national or racial types. But given just a few decades it will all be obsolete again.
    Identity is fluid and evolving. No matter how often states divide, there will always be some rising sub-state subgroup or other who cultivate a common rebel sense of distinct identity and are then drawn by the seductions of group independence, just as there will always be others who are captivated more by some trans-state notion of identity and are attracted by visions of the reunification of the dispersed. In some extreme and irreparable cases of identity-based conflict, peace may demand the satisfaction of some of these dreams. But over the long run, we will all do best to promote stability, and the reform and improvement of such political unions and governing structures as already exist. And we can promote new forms of gradually expanded political unity where realistic opportunities present themselves, rather than attempt to slice and dice human beings according to the currently most popular ethological, linguistic or cultural categories.
    Most states in the world are in fact quite multiethnic. If a state is successful, then people will increasingly identify with that common identity based on their membership in a politically unified state, and will attach diminishing importance to older forms of identification. So most of the French these days have no desire to julienne their country into independent slices of Gauls, Greeks, Burgundians, Normans, Basques and Ligurians. Fortunately for the French, their prosperous country was not ripped apart by the Friedmans of bygone days who placed inordinate stock in these tribal subdivisions, with their separate tongues, tastes and physiognomies.
    There may yet come a day, still long-off, when most Europeans see their identity as Europeans as more important than the currently dominant national identities.

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  20. WigWag says:

    “There has never been a unified and properly Kurdish State…”
    Of course there has never been a unified or properly Palestinian State, but that doesn’t mean the Palestinians shouldn’t have one. There was an independent Tibet before the Chinese invaded in the early 1950s; they’ve been settling Han Chinese there ever since. There hasn’t been an independent Kosovo either (until now, kind of); the Serbs and the Ottomans fought about that land mass for many years.
    In the real world, no single ethnic group is entitled to a state and none “deserves” one more than any other. The only relevant fact is who can fight for one and use violence successfully to achieve national aspirations while at the same time winning the support of the dominant world powers. International law is laughably beside the point when it comes to these issues. Just look at Kosovo; about 40 nations in the world recognize its sovereignty and the rest don’t. Was it created legitimately? It depends who you ask. International judicial institutions have neither the legitimacy nor the sophistication to render a verdict that will be universally accepted; even it they were to obtain the jurisdiction to decide the matter.
    “Those Kurds, Turkmen and others who have lost property claims can work to recover their property or damages from the Iraqi government.”
    That sounds a little naive to me. The Iraqi Government is a joke. When Sadaam was in power it was a government of the Sunnis, by the Sunnis and for the Sunnis. The Malaki Government is a government of the Shia, by the Shia and for the Shia. Yes, the Malaki Government has Kurds and Sunni represented in the legislative and executive branches; Sadaam Hussein’s Government had Shia and Kurds represented too.
    The Bush Administration imposed a supposedly multiethnic, multiparty “democracy” on a group of people who have no history or evidence of desiring a state where people of all ethnic. national and religious groups are equal before the law. I believe that this reality will become sadly obvious as the Americans leave first the Iraqi cities and then all of Iraq.
    “This whole notion of linguistically and culturally unified nation-states is a modern principle of organization, often based on idealizations and fantasy, and constructed out of much more fluid dynastic and imperial histories.”
    That may be true, but linguistically and culturally unified states are what the vast majority of people in the world prefer. The reason is simple; outside of the United States and Europe ethnically diverse states almost always mean the dominant ethnic group oppressing minority ethnic groups usually with terrible and sometimes barbaric brutality. There are extremely few “melting pot” states in the world today. Come to think of it, the New Haven Firemen case decided by the Supreme Court yesterday proves that these types of issues continue to have great saliency even in the United States; so does the way we treat undocumented Mexican workers. The manner in which head scarves are treated in France or Muslims in general are treated in Holland suggests that even in “tolerant” Europe these issues maintain great importance.
    What does all of this mean for Iraq? Given the instability of multiethnic and multireligious States everywhere (other than where a brutal dictator holds them together by force) it is hard to contemplate how Iraq can possibly survive as a single state (unless you think the Iraqis are like the Swiss; even Belgium is having trouble holding itself together). If it does, it will almost be unprecedented and it would mean the George W. Bush’s vision if not his strategy was correct.
    “This whole notion of linguistically and culturally unified nation-states” is one of those monstrous modern European ideas.”
    Maybe, maybe not. A millennium long history of barbarity in Europe culminating in the two world wars came to a halt (with a few exceptions in the Balkans, the Russian Federation and Cyprus) only after the European mission to ethnically cleanse it was complete. When the Europeans finally divided themselves into more or less homogeneous states, the wars stopped and cooperation and ultimately the European Union began. That seems like a pretty good outcome to me. I’d take the European Union over the British, Hapsburg or Ottoman Empires anytime. Without Europe’s ethnic sorting there would be no European Union and instead we would probably be worrying that World War III was brewing somewhere as a result of nefarious alliances between France, Germany, Great Britain and Russia.
    The European history suggests that the smart thing to do is not to encourage multiethnic states that almost never work but instead assist states into dividing along ethnic lines as peacefully as possible. To use the Thomas Friedman metaphor; once everyone has their own olive trees they can start focus on building their Lexus.
    Friedman is right.

    Reply

  21. Paul Norheim says:

    Of course Dan is correct,
    “This whole notion of linguistically and culturally unified nation-states” is one of those monstrous modern European ideas-
    — Herder, Smith, Marx: Nationalism, The Invisible Hand, Communism… Three huge mistakes invented in the eighteenth
    and nineteenth century Europe. Add nazism, a variation over Herder, to the mix, and watch how these leitmotifs were
    played all over Europe, in America, Russia, China, Africa and the Middle East from ca 1850 until now – mostly as
    nightmares.
    The conflict between Zionism and Palestinian nationalism is not only a story about brutal occupation, terrorism and wars;
    it`s also ugly variations over Herder. And the same idea also spread like a fire in the post-colonial, tribal context of Africa,
    in South-Eastern Asia, often combined with communism. We Europeans have much to be pride of… And what came from
    outside Europe, the next big hit on the planet? Theocracy and the reestablishment of the Caliphate!
    Our menu today?
    Among the main courses, our guests may choose between these delicious dishes:
    a) The Invisible hand.
    b) Nationalism.
    c) Socialism.
    d) Theocracy.
    Or, if you prefer, you may combine two of the meals, for example Theocracy and Nationalism; The Invisible Hand and a
    dash of Nationalism, or – if I may recommend an interesting combination: a mix of Nationalism and Socialism?
    Eh, no thanks. I prefer a portion of good old Enlightenment à la Diderot.
    Enlightenment? Sorry Mister, but that`s not on the menu today.

    Reply

  22. MNPundit says:

    “This whole notion of linguistically and culturally unified nation-states is a modern principle of organization, often based on idealizations and fantasy, and constructed out of much more fluid dynastic and imperial histories.”
    It is actually not based on idealization and fantasy, but the avoidance of war. After WW2 there was mass forced re-settlements to keep the peace, and so there has largely been peace.
    In that vein, perhaps the Kurdish groups in Turkey and the Turkmen in Kurdish Iraq could swap? I know Turkey sees anyone who is a citizen of Turkey as Turkish but it might solve some problems.

    Reply

  23. Dan Kervick says:

    Yes, there have been more Kurds in Kirkuk than other groups, and for a long time. But didn’t the Assyrians have Kirkuk before the Medians did?
    Hopefully, the status of Kirkuk – whether it is to belong to a Kurdish autonomous region or to the rest of Iraq – will be resolved in some peaceful manner. And if it is the former, presumably some Arabs will be inclined to relocate of their own accord, and others may be induced to move by financial considerations. Those Kurds, Turkmen and others who have lost property claims can work to recover their property or damages from the Iraqi government. But I expect the city will go on being a Kurdish-dominated but multi-ethnic city as it has been for ages. The idea of transferring Arabs entirely or massively out of Kirkuk is preposterous. There have been some Arabs there for ages; and even more Turkmen.
    Kurdistan is not a conquered country that has been turned into a colony of foreign invading Arabs. There has never been a unified and properly Kurdish state since the Ayyubid dynasty, if even that counts, since that dynasty was run by Kurdish families but spanned many non-Kurdish regions. Before that there were separate concurrent dynasties and emirates dominated by Kurdish-speaking peoples, and after that there were Eyalets and Vilayats of the Ottoman empire that comprised many Kurds, but were also multi-ethnic.
    This whole notion of linguistically and culturally unified nation-states is a modern principle of organization, often based on idealizations and fantasy, and constructed out of much more fluid dynastic and imperial histories. That is especially true in the Middle East which has been a mixed up melting pot of shifting kingdoms and empires, with imprecise borders, laced together by tribes and clans running across those borders, and in many cases more conscious of religious unities than “national” ones.

    Reply

  24. Minhaj says:

    “”Kirkuk has been under the domination of many powers during its long history: Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Arabs and Ottomans.””
    Yeah sure it had been dominated under these empires, but you forgot to mentioned the most important empire, the Median Empire, and the empires before that who are the ancestors of the Kurds. In other words, Kurds have had a much longer domination over their own city. But just like how most of Kurdistan is under domination, same wise Kirkuk, a Kurdish city, is also under domination of Iraq, for now.
    “”Kirkuk has often been as it is now: a crossroads city boasting a cosmopolitan population and multilingualism.””
    Yes, and the most obvious reason is because the Kurds were not bothered having these people in Kurdish cities, because it goes back to one of the Kurdish characteristics, being tolerant of all races and religions.

    Reply

  25. Dan Kervick says:

    “The Sunni Arab settlers in Kirkuk are no different than Jewish settlers in the West Bank or Han Chinese settlers in Tibet.”
    There are similarities, but one chief difference is that at the time of Saddam’s brutal Arabization campaign, Kirkuk was part of sovereign Iraqi territory, and had been since Iraq’s founding. The campaign internally displaced many Turkmen along with Kurds.
    Kirkuk has been under the domination of many powers during its long history: Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Arabs and Ottomans. A 19th century Ottoman census puts the Arab and Turkmen population of Kurdistan at about one quarter, with three quarters Kurds. The city was also home to significant Jewish and Chaldean populations. Kirkuk has often been as it is now: a crossroads city boasting a cosmopolitan population and multilingualism.

    Reply

  26. ToddinHB says:

    “prosperous, energy-exporting Iraqi Kurdistan ”
    Therein lies the rub – the Kurds understand that much of their appeal to outside countries, as well as their ability to thrive as an independent part of Iraq, relies on controlling the oil in the north. The question is, to what extent are they willing to risk domestic tranquility to preserve that control?

    Reply

  27. JohnH says:

    More important, will Turkey maintain the equilibrium between Moscow and Washington? Or will it pivot East or West?
    A great article analyzing the strategic stakes surrounding Turkey, a pivot nation:
    http://www.engdahl.oilgeopolitics.net/Geopolitics___Eurasia/Ankara_in_Calculus/ankara_in_calculus.html

    Reply

  28. Zathras says:

    If expelling the non-Kurdish population in and around Kirkuk, not all of which is Arab, were possible without risking open warfare with the Maliki government, it might be worth it to Iraqi Kurds to consider the option.
    But it probably isn’t, and since the American army will not be in Iraq forever it behooves the Kurds to try to find some acceptable course of action short of population expulsion. If six years in Iraq have taught us anything, it is that not everything Saddam Hussein did can be undone. The Kurds of northern Iraq ought to have learned that lesson as well.

    Reply

  29. WigWag says:

    “The new constitution has already raised fears among Kirkuk’s Arab and Turkmen populations and earned harsh rebukes from Baghdad.”
    Kirkuk’s “Arab” population was largely deposited there by Sadaam Hussein at the same time that he was killing and expelling thousands of Kurds. The Sunni Arab settlers in Kirkuk are no different than Jewish settlers in the West Bank or Han Chinese settlers in Tibet.
    The Sunni Arab settlers in Kirkuk should be forcibly removed if necessary. Kirkuk has always been Kurdish and even now it has a majority Kurdish population.
    Let’s hope that in the coming civil war the Kurds are victorious and that they reclaim not only Kirkuk but also Mosul.
    The Kurds have been particularly smart. They’ve cultivated a longstanding relationship with Israel and the IDF is providing invaluable support to the Peshmerga. By clandestinely helping the Turks in their fight against the PKK they have neutralized Turkish enmity.
    Is it possible that the good guys are going to win for a change?

    Reply

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