Iraq Fragmenting Once Again?


Iraqi Church.jpg
Al Arabiya is reporting that Iraq’s Christian members of parliament are demanding to be allowed to form an autonomous area in the northern province of Mosul. This may seem like it’s a good idea. In the past several months, Christians have been targeted in a number of attacks–the height of which was the October 2010 hostage crisis at a Syriac-Catholic Church in Baghdad, where some 58 were killed. Moreover, strictly in terms of numbers, this move would be of relatively small significance. Iraq is home to roughly 400,000-600,000 Christians in a total population of some 29 million (down from an estimated 1.4 million before the war). But in a country known for volatile ethnic and religious divisions, this call for self-segregation is a dangerous move. Sectarianism is a serious and growing threat to stability in Iraq, and Christians are not the only group with demands.
Iraqi Shi’ites have recently united in protests supporting their Bahraini brethren. Non-sectarian demonstrations in Bahrain against government corruption and inefficiency have spurred Iraqi Shia to rally around a shared religious identity. Whether or not the Bahraini demonstrators are exclusively Shia, violence and suppression in Bahrain has clearly affected the sectarian politics of Iraq.
As both Christians and Shi’ites clamor for more benefits for their respective communities, the Sunni population is feeling increasingly disaffected. Largely left out of the ruling government under Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, there is widespread and growing discontent amongst Iraqi Sunnis. This discontent could quickly become more intense and result in gains for al Qaeda or a resurgence of the Sunni insurgency that ripped through the country in 2006.
This pattern of ethnic and religious division is part of a wider and more troublesome trend of growing sectarian tension–in Iraq and in the region more broadly. However, the US does retain some influence in Iraq. We should make sure that when we use that influence, we take into account the increasingly complex sectarian situation in the country and work to reduce unnecessary friction when possible.
— Jordan D’Amato


3 comments on “Iraq Fragmenting Once Again?

  1. Richard says:

    I’m not sure what point of the article is intending to convey. That there are sectarian splits in the Middle East and elsewhere? That moving out of harms way is a bad thing and one must put the community – whatever that is – first?
    Iraq was cobbled up by the colonial powers following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire – an entity with far more tolerance than existed in the West. The only thing that prevented sectarian violance and produce a unified state was the force of Saddam Hussein. This is not to condone his rule or methods, but this is not some nice theory set forth in university textbooks where everything – like economic theories – works out in the end. They don’t. And what you are seeing in Iraq is exactly what happened in the Balkans and Afghanistan. With religious “awakening” comes intolerance which can be used to force political changes that satisfy only those imposing their will.
    During the Soviet period, Central Asia had a large degree of autonomy but its great dividers, tribalism and religion were surpressed. Perhaps that was not such a bad thing because what exists now are tribal elites based on religious groupings which suppress dissent and resist change despite the billions of donor money flushed down a rat hole in order to bring “democracy”. Just take a look at this past weeks election in Khazakstan.
    In Iraq, like the Balkans, it may be far better to split the country into autonomous regions if for nothing more than to prevent violence against someone whose superstitious religion is not the same as those inflicting the violence. It is working, not well but well enough, in the Balkans. Even Russia has autonomous regions that are not in revolt against the central authority.
    Afghanistan – never a country in the first place -should be allowed to return to the regional, tribal groupings and allow tolerance to thrive where possible, isolating the rest. The last thing it needs is the continued US attempts at nation building based on some sort of democratic principals.
    Finally, in the US – look in the mirror. The religious right, almost wholly made up of fundamentalist Christians who are no better than their Islamic counterparts, like the Taliban, are attempting to impose their will on those who don’t agree with their oppressive visions of society and there is a slim line that has not been crossed, yet, of a violent reaction to those who believe that they have the right to impose their religious views on others.


  2. Don Bacon says:

    “The US does retain some influence in Iraq.”
    Maybe a little, but not much. SecDef Gates is there now, trying to get Iraq to dump the December 31 withdrawal date for U.S., troops, but the Iraqi Shi’ites are in a bitchy mood because of what (Sunni) Saudi Arabia did in Bahrain.
    The Iraqi leadership has made it known that they don’t like it one bit, and furthermore they don’t like the U.S. for supporting what the Saudis did in Bahrain. SecState Clinton has affirmed U.S. support for Bahrain and also its right to invite “security forces from allied countries.”
    But then the Saudis don’t like the U.S. either for supporting insurgents in Egypt and Libya, and Israel likewise, so the U.S. has ended up pleasing almost no one.
    Regarding the support of Christians — after the U.S. crusades against Muslims in various countries, and the U.S. support for Israel against Muslims, good luck on supporting Christian causes. The “growing sectarian tension” isn’t helped by more bombs and bullets which come from U.S. belligerency, that’s obvious. Having one’s leg blown off clarifies the mind, and hardens it (as brigid suggested above).


  3. brigid says:

    Iraq was home to the oldest enduring tradition, the Chaldean Christians, whose liturgical language of Aramaic was the language of Yeshua bin Iussef. Thanks to GWB’s war of “liberation” Iraq is no longer safe for any minority and its vaunted pluralism is gone.


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