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Iraq - I Told You So

June 23, 2014

I hate to say, “I told you so,” but occasionally it is appropriate. The article below was written in 2005. The title was, “Iraq – Three Nations.” In it I predicted that once we left Iraq to its own devices, it would disintegrate. Now, in large part, thanks to the arrogance and shortsightedness of our president, Iraq is in flames.
The purpose of re-publishing the article today is not to show that I am a prophet – I’m not. It is to reemphasize the truth that outside forces cannot force disparate communities to live together in peace and harmony. Iraq is really three nations, which I refer to as Sunnistan, Shiastan and Kurdistan. And the way things are going it may not be long before the maps are changed to reflect that.
As you can see from the map the Sunni Kurds live mainly in the North of Iraq. Sunni Arabs are in the center and East. And the Shiites are primarily in the South. Note that Arabs and Kurds are different ethnically. But the Kurds are primarily of the Sunni religion, while the Arabs are divided between the Sunni and the Shi’a flavors of Islam. The map also shows the areas where there are mixed populations.
One might think that since the Kurds are Sunni like many of the Arabs, they would all hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” together. But remember that they are ethnically different, and have hated one another for generations.  Likewise the Sunni Arabs and the Shia’s Arabs are both Muslim, and they are both Arabs. But Sunnis and Shiites are not like Baptists and Catholics. They hate each other, and kill one another on a regular basis. This is clearly a complicated situation.
In 1920 the League of Nations (forerunner of the United Nations) gave the British control over this loose group of territories, known in antiquity as Mesopotamia. This was known as the British Mandate. Forcing the Kurds, Sunnis and Shi’a under one umbrella didn’t work then, it hasn’t worked since then (regardless of who was in control), and it won’t work in the future.
Following is the article as originally published nine years ago:
By the time this is published, the deadline for the new Iraqi government to have produced a constitution will have come and gone. It is doubtful that they will meet the deadline. And in one important sense, it doesn't matter whether they do or not. Because Iraq is not one nation - it is three. And no document the three factions produce can ever change that fact. The British made a huge mistake when they forced three groups that hated one another to become one “nation.” Today the US is perpetuating that mistake by insisting that this make-believe "nation" remain one.

I won't bore you with the details of the three groups that are struggling to produce a constitution. You hear about these groups on the news every night. The Sunni Kurds, the Sunni Arabs and the Shi'a Arabs all hate and fear one another.

Left to their own devices, once Saddam was deposed, I believe the Shi'a Arabs and the Sunni Kurds would have separated themselves from the Sunni Arabs, and we would have seen three nations living relatively peacefully side by side. The Sunni Arabs would have been against separation, because under the Ottoman Empire, then the British Mandate, and finally under Saddam's dictatorship, they were given control and used it to brutalize the Kurds and the Shi’a. But regardless of the wishes of the Sunni Arabs, the Shi'a Arabs and the Sunni Kurds would almost certainly have withdrawn were it not for the interference of the West.

Remember that it was the Sunni Arabs that used poison gas on hundreds of thousands of Sunni Kurds. In 1988 Sunni Arabs massacred 182,000 Kurdish men, women and children. It is doubtful that the Kurds have forgotten this. Sunni Arabs have used their power in brutal ways against Shi'a Arabs as well. Today most of the attacks of the Sunni Arab terrorists are directed not against the well-armed US military, but rather against Shi'a Arabs.

The truth is that both the US and the UN bowed to pressures from surrounding Arab nations, each of which had their own agenda that had nothing to do with what was best for the Iraqis. And thus we are faced with a farce in which we are forcing the Iraqis to create a pretend government that can only be held together by outside forces.

At the conclusion of World War I in 1918, the British drew up a new map for the area that is today known as Iraq. They had little or no understanding of the religious and ethnic divisions in the area. They assumed that locals, whom they considered ignorant savages, would do the bidding of the “superior” colonial power and get with the program. This arrogance has resulted in much of the turmoil that plagues the area to this day.

According to the Encarta Online Encyclopedia, "After a brief period as a British mandate, Iraq was established as a monarchy in 1921. The new king, Faisal I, faced a fractious society, which divisions among tribes, classes, and religious and ethnic groups threatened to tear asunder. Every Iraqi government since, including the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, has confronted the difficulties of holding together a nation whose population is so riven by differences."

The description above is accurate, except in one sense. Iraq is not a nation. It is a mass of land where many people have been forced to live together under one government. They did not choose to live together. They have never chosen their own government. And even today, when they appear to be forming a government, it is only because of the arrogance of our own government, which has told them that they must remain one nation.

Have we, the United States, become the new colonialists? Have we learned nothing from the humiliation of the British Empire? We got rid of Saddam. Good for us. Now let us assist the Iraqis in finding a safe and orderly way to live with one another. But let us not dictate to them how they must do so. If we continue on this path, some form of government will emerge. But we will either have to prop it up forever, or it will fall apart when and if we leave.

The Iraqis depend on us for security and finances to rebuild their infrastructure, so they do as we say. But I am reminded of the little boy whose kindergarten teacher forced him to sit down against his will. He told her, "I'm sitting down on the outside, but I'm standing up on the inside."

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Dr. Tom Barrett is a pastor, teacher, author, conference keynote speaker, professor, certified executive coach, and marketplace minister. His teaching and coaching have blessed both church and business leaders. He has been ordained for over 40 years, and has pastored in seven churches over that time. Today he “pastors pastors” as he oversees ordained and licensed ministers in Florida for his ministerial fellowship.

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