The advance of ISIS and the miserable failure of the Maliki government to protect Iraqi citizens against it brought back the old discussions of splitting up of Iraq.
Given the rising tensions between Sunnis and Shias and the Kurdish aspiration for independence, some argue for a swift and pain-free division of the country. This, they claim, will create three states out of Iraq but keep the rest of the Middle East together.
Is this really the case? Or will the splitting up of Iraq be just the beginning of a reign of communal violence, terror, internecine wars and the socio-political disintegration of the entire Middle East?
Borders may change. There is nothing sacred about the current borders of the nation-state called Iraq. The question is how they change and under what circumstances. Dividing Iraq along ethnic and sectarian lines will be a disaster for all ethnic and sectarian relations in the region.
This was the most catastrophic mistake of the Bush administration when it invaded Iraq in 2003. In order to galvanize Iraqis to rise up against Saddam Hossein, the U.S. and their allies appealed to the Shias and Kurds of Iraq. Their message to the Shias was that Saddam was a Sunni bent on killing Shias and to the Kurds that he was an Arab with a pan-Arab ideology. This terrible and stupid war strategy turned Saddam into a "Sunni Arab" dictator as if his so-called Sunni and Arab identity had anything to do with his brutal policies. He killed many Iraqis whether they were Sunni, Shia, Kurd, Arab or Turkmen.
The de-Baathification policy was another colossal mistake whereby not only the Sunni members of the Saddam era Iraq were isolated and penalized but also and more importantly the basic structures of the Iraqi state were destroyed. One of the constant problems of Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein has been the utter failure and inefficiency of Iraqi state institutions. Economic, bureaucratic and security institutions have failed to establish a minimum degree of public order, stability and to provide such basic services as electricity and clean water. It is a proven fact that governments fail no matter how much foreign aid they receive or generate internal revenue when there are no strong state institutions.
Instead of lowering ethnic and sectarian tensions and building state institutions, Maliki and his supporters have chosen to rule Iraq with a tribalist identity politics. It has worked for Maliki and won him two elections since 2006, and allowed Iran to design politics in Baghdad. But the cost has been communal violence, economic impoverishment, deterioration of state institutions, corruption, and the festering of terrorist organizations.
Splitting Iraq along ethnic and sectarian identities will not stop in Iraq. It will spread to other countries where similar grievances and tensions can easily be manipulated. Beyond nation-states, it will create deeper wounds and divisions in the relations between Sunnis and Shias across the Muslim world. It will turn every community with a different tradition into an advocate of ethnic and sectarian nationalism.
If Sunnis, Shias, Arabs, Kurds, Turks and others cannot live together in one country, how can they live in other countries? In an age of growing interdependencies and cross-pollinations in cultural and religious identities, Muslims with different ethnic, sectarian and cultural affiliations can live together and nourish a culture of co-existence. Their religion teaches them to uphold the principle of "unity" (tawhid) above all other worldly considerations. This theological principle applies to both belief and community relations.
Muslims should learn from their history the remarkable depth of religious and cultural co-existence that extended from the Balkans and North Africa to the Middle East and Asia. There is no reason why they cannot use their religious and historical resources to reject once more the primitive forms of religious, ethnic and sectarian nationalism and work for the "common good" (maslaha) of all humanity.
Splitting Iraq will be handing Maliki and his supporters a victory they do not deserve. Maliki's policies, not the essential beliefs and traditions of Iraqi Sunnis and Shias, have brought Iraq to the point of breaking up. Maliki, not Iraq, should pay the price for his failed and divisive policies.
A new political and security architecture has to emerge in Iraq. An inclusive, fair and representative political structure will give all Iraqis the space they need to solve their problems through legitimate means. With its rich natural resources and young population, Iraq can recover from its current state of anarchy and apathy.
Splitting up Iraq may seem like the easy way out but it will have disastrous consequences in the long run. If Iraq is divided under the current circumstances, it will lead to similar splits in other countries and plunge the entire Middle East into an endless ethnic and sectarian war.
Keeping Iraq together under a new political and security structure is key to keeping the Middle East together.
About the author
Presidential spokesperson for the Republic of Turkey