Federation or Confederation?
However, by allowing the Shias to continue to pursue a federalist policy, and concentrating on the Shiite sectarians, the US runs the risk of the Sunni insurgency spiraling out of control. While it concentrates first on closing down Baghdad, the US forces are extremely overstretched in the rest of the country. There are already strong indications, that the surge is failing and a process of “Baghdadisation” is now spreading nationwide.
By adopting even a disguised sectarian support for a federalist government, the US is sending a message to the insurgency and even to the Shiite militias, that there is simply nothing to loose. On both extremist sides a policy of total independence will be counterpoised to federalism. Indeed, in some ways it is more appealing and could begin to get popular support.
Complete separation and the creation of independent, homogenous Sunni, Shia and Kurdish states could appear to offer a permanent solution to sectarianism. Formal “police-able” border could be established to substantialy reduce sectarian deaths. Shiites would be rid of the age-old ghost of Sunni domination and Sunnis would be free of the menace of revenge. Since Sunnis would have nothing to loose and more to gain from leaving a federal Iraq, being independent would at least bring “negative” benefits. In many ways both sides would gain. Ironically, the biggest losers could be the Kurds who would be unlikely to hang on to their independence, as Turkey would probably invade, in order, to quash the separatist appeal among its own Kurds. However, what might head-off such an outside intervention could be the creation of a new dual state of the federal union of Kurdish and Shia Iraq.
Furthermore, independence would only work if neighboring powers were prepared to intervene economically and not militarily. This would be especially the case for an independent Sunni state. Saudi Arabia would need to intervene economically in much the same way West Germany did, in order to reunify and stabilize East Germany - except in the case of Sunni Iraq, without there being a political union. Of course, much would depend on the strength of Al Qaeda, but this to be viable.
Perhaps the best solution for Iraq would be not a federation, but a “Confederation of Independent States, ” in which the independent states negotiate a treaty on economic, political or military matters of mutual interest. It could possibly draw upon the common historical links and the common trade routes, by naming itself the “Mesopotamian Confederation”, the “Fertile Crescent Confederation” or the “Rafidan Confederation” according to the Arabic translation of Mesopotamia, that refers to the country of the Tigris and Euphrates.
The great problem is that getting to independence is the same as the potential consequences of federalization – it means wading waist high through blood and corpses. There would be genocidal ethnic cleansing as a mad grab for land, cities and towns took place. Worst of all would be the question of Baghdad, which would become another Sarajevo or 70’s-style Beirut.
A Confederation of Independent States, on the other hand, could have Baghdad as its confederate capital, while each independent state would choose a new capital. The route to independence would have to be phased transition, with a UN negotiated settlement of boundaries and international aid for resettlement and development.
Indeed, just as much as negative developments influence the whole Middle East, the concept of confederation is something which could be something positive to into the region as a whole with its great wealth and potential. A sort of Common Market, Free Trade Zone or the Middle East Union, similar to European Union, could act as a economic boost and also a strategic buffer against US intervention and exploitation, as well as helping to undercut the dangerous growth of competing local imperialist powers.
The Right to Self Determination
At the end of the day such “castles in the sky”, as we propose, depend on what the Iraqi peoples themselves want and how they get their voices heard. Whether Shia, Sunni or Kurd they are all united around three basic needs and aspirations – security, revenue and freedom. In other words, an end to violence, the possibility of economic growth and freedom from the threat of persecution and discrimination. In the end they will choose to go with the system, which appears to offer the likeliest possibility of achieving this. They may even have to test some out before moving to a more permanent solution. But under such exceptional circumstances, the route to self-determination must surely itself have to take on asymmetrical forms.
Iraq is not the place where set political formulas can be purchased from some great governmental DIY store. Federalist systems, which work in Switzerland, Canada, the USA or Australia, are not going to slot neatly into place in Iraq. Unfortunately, sectarian civil wars do not generally lend themselves easily to democratic solutions. All the good citizens of the country standing up in plebiscite and saying “yeah” or “nay” will not decide things. The state does not exist, the government is suspended in mid-air and its armed forces are precariously balanced between reluctant engagement and mutiny. As we have seen elections and referendums count for little when real events are shaped by bombs, bullets and assassinations. Moods and political attitudes are more than ever susceptible to sharp turns and sudden changes.
At the moment, the only place that self-determination can be realized is on the streets. People will vote with their feet and with their guns at a certain stage. This is the only way their voices will be heard and potentially the only way that new leaders can be thrown up from among the honest ranks of the Iraqi masses, of whatever creed. At a certain moment, the current paralysis of the masses in the face of the violence will break down, and demonstrations and movements will arise of an intifada-like quality. The masses will lose their fear and decide to take matters into their own hands. This is the beginning of real self-determination and it needs no electoral frills or party buntings.
From this hall of horrors all sorts of weird and wonderful variations can emerge. But there will also be honest, yet contradictory movements. We may see demonstrations for Sunni/Shia unity, for federalism and for independence all at the same time. Which one will emerge the strongest, how long it will survive and which will finally be the next stage (thought not necessarily the final one) will be shaped by events that are not yet foreseeable.
In the end, it is the will of the people which makes any system viable and workable. In desperation at a bleak situation, we must avoid falling into the trap of doing business with American Imperialism, the invertebrates of Iraq politics or the lunatic insurgents and sectarians? Our castles in the sky may not go much further than the pages they are written on. But in our own countries, we must educate and agitate on the basic right of all nations and peoples to self-determination and we must use it as a stick to beat our own governments. And, while we do so, the answer to that question of where now for Iraq, should not be too long in coming from amongst the Iraqi peoples themselves.
Stephen J. Morgan 20/02/2007
Stephen J. Morgan is a former member of the British Labour Party Executive Committee, a political writer and accredited Emotional Intelligence Coach. His first book was the “The Mind of a Terrorist Fundamentalist - the Cult of Al Qaeda. " He has lived and worked in more than 27 different countries and including crisis situations in Northern Ireland and Yugoslavia. He is also a professional speaker who has spoken at more than 2000 meetings including the National Convention of the American Psychological Association and The Global Human Resources Conference. He is currently writing a book on the Bush Administration. He is a political psychologist, researcher into Chaos/Complexity Theory and lives in Brussels (Old Europe) http://morgansreview.tripod.com Contact email@example.com