Humpty-Dumpty Iraq

Iraq’s draft constitution will probably be approved in the referendum to be held on October 15. But whether it is ratified or not ultimately does not matter, as the constitution – and the whole constitution-making process – is totally out of touch with the realities of a country that no longer exists as a coherent body politic.

The problem is not with the constitution, but with the conventional wisdom – almost an idée fixe – that Iraq is a viable modern nation-state, and that all it needs to make it work properly is the right political institutions. But this is a fallacy, and responsible leaders should begin to think of alternatives.

The Iraqi state, established in the 1920’s by British imperialist planners (with Winston Churchill in the lead), is a strange pastiche of three disparate provinces of the old Ottoman Empire: Mosul in the north with a Kurdish majority, Baghdad in the center with a Sunni Arab majority, and Basra in the south with a Shia Arab majority. For their own political reasons, the British put the Sunni Arabs – never more than 25% of the population – in control of the whole country, and even imported a Sunni Arab Hashemite prince to rule over their creation.

Ever since, the country could be held together only by an iron fist: Iraq’s history is replete with Shia, Kurdish, and even Christian Assyrian revolts, all put down in bloody fashion by the ruling Sunni minority. Throughout its history, modern Iraq has always been the most oppressive of the Arab countries. Saddam’s rule was only the most brutal in a long line of Sunni regimes.