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Three Iraqs, Not One

America's mounting difficulties in setting up a coherent form of government in Iraq, let alone a democratic one, inspire a question that most statesmen consider unthinkable: is it possible that there is no way to re-constitute Iraq as one state, and that alternative options must be considered, unpalatable as they may appear?

Like so many problems in the re-birth of states wounded by dictatorship--Eastern Europe is a good example--Iraq's difficulties have deep historical roots. To blame everything on the heavy-handedness of the Americans is too simplistic and shallow, even if their mistakes have, indeed, been legion.

Iraq was established in the 1920's by the British, who occupied the region after the Ottoman Empire disintegrated at the end of WWI. Their policies were dictated by British imperial interests, and gave no consideration to the wishes, interests, or characteristics of the local population.

What British imperial planners did was to stitch together three disparate provinces of the old Ottoman Empire and put at their head a prince from Hedjaz (now a part of Saudi Arabia). The three provinces--Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra--each had very distinct characters and very different population structures.