Iraq is over but what should be next?

The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of SyriacPress.

By Johannes de Jong

By any reasonable standard, Iraq is finished. The irony is that this is a consequence of Baghdad’s own choices. In my previous article I wrote:

,,This whole clash made the U.S. finally realize that the Baghdad government and parliament are, largely, powerless. When the influential Shia cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr made his sudden move in support of Iran, he created a situation in which the whole Baghdad government and parliament became a branch of the Iranian government. It looks as if there is finally some serious reflection on the part of the U.S. about who Baghdad represents and, especially, who it doesn’t. Washington seems to be coming to the realization that it needs to deal with the peoples of Iraq directly, as Baghdad clearly is not representing them.”

Since my previous article this has not fundamentally changed. Pro-forma the US may give Baghdad a last chance in trying to get a government but will (as everyone else) have not much hope that this will succeed. One major sign of this actual attitude of the US is the fact that the US is now formally ignoring the Baghdad parliament and acting government. Their repeated requests to the US and European forces to leave Iraq are completely ignored. That means that for a large part of the international community, Baghdad no longer has any say over Iraq and that current Iraq has actually no sovereignty. This is not being said out loud at the international level as there is not (yet) a clear solution to what should happen next. At the moment western media and governments become explicit about the fact that Baghdad does not represent Iraq, they will have to help to implement an alternative for the area that is now (still) called Iraq. They have no worked-out plan at this moment.

That does not mean nothing is happening in that regard. Apparently some are actually working on an alternative map and this might be of serious importance for the peoples of Nineveh Plain, Tal Afar and Sinjar.

According to what has been seen in the media there is a conversation between the US and the Sunni Arab leaders in Anbar and Ninawah Province. This makes sense as they are the key for a shakeup of the map of Iraq. It would be obvious to include Sunni Arab leaders from Kirkuk and Salah al Din Provinces (Governorates) in that process as well. It is obvious that a Sunni Arab split away from direct control by Baghdad will need a compromise on Kirkuk in order to be able to have a viable economic future. That split might not mean immediate partition of Iraq. A better approach is probably to determine the whole Sunni Arab region and give that a very high degree of Autonomy in the same way as the KRG at the moment. This might in a later stage lead to a separate state but better not immediately as rushing this process would lead to more chaos.

It would be in the interest of the KRG to reach a compromise over Kirkuk with the Sunni Arab leaders. It is clear that if the role of Baghdad is no longer dominant in Iraq, it will be much easier for the KRG to achieve statehood ultimately. All of this requires US backing of the Sunni Arabs going in that direction and the Sunni Arabs to realise that they have no chance to control all of Iraq ever again. The Sunni Arabs of Iraq are now simply oppressed and occupied by Iran. As long as the map of Iraq stays as it is, this will likely continue. Only if that map changes, they can get out of Iran’s oppression. To get out of this oppression, they will have to accept that they will not regain control of Baghdad.

The city Mosul would be an obvious capital of a Sunni Arab region in Iraq. Basically changing Iraq from a Baghdad or Erbil controlled Iraq to an Iraq of several regions with their own regional capitals. A truly confederal Iraq that will end the possibility to dominate all through grabbing power in one capital. The big question is how it is possible to ‘sell’ at the international level a new position of Nineveh Plain, Tal Afar and Sinjar in that new confederal configuration? Each of them on their own are too small to gather international support to become regions in Iraq. But a more creative solution might perhaps work.

Obviously Nineveh Plain, Tal Afar and Sinjar have been a source of conflict between Baghdad and Erbil. Nobody in the international community should support a solution for this area in which one side ‘wins’. Neither Mosul nor Erbil or Baghdad is therefore a fitting capital for Nineveh Plain, Tal Afar and Sinjar. It is a unique area that represents the cultural and ethnic diversity of Iraq. Syriac-Assyrian Christians in Nineveh Plain, Turkmen in Tal Afar and Yazidi’s in Sinjar. Each of these areas should have a high degree of autonomy within a region that should comprise all three areas. Each area should be responsible for its own police and basic self-defense but they can stand together within the new Iraqi confederation.

Iraq has long been plagued by leaders and people who thought that they could get everything they wanted. Due to that Iraq is now the place in which nobody has anything except for oppression and misery inflicted upon each other. For all those in Iraq who do not want Iraq to be permanently occupied it is time to accept that it is not possible to win all you want but that it is possible to find a solution together. Sunni Iraq, Shia Iraq, Kurdistan and the region of the indigenous peoples (Nineveh Plain, Tal Afar and Sinjar) can be a confederal Iraq of four regions that would bring the stability that the people need.

Johannes de Jong is director of Sallux, the political foundation for the European Christian Political Movement.