Wednesday, 19 July 2006

Turkey invading Iraq?

As if things in the Middle East weren't bad enough, today it was revealed that Turkey may take a page from the Israeli playbook and invade Northern Iraq, one of the disaster scenarios that was posited before the war began.

The North of Iraq, which is predominantly Kurdish and controlled as an autonomous zone, has been the most stable and nonviolent part of the country since the occupation. This has mainly been because Kurds are sitting back and watching Sunni and Shia Arabs kill each other, hoping that if they wait it out eventually the country will break apart and an independent Kurdestan will be formed.

It would not be in their interest right now to attack American or Iraqi troops (neither of which can be found in great number in the North anyway). But it is in their interest to antagonize Turkey, because many Kurds hope that an independent Kurdestan will also include the Kurdish areas of Turkey and Iran.

As a backgrounder, the Kurds are a fairly numerous non-Arab ethnographic group that has gotten the short end of the stick when it came to post-colonial border-drawing. Their ancestral homeland was divided between three countries, all three of which have spent half a century suppressing their attempts to form their own nation. In this map, the shaded area is predominantly Kurd, and it is this area which the Kurds hope one day to see as an independent nation. Turkeys suppression of the Kurds in the Eastern part of Anatolia has been particularly harsh (they really dont have a good track record with any of the minorities in this part of the country). For years, militant Kurds have used Iraq as a staging area to launch rockets into Eastern Turkey. Sound familiar?

With Israel getting the green light from the United States to invade Lebanon in order to destroy the militants basing themselves in southern Lebanon, Turkey is contemplating doing the same thing in Iraq. And it would be awfully hypocritical for the US to tell them they cant. After all, Israels argument is that the Lebanese army isn't powerful enough to deal with the Hezbollah militias in the South, so they must take action to defend themselves. With more and more Turkish civilians being killed by Kurdish attacks, and with the US military and fledgling Iraqi army far too preoccupied to even venture into the North, Turkey is saying it has to do something. It is terrified of an independent Kurdistan in Iraq, because it would inevitably lead to an uprising by Turkish Kurds demanding to join the new nation.

But as Iraq descends into civil war it is looking more and more likely that the country will split into three parts. The resulting power vacuum could mean that Iraq's neighbors quickly gobble up the different chunks. Observe the map to the right. And independent Kurdestan would result almost immediately in a war between that new state and Turkey. If Turkey wins, Kurdestan would be gobbled up by Turkey. If the Kurds win, they would get the Eastern section of Turkey (Kurdestan probably couldnt get the Kurdish section of Iran as it is too powerful).

The Shia section of Iran would be easily snatched up by Iran. Many people make the argument that because Shia Iraqis are Arab, they would not want to join a Persian state. This argument doesnt hold water though, when you look at the actual ethnic makeup of Iran. Only a little over 50 percent of Iran is Persian. As you can see from the map below, it is essentially a multi-ethnic state, and its parliament has a certain number of reserved seats for each ethnicity (they even used to have seats reserved for Iranian Jews). Only the light green shaded part is Persian. The dark green on the gulf is already Shia Arab. Thus, the Shia Arab population of Iran would fit easily into the Iranian state.

The mostly uninhabited Southern section of Iraq would be grabbed by Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and the populated Sunni triangle area around Baghdad would be joined with Syria, with which it has strong cultural and historical links (a nightmare scenario for the US).

If this is the way it pans out, it may be terrifying for the United States and the best present Iran could have asked for, but is it unfair? I wish someone would explain to me why, outside reasons of US self-interest, its so important that Iraq remain an intact state. These borders were arbitrarily drawn up by the French and British after World War I. They showed little regard for the reality on the ground then, and the situation hasnt changed much since. Much like in many African nations, Iraq required a strong dictator like Saddam Hussein to even maintain its existence. Dictators arise when there is no other way to build consensus than through force. It is naïve for the US to think it can create a democracy out of a nation that shouldnt exist in the first place.

Don't get me wrong, if the scenario I've outlined above unfolds, it will spell complete and utter defeat in the Iraq War and we will be living in a new age where Iran is the dominant player in the Middle East (we may already be there). But it may be inevitable. If Turkey invades Iraq, which according to our foreign policy precepts it has every right to do, it will be the first step in the disintegration of the country. Perhaps we just need to accept this as inevitable.

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