Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Disintegration of Iraq

This is a good article, although I disagree that 'there were no instances of "refusal to fight Shi'ite brothers." [in Iran]' Many Iraqis did not want to fight in the war, and many Iraqi soldiers defected or simply hid with relatives inside Iraq.

'While the vision of turning Kurds into Iraqis, following every nation-state's inherent logic that all inhabitants should be members of the nation, may always have been a pipedream - the question "Why, after World War I, did everyone else get a state except us Kurds?" would never have gone away and a harking back to a glorious Arab past held little appeal for Kurds -, among the Arab population the feeling of being Arab/Iraqi first and member of some ethno-sectarian group second developed so far that in greater towns and cities mixed marriages became common and children didn't even know what denomination their parents had. Baghdad, and with it also Iraq, became one of the centers of a secular Arab culture that found its expressions in literature, music, and visual arts.

The Kurds, while not giving up on the goal of attaining an independent Kurdistan at some point in the future, were willing to accept a form of autonomy within Iraq, which eventually may well have developed into a kind of Iraqi-Kurdish civic identity. However, the beginnings of the Arabization project in the early 1970s - answering the Kurdish revolts of the 1960s and trying to counterbalance the 1970 Autonomy Agreement - and the repression after the 1975 Algiers Agreement showed that the central government saw itself as Arab and treated the Iraqi citizens of Kurdish ethnicity primarily as a disloyal (Kurdish) ethnic group within the boundaries of the (Arab) Iraqi nation. Subsequent actions on both sides only hardened the rift and resulted in a complete separation of Kurdish and Arab inhabitants of Iraq - in large part physically, but even in mixed areas (like Baghdad) at least on the level of identification and perception of oneself and others.

Also in 1975, the Iraqi government banned the annual (Shi'ite) procession from Najaf to Karbala as part of the policy against the (Shi'ite Islamist) Da'wa Party, leading to the Safar Intifada in 1977 and the arrest and, in 1980, execution of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, the leading Shi'ite religious figure in Iraq. However, while these events certainly protracted Shi'ite religious opposition to the Ba'th regime, they did not result in a widespread, popular alienation of Iraqi Shi'ites. This is best evidenced by the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran War: The Iraqi regime's stylization of the conflict as "Arab vs. Persian", through the usage of such symbols as "The Battle of Qadisiya", seems to have worked as rank and file of the Iraqi army, most of them Shi'ites, fought well and there were no instances of "refusal to fight Shi'ite brothers." The Iranian attempts to induce Shi'ite Iraqis to put sectarian before national identity, such the usage of Shi'ite religious symbols like "Karbala", did not produce any tangible results.

By 1991 this situation had clearly changed. General exhaustion from the Iraq-Iran War and the - for Iraqi citizens - surprising collapse of the Iraqi military during the liberation of Kuwait by allied forces paved the ground for the popular support of revolts in the (Kurdish) north and (Shi'ite) south of the country. While the uprisings in the South were not couched in religious terms, it was Shi'ite Islamist groups (Da'wa and SCIRI) who provided organizational structures and leadership. The Iraqi central government, having started to adopt Islamic symbolism (for ex. the phrase "Allahu Akbar" in the flag), treated the 1991 uprisings in the South and Center as Shi'ite revolts. Just as Iraqi citizens of Kurdish descent were perceived as "Kurds", now the citizens who happened to fall under the category "Shi'ites" were primarily treated as members of that community and Shi'ite religious personae were seen and treated as community leaders. This official policy emphasized communal over national or civic identity, enhanced any already existing perceptional differences between the members of various religious communities, and made Iraqis of Shi'ite background more susceptible to Shi'ite communalist ideas. Saddam's policy of elevating his relatives and others who hailed from the area of his hometown Tikrit to high offices enhanced the Sunni Arab slant of the regime.'

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