The Right of Iraq to Self-Determination
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The Inalienable Rights of Nations and Peoples
– United Nations Declaration of Human Rights
The first and fundamental democratic right to fall with the invasion of Iraq was the right of a nation to self-determination. It was this right that underpinned the legitimacy and success of the American War of Independence, and is now trampled underfoot in its Imperialist dealings with all countries in the
Whatever our personal opinion of what is the best or most suitable form of government, it is for the Iraqi peoples to work out and decide for themselves rather than our aspirations for them. It is their future.
The Humpty-Dumpty Empire.
The social calamities experienced by synthetic, British ex-colonies like Sierra Leone, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Israel, Palestine, Cyprus, and Northern Ireland is a short list of Britain's "Hall of Shame," which should speak for itself. It is a picture of millions of lives lost in civil war, insurgency, sectarianism and terrorism. All of this has resulted from the divide and rule, sectarian tactics of British Imperialism, when creating and governing these pseudo-nations for their own strategic and economic interests.
As they did in
Trying to stabilize and keep these man-made monsters together has been one of the principle tasks and failures of British and
Therefore, before, we suggest any solutions to the
Whatever solution is put forward, or becomes popular, one has to ask if it is only again temporarily plastering over fissures that will soon blow open again, given the current state of the nation and the influences of the regional and international environment? Will today's sticking plaster only temporarily subdue the subterranean build up of contradictions and unresolved problems, which will only haemorrhage out even more violently, in the not so distant future.
Despite the artificiality of
Discussions range from the need for a strong unitary state governed again by a dictator, to break-up into independent states. In the middle, and increasingly the dominant trend, is the notion of some form of federalization. This has been part of the constitutional preamble since early on, when ex-patriot parties and leaders returned to Iraq in 2003 and enshrined in the March 2004 Transitional Administrative Law, even preceding the current federalist constitution of November 2006.
Today's federalism in
Despite federalism being the platform of the larger government parties, there is considerable scepticism towards it among ordinary Shiites. They see first hand how parties are using it for Machiavellian purposes. Its most forthright proponent is the influential cleric and leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. His position is the most radical, calling for the merger of all the Southern governates into one Shiite "super-region." In general terms, the federalist « solution » provides for three autonomous regions in all their affairs of government with the exception of the national army and police and national defence. He is supported tentatively by Prime Minister Maliki, whose Dawa Party depends on him as the largest block in parliament.
Yet ironically, Maliki also depends on the Sadrist block of Muqtada al-Sadr, which until now has opposed federalism! Both the Sadrists and the Fadhila Party, which rules Basra, oppose federalism, more because they fear they would loose their power over local governates in the south, which, in a super-region would become politically dominated by al-Hakim's SCIRI. Muqtada al-Sadr goes so far as to call for unity between Sunnis and Shiites, while his Mehdi Army is responsible for the majority of sectarian murders and attacks on them. When it comes to political programs both al-Sadr and the Fadhila party could also easily switch positions on federalism, if it suited them. Such is the integrity of these individuals on any issues.
Who governs in the south doesn't depend on the results of the local elections, but whoever has the most powerful militia in town. Al-Hakim's Badr Brigades have power in some towns, but not the majority. The super-region "solution" basically suits the power lust of al-Hakim, who so far has found no other way to get full control over the south.
Federalism originated from above, not from below. It is a fabrication of opportunist, sectarian politicians, who have just about managed to scrape it into the constitution against the opposition of Sunni representatives, as well as some important Shiite parties. Indeed, the balance between the pro-federalist and anti-federalist Shiite blocks is very close. After all, their physical majority already ensures they have control over the oil in the south, even with the existing constitution.
Federalism has managed to get so far because of the failure of democracy and the lack of a clear, public end game on the part of the
It would be wrong to give the impression that there is no grass root support at all for federalism. There is certainly an important section of the Shiite population in favour of federalism as a way to guarantee their stranglehold over some of the country's main economic resources. Hakim did secure the highest votes for a single party in the elections. But going by voting patterns is not a clear indicator of intent. Al-Hakim wins considerable votes just due to his important religious authority. Furthermore, in the referendum, the high turnout by Shiites was secured in no small part because the country's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued a Fatwah ordering people to vote
Would Federalization Work?
Even if federalism isn't a mass grassroots movement today, it could become one, and remains the main political kid on the block. Arguing for a return to dictatorship or the prospect for all-out war that independence would bring is difficult. At the same time, the status quo is equally difficult to defend. Something has to be put forward and federalism is the most suitable to the machinations of the opportunistic politicians.
The simple argument of al-Hakim in favor of federalism is to point to the success of Kurdish autonomy. It is demagogy because he well knows that the situation in "
1) The greater ethnic and religious homogeneity of the region;
2) the independent economic potential of the oil revenues;
3) the lack of factionalism deriving from the long, historical, social solidarity formed in the struggle for independence;
4) greater socio-economic stability and unity; and finally,
5) these factors have allowed the region to have a more stable state apparatus with a popular government and security forces.
Some of the factors, especially one and twp have also been partially present in the oil rich Shiite south, which until now has experienced relatively less violence than Baghdad or the Sunni regions. Yet in the South, political in-fighting and the consequent disruption of the economy have now reached dangerous levels. Al-Hakim can make the simple point that if the current democratic structures are done away with (since they don't function any way,) then a new super, single governate of all provinces could bring peace and prosperity. This allows him to play on the legitimate frustration and disgust with both the local political militia factionalism and the central government. Put at its bluntest "you have everything the north has economically and more, all you need is the same autonomy and peace and prosperity is yours."
This is simply a lie. The problem is not whether the Shias have a "super region" or not. The Kurdish area is not a "super region" on this model. It is run on the basis of the same governate, decentralized democracy that the Shiites have in place. It is not one great centralized region where the governates have been abolished. They co-exist with a regional authority, army and police. The key difference is that there isn't the same level of political factionalism and militia rivalry that bedevils the south, and which is precisely the product of the machinations of politicians like al-Hakim. Shiite "federalism" is simply a dangerous attempt by opportunistic Shiite politicians to divert attention from their own failings and growing unpopularity, and to make up for this by demagogically winning an advantage over their rivals.
In the absence of other alternatives the argument could catch on. But its potential appeal is limited to the Shiite south, because
The purely Sunni areas are. They have little or no independent economic resources and lack any perspectives for the future. Furthermore, they are practically lawless. The old state machinery collapsed and has been replaced by the rule of the different insurgents and tribal chiefs. Unity between some insurgent groups is only preserved by the need for extra combined forces against the common occupying
The workability of any proposal has to have the support or potential support of all sectors of the population. The only area where it is supported generally is the Kurdish area. There is still growing suspicion among Kurds over the question of a Shia "super region," which would increase overall Shiite power in
But despite Kurdish support, if the concept of federalism fails to win support among the Sunnis, then it is unworkable as a national strategy. And why should the Sunnis support the creation of Shia "super region"? Clearly, their present fears of discrimination and punishment for the past will be even more poignant. Any lingering hope or confidence in the national government would evaporate. At the very least, if a movement for separation did develop, then they would demand their own "super region." This would mean a battle for every inch of disputed, mixed territory stretching from the Syrian border to
The Sectarian Role of the
Bereft of new ideas for a new epoch, the
There the British forsook support among the population, as a whole, for leaning on the support of one ethnic group against another, in order to defeat the insurgents. The
The reason is the
Similar style efforts are being tried with regard to Sunni collaborators. The American Ambassador and aids are busy at work discussing with tribal and insurgent Sunnis to strike a similar deal, which will then free the
So while the Iraqi government throws dust in the eyes of the world, talking of criminals and terrorists, the idea goes that the rank and file militants will be moped up and sectarian killings and insurgency will be brought down to minimum, "acceptable " levels. The
Federation or Confederation?
However, by allowing the Shias to continue to pursue a federalist policy, and concentrating on the Shiite sectarians, the
By adopting even a disguised sectarian support for a federalist government, the
Complete separation and the creation of independent, homogenous Sunni, Shia and Kurdish states could appear to offer a permanent solution to sectarianism. Formal "police-able" borders could be established to substantially reduce sectarian deaths. Shiites would be rid of the age-old ghost of Sunni domination and Sunnis would be free of the menace of revenge. Since Sunnis would have nothing to loose and more to gain from leaving a federal
Furthermore, independence would only work if neighboring powers were prepared to intervene economically and not militarily. This would be especially the case for an independent Sunni state.
Perhaps the best solution for
The great problem is that getting to independence is the same as the potential consequences of federalization – it means wading waist high through blood and corpses. There would be genocidal ethnic cleansing as a mad grab for land, cities and towns took place. Worst of all would be the question of
A Confederation of Independent States, on the other hand, could have
Indeed, just as much as negative developments influence the whole
The Right to Self Determination
At the end of the day such "castles in the sky", as we propose, depend on what the Iraqi peoples themselves want and how they get their voices heard. Whether Shia, Sunni or Kurd they are all united around three basic needs and aspirations – security, revenue and freedom. An end to violence, the possibility of economic growth and freedom from the threat of persecution and discrimination. In the end they will choose to go with the system which appears to offer the likeliest possibility of achieving this. They may even have to test some out before moving to a more permanent solution. But under such exceptional circumstances, the route to self-determination must surely itself have to take on asymmetrical forms.
At the moment, the only place that self-determination can be realized is on the streets. People will vote with their feet and with their guns at a certain stage. This is the only way their voices will be heard and potentially the only way that new leaders can be thrown up from among the honest ranks of the Iraqi masses, of whatever creed. At a certain moment, the current paralysis of the masses in the face of the violence will break down, and demonstrations and movements will arise of an intifada-like quality. The masses will lose their fear and decide to take matters into their own hands. This is the beginning of real self-determination and it needs no electoral frills or party buntings.
In the end, it is the will of the people which makes any system viable and workable. Our castles in the sky may not go much further than the pages they are written on. But in our own countries, we must educate and agitate on the basic right of all nations and peoples to self-determination and we must use it as a stick to beat our own governments. And, while we do so, the answer to that question of where now for
Stephen J. Morgan 20/02/2007
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