February 21, 2005

Breaking Up Isn't Hard To Do...

The Financial Times is reporting that Shi'ites and Kurds are now bickering over the provision in Iraq's interim constitution that effectively lets any three provinces veto the final constitution. Obviously the provision protects the Kurds (who control three provinces) from overt domination by the majority Shi'a, but it also kills the chance of any sort of centralized government—even a moderately effective centralized government—from forming in Baghdad. Now it's unlikely this impasse leads to civil war, but it's also hard to see how the Shi'ites can convince the Kurds to abandon the veto rule. The Kurds can always take their 100,000-strong peshmerga militia and just secede from Iraq, taking the oil-rich city of Kirkuk with them. Then there's a real mess on everyone's hands.

Here's another scenario: Let's say the veto rule stays. Now after a period of negotiating and deliberating, it becomes clear that the Shi'ite ruling coalition can't quite create the strong Islamic state that some of them would like. Too much caviling from the secular kids in the Shi'ite coalition, too many howls of protest from the Sunnis. So… a bunch of the more fundamentalist Shi'ites decide that what's good for the Kurds is good for them, and decide to cordon off some of the southern Iraqi provinces—Basra, Wasit, Maysam, etc.—to turn them into a mini, semi-autonomous theocracy.

It's not inconceivable that the Shiite secessionists would have popular support: both SCIRI and the Sadrists, the two major "theocratic" groups, recently won the local elections in a number of those provinces. In this case, Baghdad would have to grant them a good deal of autonomy, otherwise the secessionists could just veto the constitution. Plus, these folks would likely have sizeable militias to enforce their claims. (True, it would be odd for SCIRI's Badr Corps to link up with Sadr's Mahdi Army, but stranger things have happened…)

You can see where this is going. Once you grant autonomy to one part of the country, everyone wants in on the game. That's not necessarily a bad thing, except that the provinces don't divide up neatly along sectarian lines, so there's bound to be messy exoduses, fleeing refugees, and violence. Plus, they'll all be eyeing each other's oil fields...
-- Brad Plumer 12:24 AM || ||