February 27, 2005

Southern Secession

Remind me to put on the swopadamus hat more often. Last week I suggested—speculated, really—that some of the Southern Shi'ite provinces in Iraq could ask for autonomy or quasi-independence if they thought the new central government wasn't delivering the goods on matters concerning religious governance. (Southern Iraq is very conservative, and though not theocratic per se, the most popular political groups down there—SCIRI and Al-Sadr Movement—have theocratic leanings.)

Anyway, score one for speculation: the New York Times' James Glanz reports today that the South—especially Basra—may indeed try to pursue greater autonomy. Not the sort of place I'd want to live, but there you go. Two concerns, though. Will the South agree to share its considerable oil wealth? If the Kurds are gobbling up the oil in Kirkuk and other northern sites, and the radical Shi'ites take the southern fields, the slice of oil pie for the Sunnis and "mainstream" Shi'ites gets smaller and smaller.

Second concern: A few days ago Hannah Allam reported that renegade Shi'ite militias are hunting down and assassinating ex-Baathists in the south. Most of these vigilantes hail from the Badr Brigades, SCIRI's armed wing. The Baathists, meanwhile, are starting to strike back with hits on prominent Shi'ites. Now this sounds like small-time gangster stuff, and partly it is, but what happens if/when SCIRI starts running southern Iraq (they've already won a number of key provincial elections)? Suddenly the gangster stuff looks more and more like state-sanctioned target killings—the sort of thing likely to trigger larger war.
-- Brad Plumer 9:42 PM || ||