You might be wrong, Mr. Biden
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s words dropped like a bombshell last week. “Think of all the places we are trying to keep the peace. They are places where we’ve drawn artificial lines, creating artificial states, made up of totally distinct ethnic, religious, cultural groups and said, ‘Have at it! Live together!” he said.
The place which he is mainly referring to as “artificial” was Iraq, since he uttered these words at the American Embassy in Baghdad during his first trip to Iraq in the last 5 years.
The same day, the New York Times reported that “United Nations officials in Baghdad have quietly begun studying how the international community might manage a breakup of the country.”
The timing of Biden’s visit and these statements are far from being coincidental. Iraq has been literally torn to ribbons. First of all, the central government in Baghdad has been totally dysfunctional since last February. None of the ministries is in working condition.
The main reason is that the opposition towards Shiite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and his government has got out of control due to his sectarian policies and corruption allegations. This is why Abadi had to promise to form a new government composed of only technocrats on February 9. However, he has not been able to deliver any result yet. Hence, the balance of power in the country, which had been shaped by sectarian tendencies, is now totally upside down.
This strongly indicates that sectarianism will sound the death knell for Abadi just as it did for former Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in 2014. In other words, apparently Iraq has gone nowhere fast.
The long standing tension between Baghdad and Arbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, has been already put in the open. Both sides are accusing each other of not complying with the agreement they had reached on December 2, 2014, on the sharing of the oil revenues.
This, in turn, has turned generally into a conflict between Kurds and Shiites across the country. Most recently, the clashes have escalated especially around Kirkuk where Baghdad and Arbil have been scrambling for long. Moreover, Shiite Turkmens are also fighting side by side with the Shiite militia forces against Kurds in the conflict zones. In other words, ethnic and religious conflicts have become intertwined.
Besides, the fact that ISIL is their common enemy doesn’t change this situation at all. To the contrary, the fight with ISIL has changed the equation on the ground to the favor of the Kurds by enlarging their territory around 40 percent since 2014, which further inflamed the confrontation.
The Sunni-Shiite tension, on the other hand, has been pervasive in the country for decades. Yet it has lately soared so high that the “full-scale Mosul operation,” which is expected to start in September or October, will allegedly not include Shiite militia at the city center of Mosul in order to prevent any potential clash with the Sunnis who mainly populate the city.
On top of that, the Shiite are also divided between themselves. The Shiite religious leader Muqtada al-Sadr has been asking for Abadi’s resignation louder and louder. The same applies to al-Maliki’s Shiite political party, Dawa.
In view of all these, will Iraq be able to fight against ISIL under these conditions? Moreover has ISIL itself not sprung from sectarian confrontation? Hence, it seems far from possible to save Iraq from ISIL in short term and prevent its dissolution in the long term.
Syria, on the other hand, has been the living dead for a while. The international community considers its dissolution even more possible and imminent compared to Iraq.
In November 2014, I had the chance to have a tête-à-tête with Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the U.S.’ most established think tank. Haass is one of the most prominent thinkers and policy-makers in the U.S., having coordinated Washington’s Iraq and Afghanistan policies in critical times.
Haass had told me that “at the moment, the U.S. prefers a single Iraq, with Kurds having autonomy rather than independence.” However, he thinks that this is no longer a realistic future since we have already passed that point for both Iraq and Syria.
“The future of Syria does not lie within national parameters anymore. It has already split. Al-Assad or someone like him will rule the Alawite area, not the entire country. Kurds will have significant autonomy. And Sunni areas will be struggled over by ISIL and various tribes,” he said.
In such a scenario, the Sunni areas in Iraq and Syria would partly overlap. The same might go for the Kurdish zones. And such a fundamental change in the regional maps would certainly affect Turkey as well.
In response to these coming unsettling waves, Turkey needs to stay out of these conflicts to the best of her ability and get ready for all possible scenarios. Most importantly, it needs to provide peace and unity within her own borders.
Last but not least, let me finish with the issue of “artificial-ness:” Does a “natural border” exist at all? The borders of all the nation-states in this world were drawn one day in one way or another. What really matters is not creating new ones; rather, it is wiping the boundaries on our territories that we tend to create ourselves. After all, they are the artificial ones.