The following post was written on Yahoo360 back in March 2006. Even with the U.S. forces having been withdrawn, the basic situation has not changed much:
Looking beyond the daily news, the explosions, the body bags, and the turmoil in both Baghdad and Washington, what is likely to happen to Iraq in the years to come? I think that Iraq’s future is closely tied to Iraq’s recent past, starting when it was part of the Ottoman Empire until the end of World War I. As Constantinople had made the wrong choice of allies in the war—namely Germany and Austria—the British and French parlayed after the war to decide how the land would be divvied up.
Many of the Foreign Office clerks in London had only an Old Testament background in the history of the area. So they proceeded to create new countries based on maps printed in old Bibles and distant recollections of empires long faded into dust. There was also a debt that had to be paid: Hussein ibn Ali, Sharif of Mecca, had provided critical aid to the British in their war against the Turks (you may know him as Omar Sharif from the film version of Lawrence of Arabia), and the British promised to make his three sons kings. To accomplish this, they created three countries—Syria, Transjordan, and Iraq—for Hussein’s sons to rule. Syria was placed under French administration; and Transjordan and Iraq, under British.
The tale of how this happened is contained in a book that should be required reading for everyone interested in the subject: David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, which is available from Amazon.Com. You may be interested to know that one of the prime movers behind this remapping of the Middle East was none other than the young Winston Churchill.
Iraq’s monarchy didn’t last very long, but its borders are more or less the same as stipulated by the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 and several subsequent treaties. Ignored by the Foreign Office clerks was the fact that the Iraq they created was split along major cultural fault lines: (1) the north was Kurdish; (2) the area around Baghdad extending west to Jordan was largely classical Sunni Arab with an intermingling of Shi’ites; and (3) the South, centered around Basra, was almost exclusively Shi’ite.
Why don’t we just break Iraq into three countries? (1) The Turks would go ballistic if the Kurds had their own state and destabilized the Kurdish regions of Turkey; (2) There would be wholesale genocide between Sunnis and Shi’ites in the center; and (3) A Shi’ite state in the south would eventually fall under the sway of Iran, even though the Iranians speak a different language.
What can we do? I think we should declare our adventure in Iraq to be a stunning victory and bring our troops home. They have no role to play in a civil war except as targets in a shooting match between all parties concerned.
I wouldn’t change a word of what I wrote back then. I still think that Iraq will be subdivided into two or three states, one of which will be an independent Kurdistan. As for the Sunnis and the Shi’ites, only Allah knows what will happen.