Old Solutions for Old Problems



As the violence continues, old plans for identity based regions remain the only solution up for discussion

As June reaches its midway point, Iraq is poised to continue the trajectory of violence from 2012.  With over 500 deaths in May alone, this year could see a dramatic spike in attacks and deaths.  The violence continues to be sectarian in nature as both Shi`a and Sunni holy sites and populations are attacked.  Government officials and security forces also remain popular targets for car bombings and shootings.  The violence is more dispersed throughout the country than in years past as it now reaches far beyond Baghdad and spread throughout the north.  Political party members and government officials have also become regular targets, an occurrence which does not bode well for Iraq’s struggling political system.

Some have argued that the creation of a federal state in which identity groups are given the majority of control over their populations and regions remains a possible solution.  A number of Sunni groups and leaders have demanded that an autonomous Sunni region be created with war as the only other option (and one which is becoming more and more likely).  The solution of partition through federalism has been discussed since the outbreak of sectarian violence in 2005 and remains the most commonly proposed remedy to the continued violence.  While the adoption of federal regions may resolve long term problems regarding provision of services, resources, and representation, it is unclear whether it will resolve the violence.

While the Kurdish region has experienced financial success and an increase in physical security, recent skirmishes between Kurdish forces and national troops demonstrates that autonomy does not guarantee complete independence.  Both sides continue to disagree over oil rights and security forces have been involved in attacks on one another.  A recent visit by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did not result in a resolution as neither side could agree to share rights to the oil.  It did, however, demonstrate that with autonomy comes recognition and respect because the existence of additional administrative and security apparatuses pose a threat to the national government.  From this example, it would appear that the creation of an autonomous region for Sunnis could result in increased bargaining power, political clout, and security.  While the Kurdish region is not without problems, it remains an example to Sunnis of what might be achieved with autonomy.

Though concerns regarding the onset of conflict are not without merit, there is still hope that a solution will be reached.  Despite the consistent violence against civilians, the various populations have not mobilized into warring factions and the violence remains confined to terror tactics, suggesting that there is little support for the actions.  After years of war, the broader Iraqi population remains unwilling to engage in violence as they continue to struggle with lack of electricity, food and water shortages, and high unemployment rates.  Protests have remained a constant fixture in Sunni provinces, but this should serve as proof of groups utilizing political solutions instead of violent tactics.  A number of calls for national unity have been supported by religious leaders from both sides, which further suggests that the violence is not indicative of a nationwide desire devolve into conflict.  It appears to be the work of a few groups who have specific goals and because of this it is unlikely that creating federal regions will solve the problem–though it could create space for political solutions to arise including increased dialogue between the Maliki government and Sunni political parties, improved security forces and procedures, and an addressing of grievances that remain an obstacle to stability.

However, implementation remains the unresolved issue for this solution, as it is unclear to Iraqis how such a system would work.  While the sects are concentrated in some parts of the country, there is also a great deal of integration in other areas; the possible administration of these regions remains unclear.  Also, the formation of additional individual security forces loyal to specific locations and leaders could result in the creation of competing militaries and further conflict.  Though the creation of federalist regions based on demographics could resolve a number of problems, it is unclear whether it would resolve the main issue – creating trust in an environment in which daily survival is a struggle.

Join the conversation