As noted in a previous post, the New Republic Online has sponored a debate between Peter Galbraith, the leading advocate of Iraqi partition, and Reuel Marc Gerecht, a leading Right Zionist at AEI.
The importance of this debate is that Zionists are split between those like Galbraith whose primary political “investment” in Iraq has always been with the Kurds and those like Gerecht for whom the Iraqi Shia constitute the political foundation for the US project in Iraq.
On the Kurdish question, Gerecht offers Galbraith his sympathy but little more.
It would be enormously unwise for Iraq’s Kurds to exchange de facto independence with an explicit declaration of national sovereignty… But, for the sake of argument, let us assume that the Kurds… can pull this off and sustain their de facto Kurdish republic. That’s as far as you go, Peter.
In truth, Kurdistan is probably as far as Peter wants to go. Readers of Galbraith’s book, The End of Iraq, will find that aside from his passionate attachment ot the Kurds, Galbraith is otherwise quite sympathetic to the Right Arabist critique of US policies that empower the Iraqi Shia.
Gerecht essentially notes as much in his response to Galbraith:
You… regularly err in your association of the Iraqi and Iranian Shia, implying a growing subservience of the former to the latter. In all probability, the distance between the two–even with Iran’s closest Shia allies in Iraq–is going the other way as the Arab Shia gain more self-confidence and fear the Sunni Arabs less.
Gerecht is surely right about Galbraith, who never acknowledges the Right Zionist hope of facilitating and exploiting divisions between Najaf–the home of Iraqi Shiite clerical authority–and Qom–home to the Iranian clerical establishment.
It is also interesting to note that in November 2006, Gerecht remains committed to the dream of Iraqi Shiite power as something distinct from Iranian power, if not as a potential challenge to Iranian power.
The most interesting part of Gerecht’s debate with Galbraith has nothing to do with his critique of Galbraith and the Kurds, however. It turns on Gerecht’s view of Shiite moves to establish an autonomous region in Southern Iraq, including the oil-rich city of Basra.
It is a dubious proposition to suggest that the efforts of Abdul Aziz Al Hakim and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) for a large autonomous region in the south means that Hakim, SCIRI, and others who have backed this plan have given up on the idea of one Iraq, particularly one Arab Iraq. They haven’t. Hakim is after a power base. Such an entity doesn’t represent for him–or for any other Shia that I can find–a geographic expression of a serious religious or regional affection. The autonomy-loving people of Basra and its surrounding areas are not quite in this camp, but that’s a completely different issue from what Hakim has advanced. Many Shia, both religious and secular, have liked the autonomy idea, since it gives them a redoubt where the Arab Sunnis can no longer interfere….
It’s important to remember that this idea of a Shia zone was developed in 2004, at a time when the Shia were still fearful of the Arab Sunni rejectionists and holy warriors. They had not yet thrown off the Saddam-era fear of a Sunni return to power or of the possibility that the Arab Sunnis–through their greater martial virtue and communal discipline–could slaughter their way back to power. When Hakim first met with President Bush in Washington after the liberation, he stressed the need for the United States to stay the course in Iraq.
Today, the statements of Hakim to pay attention to are those that depict the United States as an obstacle to an effective counterinsurgency. (Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki has made similar allusions.) It’s a good bet that Hakim and others in SCIRI now believe that they can more effectively handle the Arab Sunni rejectionists and holy warriors on their own, since they are not restrained by America’s humane rules of engagement. For what the Sunnis have done, these Shia, who now perhaps represent a majority of the community, intend a horrific vengeance.
From this point on in the Gerecht essay, his focus turns away from the partition question and toward a vision of full-blown civil war that would consume Iraq and the entire Gulf if the United States withdraws. This is amounts to a concise restatement of Gerecht’s previously published, longer response to the idea of US withdrawal from Iraq.
At least two questions emerge from Gerecht’s discussion of the SCIRI bid for autonomy.
First, the idea of Shiite autonomy in the south may originate in 2004, but it was only beginning in August 2006 that Hakim made a largely successful push for legislatition that would authorize the formation of such a region. Why the 2006 push?
Maybe Hakim still fears “a Sunni return to power,” in the form of a US-backed anti-Shiite coup.
Second, what to make of Gerecht’s reference to the “autonomy-loving people of Basra and its surrounding areas” as a “completely different issue” from what Hakim has advanced.
Gerecht is silent about his own opinions regarding the autonomy-loving people of Basra. My hunch is that these are not “his” people–his money continues to be on Hakim, Sistani, etc., whom he considers Iraqi nationalists.
In terms of the larger issue of partition, it might be worth noting that it was in Basra that big oil was presumably supposed to find common cause with Right Zionist plans for the breakup of Iraq.
This was central issue in previous posts on the political contours of Basra.
The dream of Shiite autonomy in Basra was most clearly–and favorably–sketched in a February 27, 2005 James Glanz article in New York Times entitled “Iraq’s Serene South Asks, Who Needs Baghdad?”
[I]f no inconsiderable number of people here have their way, the provinces of the south, home to rich oil reserves but kept poor by Saddam Hussein, will soon become a separate country, or at least a semi-autonomous region in a loosely federal Iraq. The clear southern preference for profit over politics could make it a place where foreign companies willing to invest hard cash are able to do business.
‘’Quite a few people prefer to be separated, because they are disappointed,’’ said Sadek A. Hussein, a Basra native who is a professor in the college of agriculture at the University of Basra, and who speaks with the mildness characteristic of southern Iraq. The trait is refreshing in itself, in a country better known for its firebrands, chatterboxes and just plain loudmouths…
And Zuhair Kubba, a board member of the Basra Chamber of Commerce, said that, in contrast to the xenophobia dogging other regions of Iraq, Basra’s history made it likely to welcome foreign investment.
‘’They have a port, and being a port, they have experience with foreigners,’’ said Mr. Kubba, a follower of the largely pacifist and apolitical Sheikhi branch of Shiite Islam, whose holiest cleric, Sayyed Ali Al-Mousawi, is based in a Basra mosque.
Some foreign companies, including Kellogg, Brown & Root, the Halliburton subsidiary that is repairing parts of Iraq’s oil industry under American government contracts, are already listening. The company is moving its center of operations from the insurgency-ridden streets of Baghdad to the south, said Ray Villegas, a general manager for the company, and not just to be closer to its field work, which is mainly in the south.
‘’This is the place you want to be,’’ Mr. Villegas said. ‘’It’s much different down here. You have flat open land, so you have a lot of visibility. We don’t have the day-to-day traffic problems that you experience up in Baghdad, so the opportunity is much less for insurgents to act.’’
Most of all, he said, ‘’we’ve found that the Iraqis here are much more willing and accommodating to approach the Americans.’’
All of this was a dream that subsequently devolved into Shiite factional warfare.
Gerecht suggests that Hakim’s talk of Shiite autonomy is a completely different issue than the old dream of autonomy for Basra. It is not Hakim’s dream. It is not Gerecht’s dream.
How about Kellogg, Brown & Root?
I suggested in a previous post that international oil companies were most likely uninterested in the breakup of Iraq, except insofar as the threat of partition could be used to leverage more lucrative oil deals from Sunni and Shiite nationalists in ongoing negotiations over a new Iraqi hydrocarbons law.
The only exception would be a pact between the oil majors and the “autonomy-loving people of Basra.”
If such a pact is in the works, however, it isn’t getting a lot of public attention–apart from that provocative James Glanz New York Times article of February 2005.
Is everyone sure that dream is dead and buried?