Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Operation Iraqi Partition

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 1 September 2010 11:55

“Iraq is free to chart its own course”. The message from the Obama administration as Operation Iraqi Freedom came to an end sounded wonderful, like the release from captivity of a beautiful bird.

Alas, Iraq today is anything but a beautiful bird. Rather it is a wounded prisoner, incarcerated for the past seven years in a mental prison. True, things were not great before 2003 either: Back then, Iraq was ruled by a brutal regime whose excesses would at times assume sectarian or racist forms. Nonetheless, equally problematic, in a different way, are the acts of the motley crew of members of the “international community” whose task it was to rehabilitate the victims of the Iraq War after 2003 and put the country on the right path to true freedom. Instead, through their blind insistence on a discourse of ethnic and sectarian division they gave political opportunists returning from exile a head start and charted the way for a constitution and a political system that resonate poorly with the Iraq’s historical past.

To truly appreciate the immensity of this crime and the degree of complicity in it among Western intellectuals more generally, let’s not focus here on the big, famous or powerful, whose agendas and intellectual parameters are well known. They include of course people like Paul Bremer, Peter Galbraith, Joe Biden, Chris Hill and Ad Melkert who in their various ways have all insisted on dividing the Iraqis territorially and conceptually, as if ethno-religious communities somehow constituted distinct branches of humanity. And let’s not go so much into what journalists have done in this regard, except mentioning that probably the most consistent offender is the elusive “Qassim Abdul-Zahra” of AFP/AP (probably a pen name) as well as pretty much every Baghdad correspondent that has worked for the BBC over the past seven years (yesterday, the BBC simply subtitled an interview with Ala Makki of Iraqiyya with “Sunni MP”. How would they describe Ayad Allawi of the same secular party?) No, let’s instead look at the writings of a less known, bright young American professor at Harvard who in many ways has tried to engage in constructive dialogue with the Islamic world and at one point in 2004 also had a role as a consultant on the Transitional Administrative Law that governed Iraq from 2004 to 2005. Even he cannot get Iraqi history right.

In a recent op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Noah Feldman made the case for a prolonged US presence in Iraq beyond 2011. Feldman writes, “Iraqis’ primary identities are still of religious denomination or ethnicity, not of Iraqi nationhood – and that may remain the case indefinitely. Iraqi national identity under Saddam Hussein never truly incorporated Shiites or Kurds. Sunnis, who identified most closely with the Iraqi nation, remain in some ways disenfranchised relative to the other groups, or at least they perceive themselves that way.”

So Feldman claims Iraqi Shiites are less identified with the Iraqi nation than the Sunnis! The only problem with that bold assertion is that it totally lacks an empirical basis. Had the Harvard professor bothered to read Iraqi newspapers from the 1920s, he would have been astonished by the countless contributions by prominent Shiite intellectuals who celebrated Iraqi nationalism and their alliance with the (mainly Sunni) population in the northern areas of Iraq in opposing the British presence at the time. Muhammad Mahdi al-Basir from Hilla and Jaafar Abu Timman from Baghdad are but a few examples that come to mind. As for Feldman’s assertion elsewhere in the article that Iraq was somehow “born” as a result of British machinations, why doesn’t he turn to the Lughat al-Arab journal that was published in Baghdad in the Young Turk era (1908–1914)? It is in fact littered with patriotic references to Iraq as a watan (homeland) in articles by writers like Anastas al-Karmili (a Christian) and Kazim al-Dujayli (a Shiite).

There has been much talk about conspiracies by hostile powers to divide Iraq into separate statelets, and most of it is probably unfounded. This partition conspiracy, however, is real and since it mostly goes undiagnosed it represents arguably far most dangerous aspect of the Iraq War: Brilliant Western academics who may have the best possible intentions towards Iraq and its people but who in an attempt at sounding sophisticated perpetuate the toxic paradigm of a tripartite Iraq – be it territorially or sociologically – simply because they have failed to study the country’s history properly through primary sources. The suggestion is not that sectarian and ethnic issues are non-existent in Iraqi history. But if Western academics had stopped reproducing what are outright lies about the origins of the modern Iraqi state, the whole climate of the discourse on Iraq would have looked vastly different. Rewrite that Feldman op-ed, delete everything that is empirically incorrect about Iraq’s history, and check to see how much is left of the original argument.

Operation Iraqi Freedom may be over, but Operation Iraqi Partition lives on, regardless of Security Council resolutions or status of forces agreements. Unfortunately, there is no anti-war movement against it in the Western world because most of the academics there are in fact its loyal soldiers.

80 Responses to “Operation Iraqi Partition”

  1. Mohammed said

    Hi Reidar:

    I identify myself first as an Iraqi. When I see somebody from Fallujah or Basra, we have far more in common regarding our cultures and habits in day-to-day life, than I do with an Iranian or Saudi. I think if you held a simple poll and asked Iraqis: should Iraq be broken up into shia, sunni and kurdish regions, the great majority of shiite arabs and sunni arabs would say no. However, the Kurds would overwhelmingly say yes.

    While I view myself as an Iraqi, I have always felt that sunni and secular iraqis have not always viewed shiites as true Iraqis. Automatically, if you are a religious shiite today, sunnis view you as an iranian agent. Santana and others on this list have pretty much espoused this philosophy.

    A religous shiites’ first loyalty should be to God. God asks you to be good to your fellow man, not loyal to Iran. Why should I have to prove to Santana that I am not an Iran-lover just becuase I am shiite and pray 5 times a day? The reason there is no trust in Iraq today is because of these sweeping generalizations.

    Each party does not seem to have a big inclusive tent. Iraqiya’s tent has a big sign saying: religious shiites stay out, all others welcome. INA & SOL have a tent sign saying: sunnis and secular shiites stay out (except ahmed chalabi). Kurds have a sign: arabs stay out.

    I know that you are trying to avoid looking at Iraq’s problems through a sectarian lense, but where I disagree with you is in your views about assigning the majority of blame to the west for Iraq’s sectarian problems. I would say that the problem of sectarianism in Iraq today is not due to US policy as much as it is due to the influence of regional players. Iraq’s neighbors are highly sectarian (much more than Iraq). You rarely see sunni-shiite marriages in the gulf (this is commonplace in Iraq, including my family)..What happened in Iraq is that when America came in, for the first time in the modern history of the middle east (post-1900), shiites assumed the position of power in a major arab country. Thus, you have major arab media spewing sectarian hatred and fanning the flames of civil war.

    Jordan and Saudi Arabia never advocated the rights of Iraqis when Saddam was killing shiites and Kurds. Now when sunnis are opressed, they have become more vocal and try to influence how much power each sect has. They heavily lobby with the west to “make sure sunnis are represented and not disenfrachised.” In return, the shiites in Iraq feel like they are under attack by neighboring countries and get very defensive, and this leads to they cycles of sectarianism we see today.

  2. Reidar Visser said

    Mohammed, I am not denying the role of regional powers. They have some of the worst generals in Operation Iraqi Partition in their ranks (including those behind the Jordanian “Shiite Crescent” allegations). I am just saying that if Western intellectuals had refrained from reproducing what is sheer rubbish about Iraqi history, the whole debate on Iraq would look different. The other day, Chris Hill said he “expected the next premier of Iraq to be a Shiite”. That assertion has absolutely no basis in the Iraqi constitution! Why did he have to say it? Would it be helpful if someone in US politics declared that the next US president should be white or Protestant?? Had Americans understood Iraqi history a little better, they would also have had a better chance of getting their diplomacy with the regional states onto a meaningful track.

  3. observer said

    Had the leaders of the new Iraq been far sighted, they would not have allowed themselves to follow the path and rejected sectarianism altogether. But, these same leaders (sunnis and she3a) are actually taking full advantage of the sectarianism to further their own hold on power. Yugoslavia in the making.

  4. Jason said

    Reidar, as always, I have tremendous respect for your opinions, but my thoughts on reading your post were identical to those expressed by Mohammed above. In addition to the obvious separatist ambitions of native Kurds in the north and Iranian-influenced ISCI in the south, violent fissures were also created even by Iraqi nationalists: the Sadrists and Sunnis who benefited from Baathist rule. Yes, they wanted a unified Iraq, but one ruled exclusively by them on their terms – not in a way in which everyone was afforded equal privileges and immunities under the law (much less an equal share of the oil money “pie”). None of these fissures were created by Western academics’ failure to understand Iraqi history.

    Fortunately, as far as I can tell, the idea of partition is fading. Biden was ignored, as usual. ISCI separatist ambitions died an electoral death. Only Kurds hold out for regional segregation, and they do not appear strong enough to force it through.

  5. mostafa said

    Hi Reidar,
    what do you mean by “a constitution and a political system that resonate poorly with the Iraq’s historical past”
    can you explain that?

    why does the western world think of Iraq as a tripartite country with the ethnic and sectarian identities more important than the national one?
    is it a misunderstanding or there are some people who are taking advantage of that?
    As for Noah Feldman, he was claimed by some Baathist and Saddamist Arab journalists and activists to be the one who wrote the Iraqi constitution. Although i think that is total nonsense but dose he have any relation to the constitution?

  6. Reidar Visser said

    Jason, I am not saying the Westerners created those divisions. I’m just saying they have been fuelling them, unnecessarily, and continue to do so today. Also note that I am talking about psychological partition as much as territorial partition.

    Mostafa, on the constitution, I have written in far greater details on this at my main website in particular on federalism in the 2005-2007 period. But generally speaking, I would say the historical facts would suggest a bilateral Arab-Kurdish federation with no federalisation south of Kurdistan. The incredibly weak centre in the constitution does not resonate with Baghdad’s historical pre-eminence as a centre for all of Iraq, and it should be noted that if the constitutional provisions had been carried out to the letter the central government would have been even weaker than it is today. As for the Western zest for the narrative of a tripartite Iraq I do not doubt for a second that is mainly because a certain stratum of the Western academe – typically the loud amateurs who know nothing about everything – are attracted to it because it is simple to remember and yet sounds sophisticated when you speak to an ignorant audience. And with respect to Feldman, he had as far as I know nothing to do with the constitution (he left Iraq long before 2005) but was involved with the TAL and reportedly has some responsibility for the utterly meaningless “no contradiction with Islam/no contradiction with democracy” principle.

  7. Ameer said

    Very naive article. it is all very well to come up with tooty-fruity, everyone-holding-hands-and-dancing, wishy-washy stuff like this from an ivory tower, but you will realise how much sectarian identity HAD TO BE an important ingredient in building the new Iraq just by talking to the average Iraqi (especially Sunni). When Saddam was removed from power, Sunnis were not ready to relinqusih the massive benefits and privileges and exalted position they enjoyed in his era. It is very difficult to find a Sunni today who outright condemns and villifies Saddam without adding a but, and most of them would say today’s government is just as bad as worse than him, an assertion that is insulting and crass. Indeed, many Sunnis idolise and respect Saddam. Most Shias hate him, and as such are hating a heroic almost mytholgoical figure for Sunnis, creating a major block right there to what you would call normal sectarian relations.
    In whatever way it could have been sugarcoated, Sunnis did not accept a government led by Shia “gorillas” (in their words) They hated Maliki and Jaafari and rejected their rights to rule even though they were democratically elected, and they hated and visciously went to war with Allawi even though he was secular and a former Baathist. Maliki ostensibly tried very hard to portray State of Law as being all inclusive and drafted in many prominent Sunnis such as the Defense Minister, the former speaker, the former deputy PM, the planning minister etc. but all those efforts resulted in a pitiful few thousand votes in Anbar. All his votes in Tikrit, Diyala and Mosul can be accounted by Shia voters in those provinces. This is unacceptable and it shows how sectarian Iraqi Sunnis still are. Many refuse to even consider Iraqi Shia to be the majority. Many hold a visceral religious hatred of Shia, saying they are rawafidh and infidels and Iranian-fire-worshippers. Many supported the terrorists and called them resistance even though they were massacring people daily, and it was only when their own backyard got ugly they turned against them. In fact, we are STILL worried today. Are the sahwa going to start killing innocent Iraqis if they fall out with the government? Are Iraqiya going to withdraw from politics and return to violence if they don’t get the premiership. Maybe, there’s a strong chance, Hashimi, Hayder Mulla and even Allawi have implied it. And it doesn’t matter if many Sunnis have Shia friends or spouses. This is all superficial. Once it gets down to politics and power, and in many cases religion, you are polar opposites. My aunt is married to a Sunni, and he wouldn’t eat for days when Saddam was executed for his crimes against humanity, even though he is a relatively simple uncultured man who lost family to Saddam :s

    and dont get me started on the kurds, whose loyalty to Iraqi state is very shaky and would much prefer independence. i’d much rather have a multi-ethnic Iraq than a 95% Arab one (I dont like idea of an Arab Iraq) but when you have 99% voting for independence even though they enjoy a great deal of democratic autonomy, you know this marriage of convenienve will end in divorce.

    and shias aint perfect either.

    so basically your presumption is inaccurate.

  8. Reidar Visser said

    Ameer, a couple of points. Firstly, the article is mainly about people like Noah Feldman denying the Iraqi nationalism of people like Jaafar Abu Timman, Kazim al-Dujayli and Muhammad Mahdi al-Basir. I am saying that is unnecessary, it is inflaming the debate on Iraq policy, and we should stop doing it. That is the “presumption” of the article.

    As for the post-2003 situation, note that Maliki’s SLA did not run in Anbar in the local elections in 2009, I think because of a tactical alliance with Abu Risha. He went on to try to build an alliance with Salih al-Mutlak in March 2009. That’s when the de-Baathification pushback started (ISCI criticised the Maliki-Mutlak rapprochement at the time) and in August Maliki got paranoid during the bombings in Baghdad and no one is surprised he didn’t get more votes in Anbar after that and the revival of the de-Baathification issue in February 2010. I talked to many exiled Sunnis in places like Amman in early 2009 who were extremely postitive about Maliki back then and it would have been possible to have a different outcome.

  9. “As for the Western zest for the narrative of a tripartite Iraq I do not doubt for a second that is mainly because a certain stratum of the Western academe – typically the loud amateurs who know nothing about everything – are attracted to it because it is simple to remember and yet sounds sophisticated when you speak to an ignorant audience.”

    As one who toured the United States and other countries screening a film about militant nationalism in Iraq and fielding questions on the subject I can certainly attest to the virulence of this narrative. In fact, we spent most of our time unpacking the myths generated by western intellectuals and parroted by lazy journalists (….Iraq was cobbled together by the British etc). I would say that most people in our audiences earnestly believed that a partition of the country, overseen by US forces, was the best possible outcome for a people who had only shared the same space because it had been forced upon them by colonial powers and self-serving despots.

    Reidar is correct to give the western actors a special place in this story. Whilst recognizing that ethno/sectarian and class fissures already existed in Iraq (as they do in virtually every country in the world) encouraging and rewarding them by law and by favor and by propagating the myth was, in my view, the great crime of not only the occupying forces but also of the society that sent them.

  10. Ameer, you give the impression that Iraq in 2003 was simplistically structured with the Sunni population enjoying the fruits of precedence and everyone else suffering the indignity of inferior status. This may have been the rallying cry of many in the sullen exile community but it was a far cry from the reality of everyday life in Iraq. There, the story was a good deal more complex – and more interesting for it.

  11. Reidar Visser said

    Yeah, Ameer, I think you overlook the tens of thousands of Shiites who worked pragmatically for Saddam in the way Yusuf al-Habubi did. Maliki in fact tried to incorporate many of them prior to 2010 but then came the de-Baathification attack of ISCI who had nothing to fear in this regard since they lived in Tehran before 2003.

  12. Ameer said

    Firstly, the illiterate goatherd camelherd voter in Anbar I don’t believe is sophisticated enough to ponder over the nuances of Maliki’s stance towards debaathication when it comes to voting. over the last 7 years, there is no evidence whatsoever that the Sunni populace is willing to vote in significant numbers for a Shia candidate of whatever colouring (almost all of the winning candidates in the Sunni provinces are from non-Wifaq members of Iraqiya) whereas Shias voted for Iraqiya in significant numbers

    Secondly, the people in Anbar, Tikrit Diyala and Ninewa are generally tribal, simple-minded people with a serious leadership complex in which they generally revere and idolise whoever is in charge (unlike the south which has historically been more rebellious and principled) This is why they formed Saddam’s intelligence services and republican guard, and why they historically propped up the Ottomans and other despots that ruled Iraq. So this should give any incumbent (aka Maliki) a supreme advantage, or at least an advantage big enough to get more than a few thousand Sunni votes (let’s forget votes and talk about how hated Maliki is in Anbar and the Sunni street just for virtue of his religion)

  13. Reidar Visser said

    Some remarkable regional characteristics! I have heard people from Basra use those same words about migrants from Amara, and another set of adjectives for the merchants of Najaf…So I am not sure how monolithic your “south” is…

    Anyway, just to give the lowdown on Wifaq representatives in the northern governorates: Salahaddin (4), Diyala (1), Nineveh (2). Plus around 10 in Baghdad.

  14. Good to hear that the class war is over, Ameer:)

  15. Santana said

    Mohammed- you obviously don’t know me…..inspite of all that I have written in the past I honestly (and would be willing to take a polygraph test LOL !) I want leaders in Iraq that are LOYAL to Iraq 100%, pro-democracy and on good terms with Iraq’s neighbors and with the west- I DON’T CARE if- the next President, PM, DPM , MOD, MOI, VPs, Finance, Oil, and Foreign Ministry are all a mixture of Shiites, Iraqi Jews,Yazidis, Bahaais and Kurds – I swear to God and may God kill my kids if I am lying !!…but reality is something else and the reason I come across as a ‘Sunni” advocate is because I honestly believe that from what I see and read it is the only group that I can say for sure (100%) that want ONE Unified, Secular and Democratic Iraq. Look at all the comments on here from everyone….every other comments talks about Iran , Iran’s meddling, Iran’s evil, Iran this and Iran that…..surely there is a concern about Iran with everyone and not just “Santana” or Salah.

  16. mostafa said

    Hi Reidar,
    now the Neutral National Movement thing has become official:

    Now what does that change in the picture?

  17. Reidar Visser said

    Mostafa, yeah that is the updated story from Sumaria that I commented on in comment no. 36 on the previous post. Again, this appears to be a change in/recalibration of the internal line-up of Iraqiyya and not a defection as such.

  18. Kermanshahi said

    The governments prior to 2005 were not exactly secterian, people like Ayad Allawi were in charge at that time, however the Americans realised that they couldn’t exclude such important players as ISCI and Dawa completely, because they did have popularity.

    In 2005 when free elections were held, it was not the Americans which stimulated secterianism, on the contrary, the election results were seen as a great blow to the Bush administration and the whole Operation Iraqi “Freedom.” It was the Iraqi people who voted in a secterian then and they did so this time aswell.

  19. Reidar Visser said

    Kermanshahi, the formula behind the governing council in 2003 was explicitly sectarian and that was Paul Bremer’s idea. The council created the interim government and the TAL, both of which were heavily influenced by ideas from the exiled elite. This was also the time when the first election law with a single constituency was adopted, believed to be responsible for the prominence given to ethnic and sectarian identity in the Jan 2005 elections.

  20. “It was the Iraqi people who voted in a secterian then and they did so this time aswell.”

    But who else could the people vote for when the exile groups had been so deeply ensconced as the bedrock upon which the future political system would be built?

    Between the TAL and the highly orchestrated assassination campaign that targeted the nationalist intelligentsia and middle class (causing many thousands of potential electoral candidates to flee the country or be killed) who was left? The returning exiles were widely regarded with disdain by Iraqis, regardless of sect or class, but they are the ones who remained and were able to organize.

    I also see from Ryan Crocker’s latest ( that few lessons have been learned – even by the supposedly more knowledgeable members of the team.

  21. Jason Baker said

    Saudi Arabia “terrorist central”

    While much of the blame in foreign meddling in Iraqi politics is zeroing on Iran, the role of Saudi Arabia as a terrorist state is forgotten. For centuries Saudi Arabia have worked as terror central in Arabia starting from the current occupation of land in the UAE as big as Bahrain! Confiscating a huge swath of oil producing land from Oman! Siphoning oil from offshore oil rigs out of Bahrain! Not to mention terrorising the shia population in Ihassa and Ismaili sect in Nejran. Lets not forget also the terrorist whom committed Sept11 all came from one single country, guess what KSF. Having said that, the Saudi role in Iraqi politics is for sure bloody evil and latest meeting between Iyad Alawi and the Saudi intelligent chief is one example. While the Saudis supports the sunni militants in Iraq financially whereby equipping them with weapons that would turn only against the shia and kurds in the pretext of fighting the occupation, those same weapons would continue to shoot shiat and kurds even if the US would completely withdraw the last solder they have on the ground. This reminds the shiate population when the first shia intifada took place in the south, the late sayed khooie approached the Saudis asking them to protect the exodus of shiate running away from sadam troops and to provide them with military cover, the Saudis adamantly refused and when Khooie requested weapons to protect the shiate escapees to protect themselves the Saudis even refused further. The evil roll of Saudi interventionism in Iraq has to be exposed to the public and to the international community.

  22. Reidar Visser said

    Jason, we are straying pretty far from the original subject here, but you appear to forget that many of the tribal forces that cracked down on the intifada in 1991 were in fact from Shiite tribes who disagreed with the slogans of the uprising and preferred to stay loyal to the regime.

    Also, to be honest, your allegations as far as the Saudi role today are not very specific and as such not terribly interesting in this context.

  23. Salah said

    Jason, I am not saying the Westerners created those divisions. I’m just saying they have been fuelling them, unnecessarily,

    Reidar, with all due respect the west did generate them! how and when.
    After WWI the Arab land was one land one nation the dismantling of Othman Impair used to invade and occupied that land then subdivide by the western power by using “Line on the Sand” that was the starting struggle of Arab for their freedom form that day till now. As what did US in Iraq, there were attention to sub divide Iraq before 2003, in fact the No-Fly -Zone was early operation for subdivide Iraq in addition to few voices talking about dividing Iraq the strong one came from Biden.

    Anyway US project was out the reality in Iraq after facing the regional struggle inside Iraq and the neighboring countries, but this may be long time project not in 10 years need more time to become relity if things running as its inside Iraq.

  24. Salah said

    Also, to be honest, your allegations as far as the Saudi role today are not very specific and as such not terribly interesting in this context.

    Just to add one thing here Iraqis see Saudis, Jordanians , Syrian as their brethren as Arab and Muslims so there is deference’s when talking about Turkish or Iranian they are not as same as other Arab when it comes to polatics, life and living with them. the past history Arab had with other than Arab give them hard lessons about other that Arab brethren whom cut off by western forces.

  25. Zaid said

    Hi Reidar:

    Quick clarification. To my knowledge, Feldman was in Iraq only for a few short months during the summar of 2003, and had already left by September 2003. My understanding is that he has not been back since and did not play a significant role in the drafting or the negotiation of the Transitional Administrative Law.


  26. Reidar Visser said

    Zaid, thanks, all I can say is that Feldman does seem to take credit for at least one article of the TAL in the following interview:

  27. Zaid said

    Sure, I’ve seen that, but it doesn’t match any of the accounts that have been given of the drafting process for the TAL. Paul Bremer, Larry Diamond, Feisal Istrabadi amongst others have all written about the process at length and no one ever mentions Feldman as having participated at all. In fact, according to Bremer, the compromise on Article 7 was worked out very much at the last minute (see pages 295 to 299 of Bremer’s memoir). Feldman had already left Iraq months before at that point.

  28. Back to the present, though still relevant. Reidar, do you think Adel has finally managed to get one foot in the door as reported by Asharq Al-Awsat?

  29. Reidar Visser said

    Zaid, I’m not sure how to reconcile the different accounts. He seems to be very proud of that article in the interview.

    Steve, one foot, for sure, but Maliki and Allawi are still competing for space. Until there is one NA candidate there is no NA candidate.

  30. Salah said

    My understanding is that he has not been back since and did not play a significant role in the drafting or the negotiation of the Transitional Administrative Law.

    If NF himself said (below statement) he played significant role the Transitional Administrative Law, why should you ignoring his word and stick to Paul Bremer words? Why should we believe what Bremer said in his “Own Biography” book about his distractive journey to Iraq, but not NF words and staments?
    Must of there is reason for that; we appreciate if you could explain to us ?

    In the spring of 2003, when the Bush Administration was seeking a constitutional expert who was fluent in Arabic and would be able to travel to Iraq and help the Iraqi people write a new constitution, they found the perfect candidate in one Noah Feldman. Not only is our speaker a highly respected constitutional scholar but he is also fluent in Arabic, Hebrew, and French. In addition, he holds a doctorate in Islamic studies from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.


    Now, at present that hasn’t happened because the current transitional Iraqi government does not have a legislative branch. Very few people have taken note of this fact. Even though the Transitional Administrative Law, known as the TAL, which was the document that I put most of my energy into for the better part of a year, provides for a legislative branch, as actually implemented, the transitional government does not have a legislative branch today. That makes it hard for them to change the laws. And that was not an accident of ultimate design.


  31. Zaid said


    Just to repeat what I said earlier – there are many accounts of the drafting of the TAL, including those that were made by Larry Diamond, Paul Bremer and Feisal Istrabadi, amongst others, and none of them mention Noah Feldman as playing a significant role in the drafting of the TAL. Larry Diamond’s book includes a 40 page account of the drafting process which includes a detailed description of those people that were most involved, and Feldman is never mentioned (see pages 140-179 of Diamond’s book).

    Although Feldman takes credit for his role in the drafting of Article 7, he wasn’t in Iraq at the time. He may have drafted a memo on it that was circulated but there is no indication from anyone that he was in the drafting chamber or even in the country when it was being negotiated and discussed. Based on information that is publicly available he arrived in Iraq at the start of the occupation and appears to have left during or before September 2003, at which point the drafting of the TAL hadn’t even begun.

    It would be good if NF could clarify this himself one day.

  32. Jesper said

    I have read your blog for quite a while Visser, and it’s been an inlightening experience! Even though, I still have a lot of questions, here is a few of them;)

    Im scandinavian, and therefore, ofcourse, not “into” Iraqi domestic-policy comparable to your depths! Even so, I take the chance, and try to get involved in the discussion.

    No doubt, the Hill comment was far out, also I think, he regrets its! Maybe it was only made for the home marked? Ben Landos (Iraq oil report) expression: “Americans with the head in the sand”; and, roughly translated, with no idea of hands on “politics”, strikes me as pretty accurate? We, as I see it though, have to be awere of the different contexts these (Hill) statements are aimed at.

    Another question:
    Where are the 50.000 thousand american “observers” being placed… will it be in a kurdish bastion (Sadr dont like that idea)? What about the HUGE american cousulate in Bagdad, the biggest in the world! Does that not signify continued american interest in Iraq?

    Visser, what about the most recent election (media) rumours? Do you think INA, IS and the Kurds can work it out? OR do the ameriacan wish for Allawi/Maliki (maybe to control Iranian influence?), endure this crisis?

    Another one:
    Do you ever think Sadr (INA) and the kurds could work anythong out, and how does Shistani (the pure religious part??) play into this? Here I mostly think of the federalist-play going on.

    If so, how will that influence (articel 140) talks around Kirkuk and eg. the oil-law? maybe you could do a piece on the inter-connectednes of these two constitutional “things”?

    Also, if you look for an alternative source of info. you should try and follow the stock-price of companys invested in Kurdistan. Its relativly sensitive to the political developments in Iraq. Especially the federalist-play.

    Hope what I wrote made a little sense;)

    Keep up the good work, and this excelent blog!

  33. Reidar Visser said

    Jesper, in the first place, the idea that Hill was talking to a domestic audience does not really change anything; he talked like that when he was in Iraq as well, as much of the Obama administration continues to do. Some weeks ago, Biden was concerned that a power-sharing deal between Iraqiyya and SLA might produce a Shiite president and a Shiite speaker of the house, with no Sunnis…

    The Americans may be as interested as they want to; the SOFA expires in 2011. I doubt that they will able to secure a new or a revised one mandating any kind of significant post-2011 presence.

    The bottom line regarding federalism is that even ISCI, the most pro-Kurdish party among the Shiites, are beginning to understand the limits to its popularity, which is why I think a total breakdown with the Kurds even in the scenario of a Shiite Islamist government is a lot more likely today than it ever was in 2006. Related to this, the piece you linked to fails to recognise the provisions for constitutional revision in the Iraqi constitution where the tendency so far is towards greater centralisation in the oil sector. After all, it is this, and not the musings of Professor James Crawford or others, that will count in the real world.

  34. Mohammed said

    Hi Reidar:

    First of all, let me preface this comment by saying that you are in my mind one of the top 5 world experts on Iraq. Your knowledge base is just incredible. However, in following your blog, you seem to focus on policy and political decision-making and their impact on society.

    With respect to the sectarianism you see in Iraq today, the most imediate cause in my view has been the terrorist suicide bombings that started the Civil War. Sure, there was sectarianism in how Bremer and company tried to manage affairs immediately post-invasion. But the biggest impact on Iraqi society, and the biggest influence on voting was the result of the massive suicide bombings and militia warfare that ensued. You, as a policy analyst, may look at this picture and hypothesize that the suicide bombings were a result of poor policy decisions. But that is only a hypothesis. Those suicide bombers are crazy, irrational zealots, and I contend that they would have come to Iraq to create mayhem no matter what the Iraqi government policy was as long as shiites were at the helms. In my estimation, that is responsible on the first order for the polarization of Iraqi society today. The policy mistakes of westerners is probably a second order effect.

    Just imagine, what would happen if saudi shiites or iraqi shiites infiltrated sunni areas of Saudi arabia and started blowing up sunnis mosques? You can’t blame that on the west. We have our own problems that have existed for far longer than western imperialism and colonialism.

  35. Reidar Visser said

    Mohammed, you are much too kind, but I think you are missing my point if you think that I am somehow trying to absolve the suicide bombers. Their actions are despicable regardless what kind of discourse foreigners adopt on Iraq. But it is not either/or in this case. The suicide bombers play their part; the soldiers of Operation Iraqi Partition also contribute, in a different way. This short article was not meant to address the entire Iraqi issue holistically but to bring attention to an often overlooked aspect of it.

  36. Jason said

    A few random thoughts:

    1) Seems like the ISCI/Kurd alliance was built upon the hope that each could form its own federal region and control its oil, to the exclusion of Sunnis in the middle. That dream has been crushed for ISCI, so why should they continue to have any interest in supporting the Kurds? Do they have anything else in common to keep them together?

    2) I think some of the partition talk can be attributed to American domestic politics, particularly the “Bush-is-an-idiot” narrative that is a favorite of the American Left, especially academic circles and the media. They preach that before the war, Bush was so ignorant that he didn’t know that Iraq was divided between Shia, Sunnis, and Kurds, and was too dumb to predict a sectarian civil war, or to separate them to prevent it from happening. So their political bias feeds their policy prescriptions.

    3) As for Bremer, recall that he was stuck with different interest groups, exiles, the clergy, and others, and had the option of either including them or defeating them militarily – no easy choice. In the absence of a popularly elected govt the “Armistice” option was in reality the only viable starting point. (Think of our first Continental Congress which was a gathering of powerful planters) It is absurd to blame Bremer for how Iraqis subsequently chose to cast their votes. They obviously know how to turn a group out if they want to. (See Tawafuq and ISCI).

    4)Assuming Reidar is correct that there will be no new SOFA with extended American presence, then American influence on the political process is basically over, and Iraqis bear responsibility for implementing their own governance. No one is going to force partition on them unless they do it themselves.

  37. Reidar Visser said

    Jason, again let me stress that the post addresses two forms of partition, territorial and psychological, and it is the second that remains relevant today, i.e. Biden no longer seems interested in Shiite and Sunni regions but he still seems to keep a meticuluos count of Sunnis and Shiites whenever a new coalition formula is proposed.

    As for ISCI, they transformed themselves during 2008 from a party advocating a specific federal region for the Shiites to a party advocating a general weakening of the central government as much as possible. This is what appeals to the Kurds. And to Iran. To some EU diplomats. And to many Democrats, too, it seems.

    There was no imperative for Bremer to give persons like Chalabi and Hakim such influential roles on the GC. Galbraith tenaciously tries to show that subsequent elections proved the popular appeal of the GC elites but that is just plain wrong: Each time the election rules have changed towards a more open, democratic formula focused on local constituencies, SCIRI/ISCI have attracted fewer and fewer voters. Bremer included no domestic Iraqis because he did not know them. Again, had he been interested in armistice for the sake of armistice, he would have tried to include the Sadrists.

  38. Jason,

    The Federalism issue was well noted before the invasion, with agreement reached at the London conference between Zalmay Khalilzad and the Iranian exiles + Kurds. This was not a policy that was just stumbled into in a crisis of limited options.

    Federalism/partition may well become irrelevant (as it almost did with Maliki at the helm) if the Iranians manage to consolidate their gains. The division of Arab Iraq was only a necessity when there was the possibility of the rise of a non-sectarian, centrist political elite. That hasn’t happened and it’s probably safe to say that barring a coup, it won’t. The result is that no matter the desires of the electorate, power in Iraq will be shared outside the country’s borders.

  39. Kermanshahi said

    Jason, there are more reasons for ISCI to allign itself with the Kurds. See they share a common enemy, the Arab nationalist parties. As a religious party and pro-federalist one, ISCI is the best Arab party for the Kurds and on the other hand the Kurds are a very good ally to have in Iraq. Among Arab parties there are a lot of conflicting interests, al-Maliki, al-Hakim, al-Jaafari, al-Sadr, al-Mutlaq, al-Hashemi, Allawi, they all have their own interests and for all of them there are things they disagree on with each other. The other INA parties are closest to ISCI in their views, followed by some segments of the SLC, both an alliance with the whole SLC or with the INM bring problems since they and INA disagree on many points, same goes for SLC-INM government.
    The Kurds however, don’t have their own interests in the South, nor do they demand the Prime Minister position which all the big Iraqi politicians are after. They only have demands for their own region and if you can give them what they want in the North, they will back you in whatever you want to do in the South. Something which no other group will do. For most Iraqiyya parties it’s impossible to make any deal the Kurds would find tolerable due to their deeply opposing views. The religious parties (INA) however, can somewhat offord it.

    Allawi would probably strike a deal with the Kurds if he could, but he would loose all his Sunni allies which make up 70% of his alliance. Maliki however could do it and I think the chances of an al-Maliki reaproachment with the Kurds right now is more likely now than ever. For al-Maliki his new anti-Kurdish views (since about 2 years ago) were an attempt to get Sunni votes (unlike people like al-Nujayfi, who genuinly hates the Kurds), now I think we can all agree this was an obvious failure, not a single major Sunni party or leader joined his election alliance and he got like 60,000 votes in all Sunni governates (and Kerkuk) combined (excl. Diyala since most almost all his voters there come from Diyala’s Shi’a), which is less than even the INA. Now that, and the fact that the election alliance which majority of Iraq’s Sunnis voted for and which has about ~85% of the parliament’s Sunni MPs, has turned into his main post-election enemy, are reason enough for him to see that this attempt at gaining Sunni backing was a failure and he can now better focus on gaining the Kurds’ backing. I’m also pretty sure he prefers Jalal Talabani as his President, over Tariq al-Hashemi.

  40. Reidar Visser said

    Still, as I have said before, an alliance with the Kurds doesn’t get anyone anywhere. The question of the parliamentary majority will be decided in the Iraqiyya/SLA/INA triangle which is why we are seeing the current stalemate. The Kurdish act of the drama is likely to be played out after that triangular competition has been decided, and my guess it that it will be a long-drawn affair possibly ending in failure.

  41. Kermanshahi said

    Well if the elections had been more democratic and one Kurdish vote was worth as much as an Arab vote, the Kurds would have had enough seats in parliament to give Iraqiyya or SLC a majority. But than the election law was designed to favour Arab nationalists and it did just so.

    However if the INA wants to still seize power through getting some of Maliki’s poeople to join them the Kurds will be essential in their government formation.

  42. Ali W said

    “Jason, we are straying pretty far from the original subject here, but you appear to forget that many of the tribal forces that cracked down on the intifada in 1991 were in fact from Shiite tribes who disagreed with the slogans of the uprising and preferred to stay loyal to the regime.”

    Thats just not true. You were not there Reidar and I’m quite shocked that you state such a false misconception. Because some shia were baathist does not make the baath party cross sectarian, some joined for a job to feed their famly and some low lives would kill their own mother for money, look at the people of Anbar, Aemrica defeated them by paying them more money than Al Qaeda, thats all.

    The republican guard spear headed the attack on the shia. Most tribes supported the uprising and none oppsoed it when everyone thought it was going to succeed. Some only went to Saddam after it became obvious the uprising is going to fail. If your veiw is right, then there would have been resistance against them, but there was hardly any outside the secret police stations.

    Reidar, I’m sorry but you know a lot about Iraq but not Iraqis, its right in front of you, sectaranism is a problem on the streets not just the politics.

    Shia voted for nationalist shia, sunnis done the same.

    PS, Go to Iraq and visit the west and visit the south, and you will see the difference. I know jokes from the Anbar about how generous the people of the south are, but go and ask your friends about the jokes on the Dulaim tribe, and ask your Iraqi friends what they call the people of Mosul!.

  43. Jason said

    SLA and INM combined represent nearly 2/3’s of the electorate. Regarding their inability to reach an agreement to form a two-way coalition govt, what percentage of the failure would you assign to:

    a) sectarian divisions, either real or psychological;

    b) ambition of Maliki and Allawi for personal power;

    c) influence of foreign govts; or

    d) other reasons?

  44. Reidar Visser said

    Ali, your whole argument seems a little contradictive. In the first part of the sentence you seem to indicate that I’m lying by saying Shiite tribes supported Saddam; in the second part of the sentence you seem to acknowledge that such support did after all exist but that those who did it were not “good Shiites” because they did it “to feed their families” – probably a pretty universal motive in human behaviour by the way.

    I think you need to re-check your sources on the intifada because the participation of Shiite tribes in putting down the rebellion is well known. Right now I am looking at a collection of cuttings from the Qadisiyya newspaper from 1991-1992 in which there are numerous telegrams from southern tribes indicating thanks to Saddam for having defended the homeland against the uprising in 1991. One of them is signed by six shaykhs of the Banu Malik in Basra. Are you suggesting these people never existed?

    Jason, this is going to be pretty unscientific but let’s say 90% personal issues between the two men and maybe 10% Saudi govt fuelling those flames? There certainly aren’t any good reasons.

  45. amagi said


    I realize we are getting far afield of the original topic, but why do you see such a possibility of failure for the Kurds to reach an agreement with the central government (whatever shape it takes)? Isn’t it now just a question of how the oil revenues get split? Isn’t it also the case that there is much less oil under Kirkuk than originally thought? I can’t imagine they won’t be able to come to some agreement… especially considering what the alternative likely involves.

    I also want to comment that one reason I think you are having difficulty getting across the notion of a ‘psychological partition’ is the extent to which all politics are identity politics to such a degree that we aren’t even fully conscious of it. Like a fish in water. It makes the humanist in me weep, but to deny it would be to ignore the weight of recorded history I’m afraid.

  46. Reidar Visser said

    Amagi, revenue is not the problem. The problem is implementation of article 140 on Kirkuk plus the question of KRG rights to sign deals with foreign oil/gas companies. Very difficult for anyone in Baghdad to give the Kurds exactly what they want on any of those.

  47. amagi said


    I understand, but the research suggesting there is less oil under Kirkuk than previously thought should make a compromise on Article 140 easier to achieve, no? And wouldn’t one expect the Kurds, if denied the right to sign deals but given a seat at the negotiating table and some sort of profit-sharing arrangement, to relent? That is why I see it primarily as a question of revenue. Surely, in the present environment Kurdish demands for sovereignty are Quixotic. I understand that hard-liners may never be moved, but it seems to me that there is simply too much money to line too many pockets on all sides for the problem to be intractable.

  48. Reidar Visser said

    Amagi, the Kurds want Kirkuk for the land as much as for the oil. In fact, in theory they recognise the right of the central government to continue to administer the so-called “existing” fields of Kirkuk even if the area should fall to the KRG in a referendum.

    However, unfortunately, it has become very difficult for them to backtrack from the demands that were advanced by Barzani senior in the early 1970s about Kirkuk as some kind of “historic” Kurdish Jerusalem, a myth which is a recent invention but one hich has stuck and has become part of the lore of KRG supporters worldwide.

  49. Mohammed said

    Hi Reidar:

    I know we are somewhat off the subject, but I do not think you can furnish as evidence the clippings of the qadisiyah newspaper in Saddam’s times as proof that the shia tribes were against the intifadah. That is about as believable as Saddam’s elections when he won 99% of the vote.

    I have no doubt that there were shiites who were prominent baathists and killed their fellow iraqis (shiites, kurds, sunnis). But the real power in Saddam’s Iraq lay in the hands of the tikritis, duleimis, rawi, jabouri (sunni branch), etc. The generals were predominantly sunni.

  50. Reidar Visser said

    Mohammed, at any rate, those tribes chose to cooperate with the regime when they could have joined the revolt. Many received medals etc.

    In normal political and sociological analysis it is what people do that matters. I find it strange that when “surprising behaviour”, i.e. inter-sectarian cooperation, manifests itself in the Iraqi case, people often claim that what people do is not representative of their true feelings! “Even if those Sunnis and Shiites cooperate, they hate each other in the bottom of their hearts” etc. What will we ever know about that? I just don’t think we should establish special rules for Iraq in this regard.

  51. Mohammed said

    I very much agree with you, and there is no need to establish general rules for Iraqis.

    As the heart of all these conflicts is the primal urge to flourish and ensure that those closest to you (tribe) do well so your gene pool does well and spreads across generations. Essentially, whether you are a sunni/shiite arab, or kurd, you love your children and want to make sure that they have a good future, where they are safe, wealthy, and can raise their children. All people of the world have this in common.

    Santana and others have talked about this idea of shiite “loyalty” to iran vs loyalty to Iraq. I assure you that there is no such thing as shiite “loyalty” to Iran. Some shiites (like Al-Hakim) will chose to partner with Iran because they feel threatened by neighboring sunni powers, or they think Iran has the power to give them more influence in Iraq. Nobody is loyal to Iran out of love. Nobody is loyal to saudi arabia out of love. In the end, each group wants power. If Allawi believes Saudi Arabia is a useful ally, then he will partner with them. Furthermore, the Saudis and Iranians only view Iraq as a means to an end. They want to dominate the region, and want to make sure that Iraq winds up on their side of influence. They are not humanitarians.

  52. Ali W said

    Reidar are you using saddam era news papers as proof!!!

    And i mentioned individuals whilst you mentioned tribes, so no contradiction there.

    Let me ask you a question, did the Jewish people as well as the Germans caused the Holocaust? According to your views yes they were both responsible. The Germans used Jews from rich and classy families to police the ghettos, to Murder their fellow Jews, to organise them, to clean up the gas chambers after they have been used etc. And they have been mentioned by many sources to be more ruthless than many of the German soldiers there ( i can reference that unlike my earlier claim about the Ottomans). Those tribes were crapping themselves thats why they sent these telegrams etc, because many members of theirs took part and they were worried of reprisals.

    Anyway this is not your topic but sectarianism in Iraq. It exists even in this forum right in front of us. Politics in Iraq represent us. Unfortunately none sectarian Iraq could only exist when sunnis start acting like a minority and expect what their small numbers deserve politically.

  53. Reidar Visser said

    Ali, let’s keep the Holocaust out of this because that’s a little different no matter how you choose to see it.You resort to the same strategy that I described above, i.e. if they cooperated with the regime there had to be ulterior reasons for it. Not that you know about them specificially; you assume their motives. That’s problematic. I also think it might be worthwhile to conduct a survey of leading Shiite generals in the current Iraqi army and ask them exactly what they were all doing in 1991 and I think you might get some interesting answers. Lami & Chalabi certainly wanted to de-Baathify some of them.

  54. observer said

    Sectarianism is a lot worse in the Diaspora than it is in Iraq. That is all I can contribute from INSIDE iraq. The like of Ali W, Muhammad, Santana, Saleh, etc., do exist in Iraq and they are the vocal ones but the vast majority of Iraqis INSIDE Iraq are NOT sectarian. Simple as that.

    Bottom line, what is happening on the ground is that ALL politicians have gone down in the eyes of the Iraqi voter for their seeming inability to make decisions to go forth. In the next elections, only the zealots will go out to vote and then the results will be further proof that sectarianism does exit when in fact the true cause is that the current crop of leaders FEED on sectarianism and it is in their own self interest to fan the flames. aided and abetted, unknowingly, by the likes of the aforementioned diaspora Iraqis, the zealots, and the extremists. The silent Majority (to use the American Expression) will remain silent and bear the results of the mismanaged economy and the terror visited on them by regional powers.

    Maybe a soft division is the answer, after all.

  55. observer said

    to Ali W., the south of Iraq is the hotbed of Arabisim. Do you know that of 9 original leaders of the Baath, 7 were she3a from the south? If Shea3a of Iraq so hate the Sunni Arabs, as you proclaim, there would have been large votes for the project of Hakim and SCIRI. Yet we all know that project has failed. But if you guys (the zealot she3a) continue espousing generalization of the attitude of Sunnis in Iraq vs. She3a (and vise versa) then you will give us an Iraq according to your liking, a society permanently fractured with the different sects increasingly divided.

    Fully 30% of the marriages before 2003 were of mixed sects.. It dropped down to 5% in 0/07 and now it is on the rise again, thanks to the wise Iraqis of the INSIDE – especially Baghdad, and certainly no thanks to those of the diaspora.

    You guys (Iraqis of the Diaspora) are no different than the militant zionists living abroad. Think about.

  56. observer said


    Had iraq been lucky, Majid Khoei would have survived Muqtada’s assassination and became our Bishop Tutu as he was a true Iraqi and his project was a project of reconciliation…..May God bless his soul. He is all but forgotten now. Iraq’s history of full of unfulfilled promises.

  57. Salah said

    Generally I agree what you said about 1991 riots, we should be very careful to call 1991 riots as an “uprising” although may be started genuinely as an uprising but it was fast turned to riots.

    My family and my brother lived in Hilla 90km south Bagdad (West side of the town) and they witnessed the real acts done to public service in this small town and the people who led those riots in fact some no questions that they are acting as criminal and they are from low society levels. As I was serving my military reservice during 1991 some of our friend from سوق الشيوخ / من مدينة الناصرية (Souq Alshieukh) he was Lieutenant went in sort leave and he caught buy that riot our unit command was very worried about him, at that time some rules came down to wait to any military guys if they delayed to return until further notice , in the end he turned after two weeks . he expressed his frustrations with some stores is shocking one of looters /riots stoping each bus or truck coming from Basra (is was a big waves of un organised military escape) and they give orders to all passengers and killed any commanders in that bus or track by shooting him in from of the other passengers.
    As for the public services there is a huge damage done with schools looted, governmental offices lotted also some burned down to the ground even hospitals and land registration authorities building and birth register offices…

    In fact my close manager who saw that even the looting was seen from presidential castles a crosses the Jadriya Bridge (now the hart of green zone) he saw security force running with TV and other martial out on the streets although these guys from presidential forces!!
    Although the tyrant may did used excessive forces to crack down the riot also used collective punishment on the cites that the riots went bad, but what make that incident more propagated to media propaganda because the western media find it as the beast tool to crack down on rough regime. But in same time same western power did allowed the regime to crack down that riot as hey give their green light to use choppers and tanks on the ground targeting those riots and looters.

    This matter also can seen similler reactions in other part of world when it comes to the riots and looting like the on in 1992 Los Angeles riots. Also the second one in New Orleans when the mayor orders looting crackdown, also 2005 civil unrest in France, the other one from Australia Wildfire Looting Fears Victims Return to Burned Homes and the recent one when military troops tackle post-quake unrest in Chile’s second-largest city, Concepcion, describe it as a battle zone in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that hit the country.

  58. Ali W said

    Observer, the south no longer thinks the same, it has been brutalised by the Baath and the people that supported them.

    And I do not deny that the leadership was mainly shia, was it not true the founder of Baath was a Christian as well?

    But what did these facts get the shia during the Saddam? Name me a shia defence minister during the baath, or head of intelligence, taking into account the majority of Iraqi people are shia by a large margin, how was that shown within the Officer corp of the Iraqi army? How many mosques did Saddam build for the Sunnis and how many for the shia? You know this thought dont you.

    And maybe you are right about the Iraqis in diaspora, but the election results back my claims not yours.

    If sectarianism has dies, why di Hashemi, Mutlaq, Nujafi do well when they are sectarain to the bone and arab facist who have shia and kurdish blood on their hand? All implicated in aiding the sunni terrorists to kill shia.

    And Hakim did badly because no one likes him as much as his policies, but people still voted for the Maliki and the Sadrist, all shia alhtouhg more nationalist.

    Nationalism does not mean non-sectarian.

  59. observer said

    Just like there are sectarians on the she3a side (as shown on this blog), your attitude is the same and is no different. To term the 1991 Intifadha “riots” is no different than the attitude displayed by your detractors in regards to the responsibility of all Sunnis for the atrocities of Saddam and his clan and refusing to acknowledge the role of she3a in suppressing their fellow citizens (be they sunnis or she3a). . Keep it up, you zealots of diaspora. It would be funny reading your remarks if it were not so serious of a subject.

  60. Mohammed said


    I generally respect what you have to say as it does have some great insight.

    I am not quite sure what you mean by zealots of diaspora. I have clearly written above that I have no doubt that there were some shia who helped put down the revolts in the south, and served Saddam well. I too am an admirer of majd al khoie. But, that great statesman Allawi (your words, not mine) has no problem hugging and kissing the murderer of majd al khoie (muqtada al-sadr) just so he can get his support and attain power.

    I really have no horses in this race in terms of political parties…I am not a member of dawa, isci, INC etc. I have over and over stated that all these parties are seeking power so that Iraq can serve them, not so that they can serve Iraq. There are only lesser evils here.

    I dont wish to hijack this discussion and make it personal. I am interested from the political science and policy level about Reidar’s and others views (such as yours) regarding why we are in the mess we are in, and how to fix it. Whether you are in Iraq or out of Iraq should have no bearing on that. I can tell by the way you write that you probably have lived outside of Iraq for many years, and I applaud that you have returned to help rebuild the country. But I can assure you, that the great majority of my relatives do in fact live in Baghdad for all their lives, and in my conversations with them, they are far, far more sectarian than I am (both my sunni relatives and shia relatives!)…

    I probably have more sunni friends than shia friends.

  61. Kermanshahi said

    Reidar, the Kurds don’t demand that the city of Kerkuk is handed over to them. They call it disputed territory because it is disputed, both the KRG and the Iraqi government claim it, which Kurds recognise as a dispute because it is, meanwhile Arab Nationalist hard-liners don’t want to recognise don’t want to recognise it as disptued territory because they don’t want to recognise the problem. So who is being unreasonable here?

    What the Kurds demand is that the people of Kerkuk get to decide for themselfes where they are part of. They want to solve the problem (and there is a problem, both sides claim the city, tensions are high and both sides have tens of thousands of troops stationed in and around the city) through peacefull democratic means: a referendum.

    The likes of al-Mutlaq, al-Nujayfi, al-Hashemi and to lesser extent Allawi and al-Maliki want the Kurds to just leave Kerkuk to them, just like that, something which is not gonna happen and rather than allowing a referendum they just continue the problem which will likely lead to a war, either because people like Nujayfi get control of the military and orders an expulsion of Kurdish forces, or because the KRG is put under so much pressure from the Kurdish population that it tries to seize control of the city.

  62. Observer,
    Your point about the inside of Iraq is more tolerant than the outside is true, specially in Baghdad but the geographical segregation is real and had some positive effect in separating the inside zealots.
    I will say this again: Fear is behind sectarianism and we are all sectarian sometimes, this will not change ever. What we have nowadays is sectarian management of government without punishment. It is futile to fight sectarianism and hope for the days when most Iraqis think in non-sectarian ways, like the old days. It is much more realistic to build a functioning judicial mechanism to correct sectarian management in the government.

  63. Ali W said

    Reidar, its a widely known fact that the majority of men that put down the uprising were members of the republican guard, their divisions are know, and the vast majority of these people were from the sunni areas.

    On a different note, have you heard of the new nomination? You gotta hand it to them, with a few seats, they have nominated a PM from amongst them.

  64. Reidar Visser said

    Ali, note that it is an INA nomination not an NA one. More in today’s post.

  65. Salah said

    First My name Salah NOT Saleh “صــلاح”, secondly as you been sided with one part, for seven years your brothers in power with full help from invaders they done nothing to all Iraqi not just south?

    Talking about South last month they shoots and fire on demonstrator who calling for public service like electricity, last week another demonstration in Nasiriya also your follow fire on those innocent Iraqis who looking for public service to restored.
    Now day your follow government calling the demonstrator will be arrested a “Terrorists” not as poor people living in a “democratic” land asking for their graveness and unhappiness of their suffering from bad public service that demolished by invader. Billions of Iraq was spent where those billions went?
    Non in this world in the past history or recent one did rewards and prized invaders and occupier of their land, the only one we seen today in Iraq.
    Anyway you free to speak but the Sun far from be wiped off man, I am glad that those your follow Mullah who were laying on poor Iraqis for decades now same poor Iraqis who believed in their lies discovered and seeing their naked lie, most Iraqi these day knew what those Mullah who call themselves religious men far more corrupt more thuggish than old tyrant regime members.

  66. Salah said

    meanwhile Arab Nationalist hard-liners don’t want to recognise don’t want to recognise it as disptued territory

    First Kirkuk its not jsut Kurds and “Nationalist” Arab, ther is Arab abd Turkman ling in that city not just kurds.

    The Iraqi leadership, while under British rule, made this transition and finalized a constitution on March 21, 1925. The constitution outlawed traditional tribal law and replaced it with a civilized rule, which is most evident in the constitution’s sixth article. This article declares Iraq an indivisible state and all Iraqis equal regardless of race, religion, and language (1). Therefore, Iraqi citizens at the time did not discriminate against one another and aimed collectively to pursue the constitutional and legislative human rights denied them one way or the other by several previous government administrations.
    The Turkomans and Kurds of Kirkuk have always acknowledged each other’s existence in this strategic area of Iraq. Their disputes, however, arise from claims made by some Kurdish politicians and intellectuals that Turkomans do not constitute a majority of the inhabitants of Kirkuk. By making such a claim, Kurdish leaders hope Kirkuk will be considered a part of the Kurdish area.

    the natural rights of any individual or community are independent of political power or population size. This is in accordance with the International Declaration of Human Rights and the aforementioned Iraqi constitution–which was followed by a temporary constitution upholding the same principles. The Kurds in general have ignored this concept and so have some Turkoman intellectuals. Even as reported by Kurdish writers who greatly underestimate the size of the Turkoman population in Kirkuk, the size of the Turkoman community in this city exceeds that of some nations in the Arabian Gulf, Europe and Africa.

    The Ethnic Reality of the Kirkuk Area

  67. observer said

    Salah, I would respond, but i really do not understand what you are saying. Nugh said.
    Ali W. You are sectarian and you do not deny it. At least you are truthful in this matter. I would not be surprised if you turn up in Baghdad and in a few years you will change your tunes, but I fear it will be too late to fix Iraq by then.
    Muhammad, you do not need to point out the flaws of Allawi for me. He is, however, the least flawed. I lie Adel Mahdi myself and think that he can be a good leader and I do not dislike his emphasis on decentralization… so he is better than Maliki or Da3wa in my book, if it were not for setting a bad constitutional precedence. Be that as it may, I am telling you that in seven years of meetings in Mudhiefs and Diwanias in the south and Baghdad and in houses in Kurdish areas, I have never heard virulent sectarianism like I see diaspora Iraqis espousing. That means both sides, as demonstrated by the “traitors are governing Iraq” brand such as our colleague Salah. Hence, excuse me for not shutting my mouth when I see discussions such as yours and that of Ali W. I am telling you that the Iraqis IN IRAQ are not sectarian (or at least not as sectarian) as the Diaspora. Simple point to make. If you believe it fine. If you do not believe, it is fine too.
    Faisal, I have not had the chance to visit Anbar for a while. Let me tell you, however, that I know many Dulaimis, G3woods, 3anies and Rawa people in Baghdad and I can not think of a single time when one of them spoke in sectarian terms in my presence. Maybe that is because they are polite and did not want to insult my senses. That there are tense relationships at this point in time, is not a surprise. But to claim that the Iraqis inside Iraq are consumed by sectarian issues is a misnomer. Just review the marriage certificate statistics and you will see that mixed marriages are on the rise again (in baghdad at least, where there is a mix). I have heard sectarian talking Mudhiefs in the south but no where in the terms that are expressed by supposedly educated iraqis like our friend Ali W. here.

  68. Kermanshahi said

    Salah, Turkmens are not a majority in Kerkuk city, nor does their population have any significant size. The reason the ITF only get’s 80 thousand votes is because there are only about 300,000 Turkmens in Iraq, not all of them win Kerkuk. But there are over half-a-milion Kurds in the province. The Turkmens are insignificant and they have no power, they only make a lot of noise.
    The dispute here is between the Kurds, all of which view Kerkuk as their rightfull capital, and nationalist Arabs (since some of the religious parties are not opposed to the Kurds in Kerkuk) which want to exploit the city’s oil.

  69. Salah said

    Although my replay taken your space causing some unnecessary talk here but I found it it’s really injustices that you keep omitting some of my comments regarding very personal attack on me.
    I hope you let this go this time and this lat time I will replay to those nonsense that keep jumps to personal attacks for no reason just because my views different from them and its far from their ilk or lovers.
    Anyway, reading from distance, I have feeling this folk calling himself here as “ observer starting his comment by attacking me personally with others just because we differ from his views calling himself falsely by claiming he is NOT Sectarian folk.
    I my be wrong here in this, my felling this man he is a “NON Arabic Speaker” most probably US/UK citizen who leaned to speak Arabic, now living inside Iraq, trying to express his views about Iraq’s sectarian statues, he forgot that as an Iraqi who lived and born in Hilla (منطقة الجامعين) in Iraq living between Iraqis and grown up between Iraqis when there is not such sectarian statues existed, during early days of teenage in 1960s when Iraqi people living making friendship and relations without looking to their religious sect or religions. In those days you can find more than sect. and religion in the same street all loving neighbourhood sharing their feelings and their life, during the primary school then high school up to the universities it was very shameful mentioning this matter and its very impolite to talk in matter of call or asking any one what his sect.

    Now this stranger observer coming to teach here what now in Iraq happing while every Iraqi knew well this matter came with the invaders and the occupier aftermath jointly with those puppets who came with them.
    I repeat my stance again here there in no in human history people prized any occupier of their land and they welcoming them only in our life time which Iraq after 2003.

    The funny thing to remind you here , same folks/Mullah who were in exile they claims that the tyrant was a US poppet they came to Iraq and they done same as what he done before when he jump to the power, but these days they pride themselves been US poppet what a shame….
    Hope Reidar Not going to ban me or ban this replay.

  70. Reidar Visser said

    Salah, I cannot possibly publish every comment you make because much of it is not even tangentially related to the main subject of the posts in question. I publish them when the relevance is clear. Note also that you have already posted 5 – five – comments on this particular post, which is more than anyone else. I have a responsibility towards the wider readership in terms of trying to keep the comments relevant; if they are not they will not be published whoever the author may be.

    Also, your “feelings” regarding Observer are totally unfounded. I can confirm that he is an Iraqi who writes from Iraq.

  71. May I defend Salah?

    I do not always fully comprehend Salah’s comments here – though he makes every effort to be understood in a language that is not his own – but I have not seen anything I would describe as being sectarian in his comments, either here or elsewhere. What I do see is some harsh condemnation of groups and individuals based on Iraq’s political past and present. And that, I think, is fair game.

    One of the great successes of the exile groups has been to establish a belief – both internally and in their international messaging – that their oppression in Iraq was based on their ethnicity or sect. And there may sometimes be some truth to that. However, to deny, overlook or fail to mention that an attempt – whether politically or by force – to overthrow a dictatorship is sure to get you in trouble, has not only been deceiving to their external champions but has also become a highly destructive act of self-deception for which too many have paid with their lives.

  72. Mohammed said

    Steve and Observer:

    I plead guilty. I was born in Iraq, but I have lived outside of Iraq for a majority of my life. I can’t complain about living a horrible live. I have attained the highest degrees from the greatest academic institutions.

    When my father came to America (along the great majority of ‘exiles’ or diaspora), we were not members of any political groups nor have we ever been members of political groups. We chose not to return to Iraq under Baathist rule, not because we had some campaign to undermine Baathism, but because, pure and simple, Baathist Iraq was a brutal police state where all the freedoms we enjoyed in the west would be gone in one second. By law, criticism of Saddam was enough to have your head chopped off. Why should any human being (sunni, shia, kurd, christian) have to live in fear for expressing their ideas? That is what Baathism gave us.

    Now, thanksfully, Saddam is in the grave (along with some of his inner circle). However, the threat of Baathism lives on in the names of people like Nujaifi, Mutlaq (who called the baath party the best party to ever rule iraq), and others. Never once have I said that “all sunnis are responsible for the atrocities of Saddam” as Observer has implied. You seem like an intelligent man Observer, please read carefully. I have a shiite uncle who was a prominent baathist officer, and he fled to Syria, and cried the day they hung Saddam. Eventhough he is my uncle, I find his view morally repugnant because he knows damn well the crimes Saddam inflicted upon our people.

    My uncle voted for Allawi because he knows in Allawi’s Iraq, there would be a place for somebody like him. And that is precisely why, I and a great majority of Iraqis DID NOT VOTE FOR IRAQIYA. Those who voted for al-Maliki, INA did so not just out of admiration for those parties, but probably more so out of a real fear for what Iraqiya would bring back to Iraq. I have said it before, and I will say it again, if you are a shiite or a sunni, and you STILL think that the Baath party was a great party, I seriously doubt your judgment (you are free to have it), and I dont want your hands on the levers of power.

    Maliki is also flawed. But in the end, he has left Iraq better than when he took over. He showed tough leadership when everybody else just bickered, and crushed the Sadrists and Al-Qaeda. He allowed for free and fair elections (although the de-baathification process was illegal as Reidar has pointed out)..And I think the oil deals they signed were good, and good and in the interests of Iraq. So I think he is the least flawed candidate as opposed to Allawi. In the end, it will either be somebody from INA (I would still take Adel Abdul Mahdi over Allawi), or Maliki will step down and allow for somebody else from State of Law to emerge. That the other crooked parties in Iraq do not trust al-Maliki means nothing to me. These are not honorable politicians that I would use as the yardstick to measure trustworthiness by.

    None of my sunni relatives in Baghdad liked al-Maliki (even before the de-baathification fiasco). It would have been nice for Iraqiya and SOL to work together so that sunnis feel that they have representation. But, no political party is willing to put the security, intelligence, and military forces in the hands of Iraqiya, and Allawi does not want to play second fiddle to Al-Maliki, thus INA looks like they will win out.

    Observer, you don’t like for people to generalize about sectarian leanings, etc. But I think you need to be realistic. Politics is local. You have to model how the “typical” voter thinks and acts to win an election, not look for the exception to the rule. No matter what al-Maliki does, he would not have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning Mosul in an election. It would be like somebody named Barrack Hussein Obama winning in the state of Idaho. We have family friends from Mosul, and they are very nice people, but they are not going to vote for a religious shiite party no matter what you or I say.

    You can call me a zealot. I am only zealous about not wanting Baathists (or neo-baathists or baathist sympathizers) to rule iraq (whether they are sunni or shia or christian). I am a believer in reconciliation. If Iraqis did serve in the baath party under Saddam (whether sunnis or shia), I realize the vast majority were just trying to earn a living, and are not bad people. I want them to have a place in the new Iraq. But, former baathists need to come to grips with the crimes of the Baath party and not glorify it. Everybody deserves a second chance, but not those who would work to reinstate the police state of Baathism. So, my litmus test is not whether you are sunni or shia, but rather what is your vision for the new Iraq? Baathist-free or bring-the baath back? Iraqiya seems to be loaded with latter types of politicians.

  73. observer said

    I just came back form a long meeting and I do not have the time or patience to respond point for point. I will, therefore, have to generalize.

    It seems that you (more or less) agree with my analysis that diaspora Iraqis are more sectarian than those Iraqis that chose to stay (unlike you, your father, and myself). So essentially, my core point, which is based on interactions with fellow Iraqis, be they she3a, sunna, kurds, agnostic, or otherwise (in Arabic, ;)) stands .

    Now to respond to your other points.
    Your uncle is not a single example, there are more than 2 million Baathis who fear the new order. Be they committed baathis or by name only, the end result is the same for them. they fear being isolated in a future Iraq because of their past. malii and SCIRI did not do themselves any favors by re-igniting the De Baathification fire. In fact, if anything, it helped Iaiqyya in gaining more votes than SLA, and as such the process backfired in the face of the Islamic She3a ( not that I am loosing any sleep over that particular outcome).

    As for the toughness of Maliki – I urge yo to review the press clippings form early 2007 and you will see that he had no alternatives but to take on Sadrists in Basrah. By the way, this did not help him in the ling run. Look up hte press reports about the divisions between Sadrists and 3assaib al alhaq and you will know what I mean.

    Advocate all you an for Maliki, but he is DEAD. Politically, anyway. Many (in Iraq) view Da3wa as a the other side of Baath. Yu may not like this, but i am sorry to tell you that from the ground, there is no difference. You an go the route of Salah and proclaim me to be a British and/or American agent who learned to speak Iraqi arabic without being detected, but I assure you that I speak the dialect of the south and Baghdad. My Kurdish is rustic at best, but fortunately, the older generation still speaks Arabic and English can be a good medium. Let me tell you based on my discussions, that Iraqis inside have no fear that Iraqyyya will bring the Baath back as all know that Baath can not be brought back even with guns. Recall that Assab Al Haq has better arms than the Iraqi army!!.
    Good night.

  74. Salah said


    I think you missed my point you wrote city of Kirkuk occupied by two ethics which Kurds the second one you named was “Nationalists Arab” this isn’t ethnic in my view as you call them?.

    My replay to correct your statement that Kurd, Arab, and Turkmen and other very small minorities are existed in this city historically.

    There are many counts done from early days from Othman empire to British and during 20s all showing that Turkmen were there, the number varied some they stating due to different political statues or for political reasons the number of Turkmen downgraded in this city.

    Anyway if as you said Kurd the majority that not give them full right and granted this city be theirs, keep in mind the Kurds political elites using their claims to gain as much as they do to fragmented Iraq, if you look from 1991 till now they trying to duplicate the creation of Israeli style statehood argument, the biggest one they asking that Halabja case (which some put 5000-8000 Kurds killed) to be regarded as Holocots?

  75. Kermanshahi said

    It’s not that it’s inhabited by two ethnicities, Kurds and Arab Nationalists, but it’s disptued by two different groups, the Kurds, who all of their political representatives are united in the view Kerkuk is theirs and Arab Nationalist parties which still claim Kerkuk as Arab. The city is not disptued by Kurds and Arabs in general, because there are also Arab political parties, mostly the Muslim ones, which are willing to give concessions with the Kurds.

    The Turkmens came to the city under the Ottoman occupation. That prior to the urbanisation the majority inside this city (located in the Middle of a Kurdish region) was Turk, because Turks were the rulers at the time, doesn’t give them any right to claim the city today, specially sicne their population both in Kerkuk and Iraq in general is so small, they deserve to have their cultural rights (rights their Turkish brothers in Anatolia, refuse to give to any minority) but they cannot have any region or any control, though if they elect moderate politicians (rather than facists) they can be included in local governments and even national government.

    The comparison of Kurds and Israel is a completely wrong and completely unbased one. Infact the Kurds are much more comparable with the Palestinians, stateless and opressed fighting for their own state. Meanwhile the Israelis are the occupiers and the ones doing all the killing (like the killing Saddam did) and who use ethnic cleansing to create “disptued areas” in the West Bank and Jerusalem, just like what Saddam did in Kerkuk and both had American/British support while they were at it.

    And no-one is calling Halabja “the Holocaust” (which is the name of Hitler’s genocide on Jews) but it is a genocide and it should be recognised as one. Genocide is the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group. And that is just what Saddam did with his al-Anfal campaign, which included the Halabja attack (which on it’s own killed more Kurds than Israel killed Palestinians in the last 20 years).

  76. Reidar Visser said

    Kermanshahi, your jurisprudence is simply stunning and is up there with that of Messrs Chalabi and Lami in its innovative twists and turns:

    “They deserve to have their cultural rights (rights their Turkish brothers in Anatolia, refuse to give to any minority) but they cannot have any region or any control, though if they elect moderate politicians (rather than facists) they can be included in local governments and even national government.”

    Federalism in the Iraqi constitution is governorate-based as far as I can remember…

  77. Kermanshahi said

    You say government based Reidar, there is not a single governorate in Iraq where Turkmens make up more than just a few percent. So how can they have any federal region? I know you have seen this map: of the “Turkmen region” which the Turkish military junta aswell as it’s Iraqi counterpart the ITF has been promoting. It’s not governorate based, neither is it population based.

    The only way such a state can be established is if… Armenian genocide (1914-1918), Assyrian genocide(1914-1918), ethnic cleansing of Eastern Greece (1921-1923), ethnic cleansing of Western Armenia (1921-1923), Dersim genocide (1937-1938), ethnic cleansing of Northern Cyprus (1974) … I don’t think you want this, I don’t Iraqis want this, I don’t think this is good for anyone, that’s why I say, Turkmens better not vote for the ITF cause this is the kind of party which no-one should like to cooperate with (facist). There are other Turkmen parties, vote for them, cause facism should be rejected by everyone.

  78. Salah said

    Arab Nationalists,

    I think by keep saying the above statement looks you’re more ignorant and putting more nonsense here. Using this term means and used more political term than ethnic means or related matter.

    It’s ARAB & KURD and Turkmen you like it or not that your problems.

    as of Kurds/ Israeli read my comment gain, I did not defend these claims I do agree its rubbish to say so these were well published in Kurd news media and from time to time comes up, specially That Israelis now are more free to move and work with Kurds leaders for their benefits and making more troubled Iraq as it was in old days the relations between Kurd & Mosad .

  79. Reidar Visser said

    Kermanshahi, I’m just making the point that like other Kirkuklis they can vote for a uni-governorate federal region for example if they prefer this.

  80. exile - iraqi / gilgamesh x said

    I have followed your discussion and it is quite interestin.

    First of all, I would like to say that Secterianism always existed and didn’t exist at the same time. This paradoxon should explain why Iraqis at the populace hardly felt secterianism, but why sects politically play a role. Secterianism existed at the helm of the state and because most of Iraq’s history was full of foreign rulers, those rulers took their crew from the segment of Iraqi populace that was supposed to be close to those rulers.

    My best proof of Iraqi unity is the Iraqi dialect. It is our unique feature and, as I read, Iraq is the land of aku and maku. This hoax of Arab Nationalism, well we do not share a common history with Morrocco or Yemen or Egypt. Our neighbors were Non-Arabic Turkey and Iran, be it good or bad.

    Iraqi muslims should also start to see the non-islamic Secterianism inside Iraq, meaning the marginalization of Christians and Mandeans, just to speak from the Non-Kurdish parts or the sad history of Iraqi jews. This is especially saddening because, in my view, most of Iraq’s muslims can trace back their ancestry and their religious views to pre-Islamic times. In other words, if a Babylonian would travel to Iraq with a time machine and return to his time, he could tell: Well, they are crying for someone called Hussein but they cry and weep like we do for Tammuz.

    And al-Jubburi is a Sunni tribe, well, I’ll my hat if they insist on it, after all their name is Aramaic and in Palestine and Libanon a lot of (Christian) people have the name Jabbur.

    Visser is in my view right about Western introduced secterianism and the intelectuals’ role because of false assumptions and comparisons. Iraq is not Lebanon and not Yugoslavia. If you complain about Secterianism in politics, well, then you should bear the fact that even your Iraqi dialect is full of secterianism, because according to Western orientalists, there Sunni Iraqi dialects and Shia Iraqi dialects. So pervasive is this idea of seeing Iraq only in terms of sects.

    This leads us to the main fault of Western Orientalists and the main task of Iraqi intelectuals: to explain why there are those sects and not to take the tradition at face value. Those would not explain anything to us, otherwise we would be confortable with the facts, a condition that doesn’t exist among us.

    My main helping hand is, of course, another Scandinavian orientalist in After reading this book I came to the conclusion that Iraq must have been fully arabized and islamized after the fall of Baghdad by the hands of the Monguls. I also remember reading Shahristani, who wrote before the fall of Bagdad, that in Iraq’s landscape, everyone spoke Aramaic, not Arabic. If this would be right, then all our history needs a re-write and this new edition will explain us how does this sects and splits develop and make us feel a bit more confortable. Also this stupid phrase of al-Hajjaj would just turn out to be a hoax or a fact, reviewed under a new prospective. I thing this would be called some kind of Enlightment for Iraq.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: