The Corner

Nation-Building in Iraq

Something George Will wrote in his column on Iraq today — that the bomb at the Askariya shrine in Samarra “seems to have blown them [Iraqis] together, ruinously, into furious Sunni and Shiite blocs” — helped clarify something for me. Our efforts at nation-building in Iraq are working, it’s just that we’re midwifing the birth of three separate nations — Kurds, Sunni Arabs, and Shiite Arabs. Those groupings obviously existed before, but neither they nor “Iraq” were nations yet in the modern sense — and our occupation has fostered the evolution of the pre-modern sectarian groupings into real national communities. The Kurds of course are farthest along, having begun the process in earnest because of the depradations of Saddam and the Turks; the Shiites are catching up; and defeat and usurpation have helped the Sunnis begin to develop a national identity distinct from other Arabs (perhaps like defeat in the Boer War helped weld together an Afrikaner national identity). And since democracy is not sustainable without nationalism, it could be that our invasion and occupation really are helping to lay the preconditions for democracy, albeit for three separate nations. I’m not trying to be cute here — the sooner we understand what’s actually happening in the minds of the people, the more likely we are to fashion workable policy. The corrollary for me is that the establishment of democracy requires that we allow Iraq to break up into three separate states.

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