Monday, June 08, 2015

Real Iraqi Nationalism is dead

Juan Cole is partly right: the Baath Party's rule in Iraq discredited the idea of a secular nationalism in Iraq. Which leaves Iraqis with little else other than sectarian-based political parties. But the problem with the Arab Nationalism under the Baath Party is that its conception of the state did not encompass non-Arabs like the Kurds. So while Iraq does need a new secular nationalist movement, it cannot be ethnic-based nationalism. It has to be something more like "Nationism," where all ethnic and religious groups within Iraq identify with the Iraqi nation more than their particular ethnicity or sect.

I don't see that happening, however. These type of allegiances seem to work best if there is a perceived threat from some other outsider group. Arab nationalism like Baathism needs a non-Arab foil to get people to rally under its banner. That only worked under Saddam because the Iranians and Kurds were the out group for the Sunni and Shia Arabs could join in common cause against. It is hard to come up with a scenario in which the Sunni and Shia Arabs will join with the mostly Sunni (with some Yazidi) Kurds, along with whoever remains of the mostly Arab Iraqi Christians to forge some new Iraqi national consciousness. What exactly would make them do that? What non-Iraqi threat would cause them to work together for this new identity? (Actually, U.S. occupying forces might have worked as a foil. But the Kurds were not as anti-U.S. as the Arabs were, so it never materialized when the U.S. military still had a lot of "boots on the grounds' in Iraq).

And on a sorta related note, just yesterday I was in D.C., passing a bunch of embassies along 16th Street and I was trying to guess which country it was from the flag flying in front. I passed one that was flying both the Iraq flag and the regional Iraqi Kurdish flag. At the time I guessed it was the Iraqi embassy, but I was surprised that the Shia led government would let the Kurdish flag fly at one of its most important foreign embassies.

This morning I figured out that no, that was not the Iraqi Embassy I passed (the real embassy is on Massachusetts Avenue), it was the quasi-embassy of the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government. The fact that both are in D.C. is another symptom of how fractured that country is.