Bible Commentator


Rabbi Moshe Reiss


Elections: Part I

“NO MORE SHIITES AFTER TODAY”, read the Arabic words on Saddam’s tanks that rolled into the city of Najaf in 1991. Kanan Makiya thinks the regime was attempting to destroy Najaf's 1,000-year tradition as a center of Shiite learning. Mosques, libraries and seminaries were destroyed, ancient treasures were looted and monumental tombs were flattened. Anyone in a turban, the habit of a Shiite cleric, risked being executed (‘Republic of Fear’).

Prior to invading Kuwait Saddam had attacked his neighbor Iran and more than a million deaths resulted. Saddam used chemical weapons in that war as well as on its own people. In the first Gulf War Iraq was invaded with the approval of the United Nations, sanctioned and limited in his armament capabilities by U.N. resolutions. He was inspected by the U.N. inspectors, expelled them, let them back in, and he hid various secrets from them.

President George Bush accused Saddam of being involved in September 11 and having WMD’s. Bush was wrong about both, whether Bush was lying or not I cannot say. I do not believe politicians, even ‘born agains’ think lying is a sin. Saddam was an Orwellian totalitarian dictator who deported millions, tortured and murdered hundred of thousands of his own people solely to retain his own power. And his removal from office can be viewed as a humanitarian need like Darfur. The International community which opposed the war also has done little to help the people of Darfur. In fact Michael Howard, the Conservative Party leader in Britain who backed the war has stated that had he known Iraq was ‘only’ a humanitarian disaster like Darfur he would not have backed it. Tony Blair’s own Labour party was divided and without Michael Howard he might have lost the Parliamentary vote. While Blair based his going to war on the WMD’s, he did say in front of his own Parliament that there was a humanitarian reason for invading Iraq. When asked about Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe) Blair responded “Yes, let’s get rid of them all. I don’t because I can’t, but when you can, you should.” It is clear that Bush had the same thought, America invaded Iraq because it could. That it clearly miscalculated we shall shortly see.

Regime change given the January 30 elections apparently mattered to the

people of Iraq; eight and a half million voted in the face of death threats. In that election the voters elected members of a constitutional assembly with anonymous names for fear of assassination, despite being protected by the most powerful nation on earth. Given the Jihadist attacks, these anonymous names need to be the Arabic version of James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson - to create a viable constitution to rule the U.S. It is worth noting that nearly half the men who signed the American Declaration of Independence had seminary training (Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, ‘A Patriot's History of the United States’). Even the American constitution and the government it created ended up with a very deadly civil war.

A young Iraqi man whose mother is Shiite and father Sunni criticizing his parents acceptance of Saddam Hussein and said of the January 30 vote in Iraq “let the men and women die (trying to vote) in order to give new life to the kids” (Wall Street Journal Jan. 31, 2005).

The Shi’a parties attained a majority in the assembly seats, 140 out of 250, the Kurdish parties 70 and the former Prime Minister Ayad Allayi’s secular list 20, the remaining 20 are among several parties. The first act of this assembly was to elect a Presidential Council consisting of a President and two Vice Presidents. It took two months to accomplish that task. This Council required the approval of a two third vote, all other legislation including the make up of the Government, its Prime Minister and other Ministers and the Constitution itself require a majority vote. Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari was appointed; it took almost another month until a government with Ministers has finally been approved, due to further political infighting.

The President is Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, the two Vice Presidents elected are Shi'ite Adel Abdul Mahdi and Sunni Ghazi al-Yawar. They constitute the Presidential Council. They appointed the Shi’ite leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari as Prime Minister, he was approved and he appointed 37 Ministers approved by the members of the Assembly on April 27 (Saddam’s birthday); 32 named and 5 anonymous. As expected the Ministers represent the major ethnic groups, 17 Shi’a, 8 Kurd, 6 Sunni, 1 Christian and I Turkman and include 7 women. The assembly vote was almost unanimous 180 out of185 votes. But what happened to the remaining 90 members; one was killed that morning and the other 89 apparently were afraid as a result of the insurgency afraid to attend.

On May 8 the anonymous were named; four were Sunnis. Hashim al-Shibli  selected as the Sunni Minister for Human Rights, resigned after being voted in by the Assembly. He said, remarkably that he did not want to be chosen on ethnic grounds. He wants the government to be chosen on merit.

The makeup of the Assembly and the Government tells us much. There is a ‘desire’ to have an inclusive government. The Shi’a parties attained a majority in the assembly seats and the Kurdish parties about 30%. The Sunni’s boycotting the elections as group; there are 17 members who are of the Sunni sect. The attempt at inclusiveness can be seen by a appointing one of the two Vice Presidents, the Speaker of the Assembly; a Deputy Prime Minister and the Ministry of Defense (one of the four critical ministries, Foreign Affairs, Interior and Finance) have been reserved for them. Given the lack of any Sunni political party and only seven percent of the member’s being Sunnis that may be the best that can be expected.  Yet the reason the Sunni members have not been named is the lack of satisfaction and feelings of marginalization by the Sunni. The new Sunni Vice President al Yawir is allegedly ‘not representative’ because he is an exile as is the new (and previous) Prime Minister and only elected by his tribe.  

Women were guaranteed one third of the seats in the new assembly by the interim constitution (TAL); they have 31% of the membership. Of the 36 members of the new government (chosen or reserved) six are women. Three are Kurds of their eight members, one Christian, one Sunni and only one Shi’a, who have more that 50% of the membership. This does not bode well for women especially if Sharia law is included in the constitution even as only one of the basis.   How would President Talabani wife Hero, a major women rights activist in Kurdistan react to Sharia law?  The head of the Constitution Committee of 101 members is a Shi’a cleric Hummam Hammoudi with two deputies, one Sunni and one Kurd. He has agreed to have 15 Sunni’s as members.

The proposed constitution needs to be completed by August 15 (less than two months from now) and a referendum thirty days later; and then new elections for a new Parliament sixty days after that. The entire schedule can be postponed and probably will, for six months. It took the Americans thirteen years to write its constitution.

The proposed constitution needs the approval of at least 17 of the 19 provinces by a two third vote in each province. Depending on the actual proposed constitution will the three of the four predominately Kurdish provinces vote ‘yes’ when ‘no’ might grant them more power, possibly even independence? At the same time as the January 30 election in the Kurd provinces a referendum was held on whether to remain part of Iraq or become independent; 97% of the two million voters elected for independence. Will three of the six predominately Sunni provinces vote ‘yes’ when ‘no’ might bring them more power? Would voting ‘no’ by the Shiites and the Kurds allow them to escape from the Jihadist insurgency?  

The Kurds represent approximately 20% of the population, the Sunnis another 20% and the Shi’as 60%. It is likely that five states will be created under the new Constitution; three for the Shia, one Kurd and one Sunni including Baghdad as the capital of Iraq.


"Our past is sad. Our present is a catastrophe.  Fortunately, we don't have a future” (quoted by Hineer Saleem from his grandfather). Things have changed from Saleem’s grandfather’s day.

Since the Gulf War and the U.S. and Britain imposed ‘no fly zones’ the Kurds have been running an independent entity they refer to as ‘Southern Kudistan’; the majority of the Kurdistan people live is in Southern Turkey (as many as possibly 12 million Kurds), Western Syria (1.5 million) and Northwestern Iran (as many as 8 million) for a total population of twenty five – thirty five million. That is their obvious problem. They have been militarily and violently oppressed by all four countries including Iraq.

The key to this problem is the city of Kirkur.  Currently Kirkur with a population close to one million is like East and West Jerusalem with three parts (Kurds, Arabs and Turks) each passionate about their rights. Kurdish leaders call Kirkuk their Jerusalem.

On election day, a rocket landed near the Ahmed home decapitating a 16-year-old named Yusef. "We are willing to pay with our blood, like water on the floor, because Kirkuk is a Kurdish city and should stay part of Kurdistan," said Yusef's mother, her husband Sabrir Kareem Muhammad kissed a photo of their son. In council elections in Kirkur the Kurds won 26 out of 41 seats.

Half the population of Kurds, growing up since 1991 do not speak Arabic or identify with the Iraqi state, favor outright independence, and their leaders worry that if the new system did not preserve their autonomy, these demands might grow.

Independent sources confirm that 120,000 Kurds were forced north out of Kirkur and Arabs installed in their homes and neighborhoods. Human Rights Watch has called the Arabization of Kirkur, the ethnic cleansing of the Kurds (March 2003).  The Kurds are creating ‘facts on the ground’ bringing Kurds back into Kirkur and dealing with the ’settlers’, interesting terminology to one who resides in Israel.

The Kurdish leaders will demand Kirkuk and its oil revenue – 40% of Iraq’s reserves.  Can they achieve that? PUK's leader Jalal Talabani has become the President of Iraq’s Provisional government; his role is to protect Kurdistan. Will he have the power to draw the lines of the Kudistan State so as to include Kirkur?


The Shi’a won 50% of the votes and have 140 seats of the 250 member Assembly, a majority, but insufficient to have the referendum on the Constitution approved. Will the Shi’a provinces approve by a two third vote in each province the new constitution? The Shia provinces have the political-religious leadership and can create a policing/military power but they cannot have the constitution approved unless both the Kurdish and Sunni provinces agree.

Will the Shia insist of Sharia law? The key to this is Aytatollah Sistani.

Despite his adherence to his "quietist" version of Shi'ism as demonstrated

during the election and its aftermath Sharia law is still likely to be the main source of Iraqi law.


What if a majority of the Shi’tes vote for some aspects of the Islamic Sharia religious laws, such as the very sensitive personal status rules; marriage (including polygamy) and divorce,  inheritance laws and women and family rights? The Kurds would almost certainly oppose those and they need to be satisfied with the constitution; the Sunnis might also oppose them, since Sunni Sharia law is different than Shi’a Sharia law. There are many versions of how to interpret Sharia law. Can Shi’a states be ruled by Sharia and Kurdish states not? Indonesia, the largest Islamic country in the world recognizes the different religious interpretations and allows each province to choose whether to implement Sharia law, which one or accept a civic law. Another example is Nigeria. Muslim states are based on Sharia law and the Christian provinces have a secular legal system. Can this work in Iraq; each State having its own legal system?  


The Sunni power came from Saddam, his tribal family and his hometown Tikrit. The insurgency, possibly the most important problem in the country is supported by the Sunni’s and largely made up by their ethnic group. Only 23% of the Sunni’s feel life is better than under Saddam; compared to 87% of the Shi’a and 95% of the Kurds ((Mansoon Moaddel, Lebanon Daily Star, May 18). The Sunnis are the major political casualty of the war and the Shi’ites and Kurds the winners.

Will the Sunni’s approve the constitution? They clearly made a serious error in boycotting the January 30 election. The elections signified the end of the Sunni hegemony that characterized Iraqi politics since the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1920s. By the massive boycotting the Sunnis proved that had not yet accommodated itself to its loss of power, both ethnically and religiously and have not recognized this power shift.

As a result the Kurds had more power. If the Sunni’s had voted and received say 50 seats (less than the Kurds do to the chaos in the Sunni triangle of the country) it likely that the Shi’a and Kurds would not have the two thirds necessary to elect the Presidential Council. They would have been forced into a coalition with either the Sunni’s or Allayi’s largely secular party.

On May 21, 2005 Sunni leaders met in Baghdad to set a new agenda. They will attempt to have input into the new Shi’ite dominated constitutional committee. Tarik al-Hashimy, leader of the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, one of the conference organizers stated "We're trying to build a concrete coalition for the next election."

If the referendum is disapproved a new election for a new National Assembly will be required and the process starts over again. In this election the Sunni’s will vote and have more power than in the original assembly. Will some Sunni’s develop this as a tactic for rejecting the referendum? It only requires three of the eighteen provinces to reject the constitution for it to fail. Six of the provinces are primarily Sunni and four are primarily Kurd. (Half of the voters are women. If the constitution adopts Sharia law limiting women’s rights will women reject it?

What happens if the constitution is rejected? Given the ethnic conflicts within the country this certainly seems possible, perhaps even likely. Does the whole process become a failure? Do the Kurds 97% of whom already voted for independence opt out and become independent? If that were to happen would the Shi’a opt out? Does Iraq break down into its three ethnic states? The insurgents will certainly see that as a victory.


The invasion of Iraq has had serious consequences for the Iraqi people; the insurgency. One can and should blame the Americans, although the Iraqi’s lives were a horror during the Saddam era. The many mass graves attest to that. The Americans should be blamed for miscalculating what it would take to not only invade, for which they succeeded but also for policing the result. They failed miserably.  Bush did not listen to General Colin Powell when as Secretary of State he said if you break it you are responsible for fixing it. He listened to Rumsfeld and he is responsible for not ‘fixing’ it. Fixing it means security and reconstruction among other factors. The U.S. has spend hundred of billions of dollars ‘breaking’ Iraq. In the fall of 2003 the Congress allocated $18.4 billion for reconstruction. As of June 2005 approximately one billion has been spent of actual reconstruction (Senator Joseph Biden in a speech at the Brookings Institute in June 21, 2005). That is not sufficient to count as ‘fixing it’.

Rumsfeld rejected his own Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinsheki who stated it would take ‘several hundred thousand’ soldiers to occupy Iraq. In addition the U.S. lacks an understanding of the Arab mentality; at the beginning of the war there 6931 German speakers in the Department of Defense, 6723 French speakers, 4194 Russian speakers and only 2864 Arab speakers (Defense Department Science Board).

There is in fact a four prong insurgency: they include Ba’ath remnants partly set up by Saddam before he was overthrown; the al Zarqawi led terrorist group; Iraqi islamicized nationalists (both Sunni and Shi’a including the young Shia Moktada al-Sadr) and criminal gangsters acting as local warlords. Tens of thousands of Iraqi’s have been killed by the insurgents. It may be hard to distinguish between the Ba’ath and the Islamicized insurgents; the latter include both Sunni’s and Shi’ites. One can only speculate as to the different objectives of the groups except for the criminals).

None has stated a clear objective. The Ba’ath and the nationalists want the Sunni’s to have a bigger piece of government power. The Iraqi nationalists specifically want more Sharia law built into the new constitution. The Sunnis make up the thousands of native Iraqis that make up the core of the insurgency. Of the 14,000 detained held by the U.S.  only some 600 are foreign detainees (Anthony Cordesmann, Lebanon, Daily Star July 2). This despite that the suicide bombers are primarily foreign – see below.

The al Zarqawi group is part of the al Qaeda whose overall goal is a re-establishment of the Caliphate. Its purpose is to stop democracy in the Arab world. According to several sources more than half of al Zarqawi’s suicide bombers come from Saudi Arabia, the Islamist capital of the world (Rueven Paz, 61% of 154 names, Evan F. Kohlmann, more than 50% of 235 names and a Washington Post analysis of websites listing the dead suicide bombers, 44% came from Saudi Arabia - Washington Post, May 15). Al Zarqawi is a believer in Saudi Wahhabism.  “Both those who are far away and those who are near acknowledge the truth of the tripartite satanic coalition of heresy and deceit in the land of the two rivers [Mesopotamia]. The first are the Americans who carry the banner of the cross; the second are the Kurds through their Peshmerga forces, under the command of the two collaborators, [Mass'oud Al-] Barazani and [Jalal Al-] Talabani, which are reinforced by Jewish military cadres; the third are the Shi'tes, the Sunnis' enemies, represented by the Army of Treachery, the Badr Corps – the Party of Satan. Beware of [the Shi'a]. Fight them. By God, they lie."

In an audio he stated "The [collateral killing] is justified under the principle of dharura [overriding necessity], due to the fact that it is impossible to avoid them and to distinguish between them and those infidels against whom war is being waged and who are the intended targets. Admittedly, the killing of a number of Muslims whom it is forbidden to kill is undoubtedly a grave evil; however, it is permissible to commit this evil – indeed, it is even required – in order to ward off a greater evil, namely, the evil of suspending Jihad."

Al Zarqawi threatened those who exercise their right to vote in Iraq with death. ‘Enemies of Islam, prepare yourselves and fortify whatever you like, wear as much armor as you can. . . . Our fallen [go to] heaven, and yours - to hell.  While your reinforcements come from the Jews and the Christians, our reinforcements come from the Blessed and Lofty Allah . . . [you] serve the crusaders.’

Al Zarqawi has defined his opposition to democracy. The very core of the democratic governments he noted is a system “based for [the] people [and] by the people’ on the principle that the people are the source and sole sovereignty of all authority. The ‘one who is worshiped and obeyed and deified, from the point of view of legislating and prohibiting, is man, the created, and not Allah . . . He can choose any religion he wants and convert to any religion whenever he wants, even if this apostasy means abandoning the religion of Allah’. A Hadith reported by Al-Bukhari and others: 'Whoever changes his religion, kill him.' It does not say 'leave him alone'.” In his latest web statement he compared democracy to the ‘golden calf’ of the ‘children of Israel’! He has called the Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani as "the devil" and the "imam of apostasy and atheism".

The insurgents operate primarily in the center of the country; the Sunni triangle; and the Sunni’s feel its impact; 77% stated their life has become more dangerous, only 41% of Shi’ites and 17% of Kurds feel the same way (Mansoon Moaddel, Lebanon Daily Star, May 18). More than one of the insurgent groups is antidemocratic and more than one is fundamentalist.

Much of the relationship between these groups and the newly installed government is still in flux and future relations difficult to predict.

The success of the insurgency can be considered to be the result of American incompetence. The American military plan did not predict an insurgency or have a plan to overcome It. Major Isaiah Wilson III recently wrote the official history of the Iraqi war. “There was no   .  .  plan” for occupying Iraq after the combat phase. While a variety of government offices had considered the possible situations that would follow a U.S. victory, no one developed a plan laying out an operational strategy to consolidate the victory after major combat operations ended and the regime collapsed. Since it was clear that Saddam would be defeated that is gross neglect and can only be placed on Donald Rumsfeld’s desk. Wilson continues that the U.S. military lost the dominant position in Iraq in the summer of 2003 and has been scrambling to recover ever since. “In the two to three months of ambiguous transition, U.S. forces slowly lost the momentum and the initiative . . . gained over an off-balanced enemy . . .The United States, its Army and its coalition of the willing have been playing catch-up ever since”.

It was only in November 2003, seven months after the fall of Baghdad, that U.S. occupation authorities produced a formal plan to stabilize operations. “Reluctance in even defining the situation . . . is perhaps the most telling indicator of a collective cognitive dissidence on part of the U.S. Army to recognize a war of rebellion, a people's war, even when they were fighting it,” he comments. Because of this failure, Wilson concludes, the U.S. military remains “perhaps in peril of losing the 'war,' even after supposedly winning it.” Anthony Cordesman, a well known Middle Eastern scholar has estimated it will take years until the insurgency is overcome. The U.S. planned for at least a year the war, it planned for less than a month the peace.

Major Wilson’s report is devastating to U.S. military planning. While there are winners in this war (Iran, Turkey and Israel) America and its prestige are not.

In late May 2005 Despite Vice President Richard Cheney stated  "insurgency was in its last throes". In mid June General John Abizaid, the Centcom chief, had to admit "more foreign fighters [are] coming into Iraq than there were six months ago". Donald Rumsfeld stated that the "throes" were likely to go on for 12 years or until 2017. How many more Americans and Iraqi’s will die in those twelve years? The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has noted in a classified report leaked to the New York Times that Iraq  is breeding the new, lethal generation of jihadis, Is this like the jihadi generation created as a fringe benefit by President Ronald Reagan involvement in the Afghanistan-Soviet Union war?

Does this explain why Republican Congressman Walter B Jones (famed for insisting that the Congressional cafeteria re-label French fries as "freedom fries" on its menu), a man who represents North Carolina's 3rd Congressional District, home to the Marine's Camp LeJeune and who voted enthusiastically for the Iraq War, recently seemed to have changed his mind. Last week he became one of four congressional sponsors of a resolution calling for a timetable for withdrawal. "Do we want to be there 20 years, 30 years?" he asked at a Capitol Hill news conference. "That's why this resolution is so important: We need to take a fresh look at where we are and where we're going."  Another Republican Senator Chuck Hagel (one of only three senators who fought in Vietnam) says, "Things aren't getting better; they're getting worse. The White House is completely disconnected from reality. It's like they're just making it up as they go along. The reality is that we're losing in Iraq." And Republican Senator Mel Martinez pronounces himself "discouraged" by the "lack of progress" in Iraq.

Daniel Ellsberg who leaked the ‘Pentagon Papers’ noted the difference between Vietnam and Iraq.  "In Iraq, it's a dry heat. And the language that none of our troops or diplomats speak is Arabic rather than Vietnamese."

While the President denied withdrawal or timing for such was a possibility could he be wrong?

Clearly problems remain to be resolved. The Iraqi’s may be happy to have been liberated from Saddam, but they are unhappy to be occupied. They are eager to have the occupiers leave, but happy to be protected, even if incompetently by the occupiers.

Part II

The Likely Constitution in the Referendum that Establishes the State of Iraq:

Iraq current border’s was created in London and Paris by drawing a line in the sand. It was part of how Lebanon, Kuwait, Jordan, the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia were all created. There were no natural borders or natural ethnic or religious lines considered. We now have a country less than 100 years old in a neighborhood were the ancient world created writing, where Greek western civilization began and where Abraham the ‘father’ of the three monotheistic religions was born.

Poll after poll in Iraq as to their most important issues list security, jobs and ‘self determination’. The latter does not necessarily mean democratic institutions in the western sense but ‘social democracy’; a level of government involvement greater than practiced in the U.S.

What kind of a country can survive in Iraq; A Unitary State or a Federated state? Given the ethnic lines already hardened as seen through the election results a Unitary state simply will not work. A Federated government is where both the federal government and each state retain certain defined powers. The federated system will have to give some sharing of the police/military and taxing power to both the central and state to be acceptable to the Kurds. The Kurds will demand retaining their own police and military power, they have operated independently since the 1991 Gulf War. They will demand a significant amount of the revenue sharing coming from the oil revenues from Kirkuk. The division of authority and sharing of powers between the central and regional authorities will have to be determined in the constitution.

Recently Mr. Bakr al Yasseen, a secular Shi’ite who has ties to Jalal Talabani, the Iraqi president and Kurd leader, is demanding for the south the same broad powers that the Kurds now have, including an independent parliament, ministries and regional military force. While religious Shiite parties now dominate the national government, many people here fear that the parties may not adequately defend the rights of the south and worry about the rise of another authoritarian government, perhaps a conservative Islamic one. Ahmad Chalabi and Sheik Abdul Kareem al-Muhammadawi, a prominent member of the National Assembly, are planning to propose a regional vote on the question of southern autonomy in October, at the same time as a national referendum on the constitution.

Several other important issues: is Iraq to have a Presidential system or a Parliamentary system; how independent will the Judiciary be; and the role of Islamic law.

The makeup of the Assembly and the Government tells us much. There is an obvious desire to have an inclusive government. The Shi’a parties attained a majority in the assembly seats, 140 out of 250, the Kurdish parties 70 and the former Prime Minister Ayad Allayi’s list 20, the remaining 20 are among several parties. Despite the Sunni’s boycotting the elections as group there are 17 members who are of the Sunni sect. The attempt at inclusiveness can be seen by a appointing one of the two Vice Presidents,

The Speaker of the Assembly; a Deputy Prime Minister and the Ministry of Defense (one of the four critical ministries Foreign Affairs, Interior and Finance) have been reserved for them. Given the lack of any party and only seven percent of the members that would seem like inclusion, even if 20% of the population are Sunni’s.  The reason the Sunni members have not been named is the lack of satisfaction and feelings of marginalization by the Sunni. The new Sunni Vice President al Yawir is allegedly ‘not representative’ because he is an exile as is the new (and previous) Prime Minister and only elected by his tribe.  The Sunni’s who controlled Iraq under Saddam may be seeking more than is possible.

Women were guaranteed one third of the seats in the new assembly by the interim constitution (TAL); they have 31% of the membership. Of the 36 members of the new government (chosen or reserved) six are women. Three are Kurds, of their eight members, one Christian, one Sunni and only one Shi’a, who have more that 50% of the membership. This does bode well for women especially if Sharia law is included in the constitution even as only one of the basis.  

The Committee to draw the constitution was established on May 10 and is composed of 55 members all of the National Assembly: 28 Shi’ites, 15 Kurds, 8 from Allawi’s primarily secular party, and one Turkman, one Christian, one Sunni and one Communist.  It can be expanded.

It is well known that the Kurds are seeking independence. Everyone from the dictatorial Syrians, the clerical dominated Iranians and the Turks who despite their democracy and military power have fought for decades against Kurdish independence. The Kurds would claim as their capital Kirkuk with its oil, 40% of Iraq’s reserves. They would keep their military (called ‘peshmerge’). The Oil income would be divided with the central government and the latter would pay for armed forces. The Iraqi armed forces would be forbidden to enter Kurdistan. Non Kurdish Turkmen have lived there for centuries; the Arab Sunnis were imported by Saddam when he expelled the Kurds.  According Transitional Administrative Law – TAL – this is to be determined after the final constitution is operational and a census taken. The Iraqi electoral commission already allowed 100,000 Kurdish refugees to vote in the elections. Saddam had in his Arabization policy exported 150,000-250,000 Kurds in the early 1990’s. The London daily Al-Hayat called  "Kirkuk is the jewel in the Kurdish throne and a powder keg with respect to the unity of Iraq" (Feb. 4, 2004).

Will the Sunnis accept an Iraq where they are in a minority? Will they fight against the insurgency which is largely Sunni? Or do they feel humiliated, their honor besmirched and feel the need for vengeance and will therefore support the insurgents?  If they do back the insurgents that will increase the Kurds demand for independence.

On June 28, 2005 the Ayatollah Sistani proposed that voters in national elections would select leaders from each of the 19 provinces instead of choosing from a single country-wide list, as they did in January. The new system would essentially set aside a number of seats for Sunnis roughly proportionate to their numbers in the population, ensuring that no matter how low the Sunni turnout, they would be guaranteed seats.

The Shia would seek a federal State with most powers remaining with the central government, but they cannot achieve that. Both the Kurds and the Sunnis have the power of Provincial votes to prevent that happening.

Thus the only conceivable state is a Federal government.

No one is suggesting that Iraq will become a liberal democracy any time soon. Anyone who thinks that is simply naïve. It is the victimized Shi’ites and the independent Kurds who won the elections; the few liberals, all secular minded, have not done as well. The Kurds will ally themselves with the Shi’ites’ how much autonomy will they demand; would it border on independence?

Given that the constitution needs to be ready for a referendum by February 15 (assuming the current dates are postponed by six months as allowed in the TAL not much time for these antagonistic and fractured parties to agree on a state. If the referendum is rejected the whole procedure begins anew: a new National Assembly, a new Provisional government, a new committee and a new constitution to go to a referendum.

Will Iraq’s ethnic grouping, the Shi’a, Sunni and the Kurds  fragment into a civil war? Will Turkey or Iran interfere openly or covertly into Iraq’s fragmentation?


The dream of independence may come true for the Kurds of Iraq -- making Kirkuk an official part of Northern Kurdistan -- is a nightmare for the Turkish government. From Ankara's perspective the creation of a Kurdish state in their northern neighbor with Kirkuk as its capital would serve as a magnet for Turkey's own Kurdish population which may be between 6-10 million persons. (The number of Kurds in any of the countries is very difficult to know since they are fearful of census takers.)

While Turkey may be at the mercy of forces beyond its control, its military power is anchoring its strategy to the political process in Baghdad and, as part of that, a peaceful solution to the Kirkuk question. However public pressures resulting from Ankara's manipulation of the Iraqi Turkoman question and the limited but existent deployment of Turkish troops on Iraqi soil could create a dynamic of their own, possibly precipitating military intervention over Kirkuk. Could Turkey make a preemptive strike into northern Iraq to prevent the rise of an independent Kurdish – it is certainly possible. Turkey interest to obtaining membership in the EU may mellow their concern about the Kurds. In addition they may consider as positive  the potential use of the oil in Kirkuk.


Iran is the biggest danger to Iraq. If they attempt to convert Iraq into their active form of Shi’ism a civil war of immense danger lies ahead. No one seems clear on the role the Iranian Mullahs will play. Do they want a stable Iraq controlled by a very different kind of Ayatollah? Will the quietism of the Ayatollah Sistani have a positive or negative impact of the politically active Iranian Ayatollahs?

The Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini developed the idea of the ‘Guardianship of the Jurist’ (velayat e faqih) – the spiritual and temporal leader of the People. This view was a revolutionary idea developed by Khomeini known as the ‘Imam.  This assumes he is the successor to the twelfth Imam. According to A. Sachedina (a noted Shi’ite scholar) he heard many times the expression in Iran after the Revolution ‘There were three idol breakers, Abraham, Muhammad and Khomeini’. In the Iranian-Iraqi war Khomeini developed a ‘theology of death’ associated with martyrdom.  

The Shi’ite modern version of Islamic martyrdom - suicide bombing - can be attributed to the Ayatollah Khomeini. He elaborated on the Shi’ite tradition using the Qur’anic term ‘mustazafin’ – the weak, the disinherited and the enfeebled who in Christian language will inherit the earth. They became the leaders of his revolution. During the Iraq-Iran war (1980-1988) he convinced ten of thousands of defenseless boys and teenagers to go through fields mined by the Iraqi’s to die yelling ‘Ya Hussein’. There deaths became a form of redemption earned through works – the works being death by suicide/martyrdom. The insurgency using suicide bombing took these tactic indirectly from Iran.   

An additional problem is the four to six million Kurds in Iran. They as in Saddam’s Iraq and in Syria have their basic rights and language oppressed. They are not Shi’a and thus considered ‘infidels’ by the Ayatollah’s. They live in the Kurdish border next to Iraq and Turkey. The Kurds in four countries make up a perhaps 20 million population, a sizable country.

They Iranian Kurds rebelled in 1979-1982 and were crushed by the clerical regime. They do have members in the Parliament, but they are part of the Reformer movement which has itself been crushed by the Clerics in recent years. The Kurds are the largest challenge to Iran stability. In Iran they are considered an Arab influence as against the Persians.


Less known are the 1.5 million Kurds in Eastern Syria next door to Southern Kurdistan, 10% of the population. They are also an oppressed minority, lacking basic rights – the citizenship of 300,000 was striped in 1962 – they are forbidden to speak their own language. In 2004 an insurrection of the Syrian Kurds was crushed causing an unknown number of casualties. But there have been, at times, good relations between Syria and the Kurds.   The PUK whose leader Talabani is now the president of Iraq was founded in Syria (1975).  Syria's Grand Mufti Ahmad Kaftaro, the highest Muslim authority in Syria, from 1966 until his death in 2004, was a Damascene Kurd.

What is as is likely the insurgency is not contained soon how long will the U.S. stay in Iraq? The U.S. troops remain in Europe sixty years after WWII and fifteen years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is clear that America cannot afford a to leave Iraq to be overtaken by the Jihadists, That would allow for a Jihadist insurgency in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf states.

Can we evaluate the long term results in Iraq? As Zhou En Lai, the Chinese prime minister in the 1970’s said when asked about the results of the French revolution of 1789 “it is too early to say”.

By Khaled al Kishtayni born in Iraq:

As a boy I loved to wander down Al-Rashid Street and through the Christian and Jewish quarters there. [One day] I found myself in the Hanoun market in the Jewish quarter. Suddenly a door opened, and an elderly white-haired man with a long white beard came out.


He raised his hand towards me and beckoned me to come to him. I was overcome by fear, but could not fight the magic in his fingertips, which drew him towards him like a magnet. He opened the door, and told me to go in. I could not disobey, and he led me in with his hand. I began to ask myself whether this was my end. I wished I had not entered! Why couldn't I escape and run back to my family?


He asked me what my name was, and I answered “Khaled”. He said: “Wonder of wonders, [like the name of the Muslim commander] Khaled bin Al-Walid. And where do you live? And how old are you?” I said to myself: “He is asking how old I am in order to be sure my blood is suitable for the deed. He placed his hand on my head and asked: 'Khaled my son, do you know how to light a fire?' Another wave of terror swept over me. Would he cook me over a fire? He said: 'Show me how you light the fire in the stove.' I took a match, and lit the stove with shaking hand’.”


“This man, one of the people of the Torah, the Talmud, and the Mishna, kissed me on the head and led me to a room with an antique cupboard. He opened one of the drawers, took out a handful of chocolate, and filled my pockets. He led me, completely amazed, to the door, opened the door, and bid farewell, blessing me, wishing me a long life, and adding: 'Give regards to your father.”


I left, astounded, and hurried home like somebody who has awakened from a strange dream. I told the story to my father and brothers, and they laughed at me, and said: “It is the Sabbath. The Jews are forbidden to light fire on the Sabbath. The poor old man was thirsty for a cup of tea.”


We shared the chocolate, and I spent the rest of the week counting the days until the Sabbath, and then until the Sabbath after that and the one after that. Every Sabbath I went to that same alley, hoping that the white-haired old man would open the door and that I would light his fire, and he would fill my pockets with chocolate. But the door never opened again, and those ancient features, from Biblical times, did not reappear. Recently I have been thinking about knocking on the door and asking: “My uncle, Abu Sasson, do you need anybody to light your fire?” (MEMRI, April 5, 2005)