As sectarian fighting rages in Iraq, several observers have suggested splitting the country into three nations to reflect the dominant ethnic and religious makeup of each area. Mostafa Minawi, Cornell University assistant professor of History and director of the university’s Ottoman and Turkish Studies Initiative, says that such a split will not solve the problems behind the violence.
“An Iraq that is to be divided into three states is no more or less of a ‘natural’ representation of the socio-political realities on the ground than a unified Iraq.
“Imperial powers – British, French and later, American – have always imagined the Middle East to be made up of a number of ethno-religious tribes or nations. When the reality of these imagined tribes or nations did not manifest itself on the ground, the imperial powers often made manifest the division of people by uprooting populations to fit their plan. A similar plan was implemented in Mount Lebanon in 1860, proposed and failed for Mandate Syria during the inter-war period, and enforced in Palestine, all at great cost to local human life and property.
“The three Ottoman provinces which together roughly corresponded to the geographic area of what is now the nation-state of Iraq, and which are often used as an example of what Iraq should have been, were in fact provincial administrative zones and were not a reflection of the religious and ethnic make up of the population. Any claim to the contrary is teleological and misleading.
“The three states proposed – roughly, a Kurdish one in the north, a Sunni one in and middle and a Shi’i one in the south, would require a project of massive uprooting of populations from those groups that happen to live on the wrong side of the border, and resettling them to fit the segregated design. History has shown us that this would not be a solution but would in fact entrench long-term problems.”