Iraq is failing – It’s time to cut loose

As the violent protests in Iraq continue, cracked down on by government forces, it seems increasingly difficult to see a way out for the country that does not involve a three-state solution. The protests have a wide variety of factors influencing them, from economic hardship and limited opportunities to Shia/Sunni conflict, but it seems hard to think of a way to resolve the seemingly endless discontent without either the splitting of Iraq or the kind of state-authorized violence that has marred it in the past.

Iraq’s police and security services claim to be in control of the protests that are sweeping the country, yet it seems impossible for this to be true when so many of the factors fueling them remain unresolved. One basic issue is economic: Every child born in Iraq today starts life the equivalent of £2,300 in debt, thanks to an Iraqi national debt of more than £93.6 million. This debt comes in spite of the region’s oil wealth, thanks to heavy borrowing for infrastructure rebuilding and military spending.

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Of course, these are not the economics that show on the ground. Those manifest themselves in the rolling blackouts that should never occur with such oil wealth, in a lack of job opportunities for young people, and in a surprising influence of Iranian companies within the Iraqi marketplace when Iraqi ones are not in a position to compete.

These economic signs are combined with a strong sense of the corruption of government institutions within Iraq, so that by now almost every foreign diplomat within the country must be aware of “the way things are done” within government circles. There remains a worrying lack of distinction between public and private funds, a tendency for projects to go to those with the most influence, and an overall system that is closed to the potential for change.

Then there are the Sunni/Shia divisions within the country. Elections have produced a Shia majority in the Baghdad government, prompting fears from those in Iraq’s southernmost regions that they are effectively excluded from any influence on the future of the country. There are those among the protesters who claim Iraq is now essentially a vassal state of Iran, while the government counters by accusing all those involved in the protest of being in the pocket of Islamic State, wanting to fuel a fresh round of violence in the Middle East.

In this charged political environment, it seems the time might finally have come for Kurdistan to implement the result of its 2017 referendum and pull clear from the dangerous mess the remainder of Iraq is becoming. It seems impossible that any resolution to the present conflict – either resulting in renewed strength for the Baghdad government that seeks to keep it a part of Iraq by force, or trapping Kurdistan within whatever new round of conflict the protests spark – will be beneficial for Kurdistan.

Is Kurdistan in a practical position to pull out of Iraq at this point? The signs are good that it might have built the support it needs in the past few months. The new American embassy seems to signal a degree of increased support from that quarter, while the majority of its European and international partners seem ready to back it should it make the move.

Militarily, it seems to make sense too, because the Iraqi Army is too busy with the threat of the protests to fight the kind of campaign it was able to in late 2017. The separation of Kurdistan might even strengthen Iraq at this point, because it would generate the momentum for a full three-state solution, which it seems the international community is starting to understand might be the only hope for a truly stable region.

Doing so need not create further disruption, if only because Iraq seems to be heading for substantial disruption in any case. Instead, it seems like an increasingly sensible option, standing back to avoid being drawn into the kind of emergency that makes it hard to produce the peaceful, prosperous state the inhabitants of the region so desperately want.

The writer is a master’s student of law, an author and political activist. He currently lives in the UK and is the founder of the new website thenewmail.