Stable group (ethnic/religious/racial) relations can be understood as

Stable group (ethnic/religious/racial) relations can be understood as based upon a “contract”
between groups.
Such contracts specify, among other things,
the rights and responsibilities,
political privileges,
and access to resources of each group.
These contracts may be formal constitutional agreements or simply informal understanding
between elites.
Such contracts contain “Safeguards”.
They contain provisions or mechanisms to ensure that each side lives up to its commitments and
feels secure that the other will do so as well.
For example:
Should the country be unitary or a federation?
How well represented are minorities in the various branches of government?
Who should occupy the office of Prime Minister? Prime minister enjoys executive authority in the
Who should occupy the office of President/vice president (ceremonial powers) in parliamentary
Should minorities be given the right to cultural or political autonomy?
Should minorities be given veto rights over decisions that affect them directly (If two-thirds of voters
in each of three provinces reject the constitution, it will have to be rewritten).
How are revenues shared between the central and local governments?
Typical safeguards include:
1. political power-sharing arrangements, electoral rules, or group vetoes that prevent one
ethnic group from setting governments policy unilaterally;
Muslim 59.7% (Shi'a, Sunni, Druze, Isma'ilite, Alawite or Nusayri),
Christian 39% (Maronite Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Melkite Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian
Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Syrian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Chaldean, Assyrian, Copt,
other 1.3%
note: 17 religious sects recognized
Lebanon's decade-and-a-half civil war ended in 1990 after the signing of the Document of National
This so called Taif agreement recalibrated political power among the country's various
"confessional" communities.
Members of Parliament are elected to seats that must be split evenly between Christians and
Parliament must elect a Maronite Christian as president
and a Shiite Muslim as Speaker,
and the president must name a Sunni Muslim to be prime minister.
Positions in the Council of Ministers are also divvied up on a confessional basis,
as are most high-level posts in the civil and armed services.
2. minority control over critical economic assets (as with the whites in South Africa and
Chinese in Malaysia
3. Maintenance of group balance within the military or police forces to guarantee that one
group will not be able to use overwhelming organized violence against the other (as in Croatia
before the breakup of Yugoslavia).
These political checks and balances serve to stabilize group relations and ensure that no
groups can be exploited by any other.
The terms of such contracts reflect the balance of political power between the groups and their
beliefs about the intentions and likely behavior of one another.
Attempts to create such contracts in Iraq:
1. During the British administration
Sunni dominance:
A more inclusive system would almost certainly have meant a more anti-British polity, and this
British were naturally unprepared to tolerate.
A representative democracy would have required the Sunni Arabs to relinquish their stranglehold
over political power in favor of the numerically superior Shi’a.
Many Shi’a made progress in the economic realm.
Since access to the military and political elite was largely denied to them, upward mobility for the
Shi’a was achieved mainly through land accumulation or entrepreneurial activities.
Thus in 1958 Shia Arabs comprised close to 50 percent of Iraq’s larges land owners, and 7 of
Iraq’s 15 millionaires.
2. 1958-1968
The 1958 military coup: this “revolution” swept away colonial domination.
It brought to power Brigadier Abdel Karim Qassim (whose father was a Sunni Arab and his Mother
a Shi’a Kurd)
Considerable efforts were dedicated to the formulation of a government apparatus that
would faithfully reflect Iraq’s divergent groupings.
A three-man Council of Sovereignty (essentially a collective presidency, or collective head of
states) was created in which each of Iraq’s three major groups – Kurds, Sunni Arabs, and Shi’a
Arabs – were allocated seats.
A provisional constitution declared that Iraq formed an integral part "of the Arab nation" and
that "Arabs and Kurds are considered partners in this homeland."
Iraq was declared a republic and Islam the religion of the state;
all executive and legislative powers were entrusted to the Sovereignty Council and the Cabinet.
The regime’s first cabinet was also inclusive.
There were posts for all major political parties, and only one seat (the lowly social affairs portfolio)
assigned to the Free Officers.
On paper at least, this was the most broadly representative system of government enjoyed by Iraq
in its brief history.
It soon became clear, however, that power rested in Qasim's hands, supported by the army.
Qassim’s most important political ally – the ICP – was a party that spanned the sectarian and
ethnic divide, the ICP was a Shi’a stronghold, appealing particularly to the lower-class Shi’a in
the slums of Baghdad, as well as to the Shi’a masses in the south.
Kurds too could identify with a political party that emphasized wealth redistribution and was
hostile toward grandiose pan-Arabist schemes.
For the first time in the history of Iraq, the Sunni stranglehold over the institutions of state might be
The problem was that real power did not reside in the Council of Sovereignty, the ICP, or
even the person of Qassim but with the military (i.e. the bastion of Sunni power). The armed
forces were the key powerbroker in all regime transitions over this ten-year period.
Power had simply shifted from civilian Sunni elites under the monarchy to military Sunni
elites under the Republic.
The seizure of power by General Arif, a committed pan-Arabist and Sunni nationalist,
confirmed that Iraq was still ruled from the Sunni heartland.
The Ba’ath regime (1968-)
The Interim Constitution was issued on Sept. 21, 1968.
It provided for an essentially presidential system composed of the RCC, Cabinet, and National
Until the National Assembly was called, the RCC exercised both executive and legislative
The Ba’ath Party made attempts to reverse Sunni dominance:
1. By increasing Shi’a representation in the Ba’ath Party
By 1970, Shi’a representation in the higher echelons of the Ba’ath Party dwindled to 14 percent.
Beginning in the early 1970s, the Ba’ath Party adopted a policy of affirmative action to
incorporate more Shi’a into the governing structures. (it reached close to a quarter in both the
RCC and the Party’s highest executive organ – the Regional Command.
2. By re-instituting Parliament (the National Council) by law in 1980 provided another means
by which the political exclusion of the Shi’a could be alleviated.
Elections to the 250-member body were organized along regional lines to guarantee that Shia and Kurds would be elected form regions in which they were dominant numerically. Accordingly,
of the delegates elected in Iraq’s first parliamentary elections since 1958, 43 percent were Shi’a
and 12 percent Kurds.
Had Iraq functioned as a liberal democracy, the combined voting power of Shi’a and Kurds
in parliament would actually have enabled them to dominate the Sunni Arabs.
So: while the political system as a whole became more representative of Iraq’s diversity
over the period, real decision-making power became significantly more concentrated in the
hands of Sunni Arabs from Tikrit and its environs (“blood – tribal ties -- thicker than ideology”).
Tikritis also dominated the officer corps of the army and the Republican guard, and controlled the
security services.
For example, only one token Kurd made it into the RCC, and Kurds enjoyed no representation on
the Party’s regional Command.
Beyond this, after about 1975, Saddam came to rely increasingly on kinship ties to staff the
regime’s most sensitive positions.
While some Shi’a made it onto the RCC, and several attained cabinet rank, the key positions of
power all remained resolutely in Sunni Arab hands.
Aside from some representation in Parliament, the Kurds generally fared much worse than
the Shi’a throughout the 1968-1988 period.
In practice:
Ongoing Kurdish problem:
How are Kurds different? (ethnic, linguistic, and cultural differences).
The majority of Kurds (at least 75%) are Sunni Muslims.
Approximately 15% are Shi’a Muslims,
with the remaining 10 percent following a variety of ancient religions Yezidi-ism (a syncretistic
religion) and ancient Zoroastrian-based creeds.
Kurds have never enjoyed beneficial representation proportionate to their size.
The policy of Arabization has a history stretching back to a time when Iraq was still under British
mandate in the 1920s.
Over a ten-year period (1958-68), four different central regimes attempted to resolve the
“Kurdish problem.”
Republican leaders were simply unable to find a formula for integrating the Kurds into the
Iraqi state that was mutually acceptable.
In 1962 the chronic Kurdish problem flared up when tribes led by Mustafa al-Barzani
revolted, demanded an autonomous Kurdistan, and gained control of much of N Iraq.
Nearly 100 people were executed in June 1963:
the best athletes,
the most renowned artists,
the most respected teachers,
Fighting continued throughout the 1960s and 70s.
Even before the Ba'th Party achieved power, the Kurdish question had been discussed in several
meetings of the Ba'th National and Regional Commands.
However, in late 1968, fighting between the Kurds and the Iraqi army began and escalated to fullscale war.
With military aid provided by Iran, the Kurds were able to pose a serious threat to the Ba'th
By early 1970, negotiations between the Ba'th leaders, the Kurdish leader Mulla Mustafa alBarzani, and the leaders of the Kurdish Democratic Party were under way.
Saddam dealt personally with the issue, first traveling to the Soviet Union to try and convince the
Soviets to curtail their military assistance to Kurdish forces.
The outcome was the so-called March Manifesto of 1970, which for the first time referred to the
“autonomy” of the Kurds,
accepted the use of Kurdish languages in Kurdish-dominated areas,
guaranteed a share of wealth from the huge Kirkuk oil field,
and even promised to implement democracy (complete with elections) in Kurdistan (although how
that was supposed to be reconciled with dictatorship in the rest of Iraqi state was not clear).
The government agreed to officially recognize the Kurds as a "national" group entitled to a form of
autonomous status called self-rule.
This would eventually lead to the establishment of a provincial administrative council and an
assembly to deal with Kurdish affairs.
Since the March Manifesto had established a basis for settlement of the Kurdish problem,
Kurdish political parties were willing to participate in the National Progressive Front.
The March Manifesto was never implemented.
Main reason: The terms of the Manifesto were to be phased in over a five-year period, and
would, at some point, have had to include a census to determine the boundaries of an
autonomous Kurdistan where Kurds were in the majority.
This opened up the unacceptable prospect that Iraq’s major oil field at Kirkuk (where Kurds were in
a majority) might fall under Kurdish control.
Saddam’s solution: Arabization of the city – offering financial incentives to Arabs to move
to the city to change its makeup.
In 1973-74, negotiations with al-Barzani and the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) to implement
the March Manifesto failed.
The census promised in the March Manifesto had not been taken, and al-Barzani and the KDP
refused to accept the Ba'thist determination of the borders of the Kurdish area, which excluded
the oil-rich Kirkuk province.
Nevertheless, on March 11, 1974, the Ba'th regime proceeded to implement its own plan for selfrule, establishing a provincial council and an assembly in cooperation with Kurdish leaders
who were opposed to al-Barzani's militant approach.
Kurdish leader Barzani leader urged Kurds to do the same.
In 1973 Nixon made a secret agreement with Shah of Iran to begin covert action against Saddam's
government. The U.S. and Iran then begin funding the Kurds in their battle against the Iraqi regime
for an autonomous Kurdistan.
1973-1975 Working with Iran and Israel, the U.S. funds the Kurdish peshmerga (guerrilla army rough translation: "those who do not fear death") and encourages them to fight Saddam's
government. CIA and Israeli agents operate in Kurdistan.
Equipped with heavy artillery and surface-to-air missiles, Barzani’s experienced guerilla fighters
proved more than a match for Iraqi troops. The cost of the war was significant for the Iraqi
Fortified by extensive international backing, Barzani did not hesitate to provoke the Ba’ath regime.
The war with the Kurds came close to toppling the Ba’ath from power. The Kurds were supported
by the US, Israel, and Iran.
The Kurdish war started in March 1974. Al-Barzani's decision to go to war with the Ba'th
government seems to have been made with the support of the shah of Iran, who sought to
pressure Iraq to alter the water frontier in the Shatt al-'Arab to the thalweg, or median line of the
river. (Under the terms of the 1937 treaty, the boundary was set at the low-water mark on the
Iranian side, giving Iraq control of the shipping channel.) The shah stopped his assistance to alBarzani when the Ba'th regime agreed to negotiate with him about the Shatt al-'Arab boundary.
After January 1975, the situation deteriorated still further as Iran deployed two regiments
into Iraqi Kurdistan to provide a more direct form of aid to rebels.
Confronted with the prospect of total economic and military collapse, Saddam had little option but
to bow down to the superior power of the Iranian neighbor.
In March 1975: Saddam and the Shah of Iran concluded the Algiers Agreement: a humiliating
moment for Saddam.
A long-standing territorial dispute over the Shatt Al-Arab was settled entirely in Iran’s favor, and
Iraq was required to renounce any claims to the Arab-populated Iranian province of Khuzestan.
Iraq got little in return, except and Iranian pledge to terminate aid to the Kurds.
In 1975 all aid was cut off when Iran reached an agreement with Iraq, mediated by then-Secretary of
State Henry Kissinger, who also had authorized the U.S. intrusion into the Kurdish struggle two
years earlier. This ended the Kurdish rebellion in Iraq, mainly because all Israeli aid to the Kurds had
to pass through Iranian territory.
Within the days of the signing of the agreement, all international aid to the Kurds (from Iran, Israel
and the US) was curtailed.
Within the space of two weeks, the Kurdish rebellion was crushed.
After 1975, the regime’s capacity to control events in the north was enhanced greatly by the
traumatic split between the two major Kurdish factions –
the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)
and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).
Playing off one side against the other.
In 1983 those divisions allowed Saddam to negotiate a cease-fire with the PUK while
simultaneously invading KDP-held territory (killing 5-8 thousand males).
By 1987, toward the end of the Iran-Iraq war, the PUK and KDP were one more united in the Iraqi
Kurdistan Front (IKF) and actively assisting the Iranians to open up a northern from against Iraqi
Saddam Hussein's dictatorial rule lasted throughout the devastating Iran-Iraq War (1980–1988);
the al-Anfal campaign of the late 1980s,
which led to the death of thousands of Kurds in northern Iraq;
Over the course of 1987, and especially after 1988 (Al-Anfal campaign):
Anywhere from 100,000 to 182,000 were massacred in a genocidal offensive mostly in and around
the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, and elsewhere in Iraqi Kurdistan.
chemical weapons (killing up to 5,000 people including women and children in a single attack), the
destruction of 4,000 Kurdish villages, and the forced relocation of up to 500,000 Kurds.
The managed partition of Iraq effectively began in 1991 with the evacuation of Iraqi government
officials from the north and the subsequent formation of the Kurdish de facto state.
Iraqi Kurdistan possess almost all of the attributes – clearly demarcated territory, a functioning
governmental system, and a monopoly over the legitimate use of coercive force – commonly
associated with the concept of statehood.