Fourteen years later, still no obvious reason for Iraq to be one country

Back in 2003 I asked why Iraqis wouldn’t logically split up into three countries: Breaking Up Countries Where Citizens Hate Each Other. Yesterday the New York Times had a headline of “At Last, Iraq Regains Mosul. But Can Iraq Itself Survive?” on the front page, linked to an article that says “tensions between the Sunni minority and the majority Shiites still undermine efforts to reunite the country” and “The Kurds, who have operated an autonomous enclave in the north since the 1990s, are moving quickly to hold a referendum on independence in September, despite pleas from American diplomats to hold off.”

My California-based Facebook friends want to secede to escape the dictatorship of Donald Trump (one posted the other day decrying deportations of undocumented immigrants, concluding that Trump “is ruining this country. … We are doomed.” (deportations are actually down compared to the numbers under Obama, but that fact doesn’t change her feelings on the subject)). The divisions in Iraq seem to be at least as large as the divisions between Bay Area Hillary-supporters and the Trumpenfuhrer.

Obviously it was a huge mistake to invade in the first place, but, taking the long view, was our biggest post-invasion mistake not immediately trying to get everyone to agree to split up?


  1. Brian

    July 12, 2017 @ 1:47 pm


    My impression is that the reasons not to split Iraq up were (are) Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. If we had split them up those countries would either swallow their neighboring portions whole or make them proxies. Which seems to be what has happened anyway… we just still call it Iraq and draw a map boundary that no longer really exists.

  2. superMike

    July 12, 2017 @ 2:12 pm


    Who cares if they make them proxies as long as they’re not fighting anymore?

  3. jack crossfire

    July 12, 2017 @ 2:29 pm


    The argument is probably the same as why some people still get married & some people still use dollars instead of creating their own crypto currency. We can’t live with each other & can’t live without each other.

  4. Michael Moser

    July 12, 2017 @ 2:36 pm


    i think they were afraid that the Shiite south would align with Iran and make that country very strong, that in turn would alter the regional balance of power.

  5. Michael Moser

    July 12, 2017 @ 2:40 pm

    5 says that 65-75% are Shia and 15-20% Sunni, that means that a Sunni state would be quite weak in comparison to the Shiite state.

  6. Ivan

    July 12, 2017 @ 2:50 pm


    Perhaps, Wiikipedia does not have a clue, since it also claims that “the Muslim population of Iraq is approximately Shia 60% and Sunni 40%.” ( ).

    referencing CIA. It is likely that CIA has no clue either.

  7. static

    July 12, 2017 @ 3:04 pm


    It is and was the obvious/best solution.

    Blame the belief that democracy is so wonderful it can solve any dispute- and the hatred between Sunni and Shia was not as widely understood 15 years ago when the plans were being drawn up.

    Blame Turkey- they have long opposed any sort of Kurdistan, as it would encourage the Kurd separatists in Turkey. However, given the idiocy of Erdogan, Kurdish independence would be a good rejoinder to his behavior.

    Blame the Saudis- they did not want a border with an Iranian satellite state.

    Blame the location of the oil- each one of the states would have wanted control of the drilling, pipelines or ports, requiring the cooperation and coordination of each state, leading to increased possibility of future war.

    That said, it has turned out okay for the former Yugoslavia, and probably would have been better than the mess today.

  8. An actual Iraqi

    July 12, 2017 @ 11:44 pm


    Great, another bunch of pontificating Americans with no understanding of Iraq contributing their ill-informed ‘plans’. Projecting internal American politics (California vs. your resident orange idiot) onto Iraq? Really? Wow talk about breathtakingly clueless.

    With the exception of the Kurds, all other Iraqis don’t want to split up. The conflict between the relatively newly labelled Sunni and Shia is political not national or ethnic, both Arab groups consider Baghdad their capital and are not seeking to deny it to the other, nor deny the opposing camp’s Iraqi identity. It may not be “obvious” to you but the reason Iraq will continue to be one country is because Iraqis want it to be one country…AGAIN EXCEPTING THE KURDS… but that’s because it could be argued that they never considered themselves to be Iraqi in the first place.

  9. philg

    July 13, 2017 @ 9:03 am


    An actual Iraqi: Thanks for contributing your perspective. I guess I should have prefaced my post with “Assuming that what I read in the American media is true…”

    I guess your comment and my post taken together is more proof that the U.S. needs to scale back its foreign adventures. We don’t understand other countries (Democrats apparently didn’t even understand their own, apart from a few neighborhoods in San Francisco, New York, and D.C.!). Reading the standard American media combination of lies, celebrity gossip, and ads, doesn’t help.

  10. the other Donald

    July 13, 2017 @ 10:13 pm


    Well played, actual Iraqi!

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