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Let Iraq - and any country - break apart

With Islamic militants on the march across Northwestern Iraq and Iraqi army units dropping their weapons and fleeing in disarray, the country is facing a de facto partition between the Kurdish North, the Sunni heartland and the Shiite-dominated South.  This sorry state of affairs has led many to ask; was Joe Biden right?

 

Comments

Keith,

You may be right, de-facto partition may be the least bad option for Iraq, though people are right to be dismayed that tribalism and religious extremists will have prevailed if that happens.

You wrote:

"I covered a lot of conflicts in Africa that had their roots in tribal or ethnic tensions that were a result of those artificial, colonial boundaries. One case in point is South Sudan…”

Arbitrary and illogical as many colonial borders were, that was no different to the pre-colonial tribal territorial “borders”. Hutus and Tutsis (and Twa etc.) disputed territories in brutal conflicts, long before Europeans arrived. As you know, or should know, the Twa in the precolonial era were regarded as subhuman by Tutsis and Hutus and were slaughtered and lost territory to them as their populations grew.

Or take the large Masai/Kikuyu/Kalenjin territorial gains and losses in the 18th and 19th centuries. These tribes took and lost large swathes of territory at the expense and of other tribes. For petty tribalists (and there are lot of them) these territorial disputes still matter today within Kenya (land scarcity due to massive population increase, was largely behind the 2008 clashes). I.e. there are no colonial border issues that can be blamed for these “border" disputes.

Your example of the South v North Sudan conflict is actually not an example colonial borders, but pre-colonial territorial disputes. And the current civil war within newly formed South Sudan civil war is a reversion to ancient tribal emnity sadly.

Bizarre colonial lines on maps did not cause, but froze, existing border disputes.

In the immediate postcolonial era, there was in Africa (and within organisations like the OAU), there was the noble-minded idea that tribe and religion should not matter. That is one reason why borders were left as they were. It is a shame that egalitarian spirit did not last.

Tribal, religious, ethnic, nationalistic and political differences will alway arise unfortunately, even in a seemingly homogenous population. Look at Ukraine. There it isn’t tribe or religion. It is political differences as a result of the dire economic situation.

Anon, first, apologies for getting your comment posted so late -- I've been traveling. And second, you make good points, about how colonial borders really only froze pre-colonial disputes. I'll make sure to try to incorporate more history in future posts. cheers, Keith

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