Lots of news about Iraq lately. Too bad we haven't heard much about the recent approval of the Kurdish constitution.
Over a year ago, I discussed the problem of mutually exclusive minimum demands between the various parties within Iraq (1 2 3). I've also articulated this mutually-exclusive overlap as a catalyst of conflict in general. Specifically, the problem here is that the Kurds demand control over northern Iraqi oil resources, but the Sunni Arab population will never accept a federal structure where the Kurds get the northern oil, the Shi'a get the southern oil, and they get none.
It's easy to read about how the central government in Iraq plans to gather oil revenues centrally and then distribute it evenly through the country. What we're not hearing is that the recently approved constitution for the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) isn't playing that game. The KRG constitution explicitly states that Kurdish law trumps Federal (Iraqi) law. It also says that the KRG will retain its Peshmerga militia. Oh, and that if things don't work out, they retain the right to "go their own course." As in become independent. Turkey is, literally, up in arms about this. The US isn't quite so sure how to respond--a strong and independent Kurdistan doesn't exactly help the (potentially unattainable) goal of a stable, multi-ethnic Iraq. But it also accentuates the ethnic divisions within Iran--specifically their large and sometimes restive Kurdish minority.
Mutually-exclusive overlap. The Iraq project WILL FAIL if this issue cannot be addressed. So how do you address mutually-exclusive overlap? That isn't so easy. The first step is recognizing that there is a time element to the creation of mutually exclusive overlap: The artificial divisions created under the Sykes-Picot Accord almost 100 years ago brought this process into high gear. And there will be a time component in any solution. If people think it can be fixed in 5 years, they should hit the history books. In some ways, the recent situation in the former Yugoslavia is informative, but in that situation there was not this highly concentrated and incridibly important feature: oil.
There are other problems with trying to translate the very limited success of erasing mutually-exclusive overlap in the former Yugoslavia to Iraq. But perhaps the one most worth mentioning is that much of the former Yugolsavia is locally self-sufficient. The Serbs and Slovenes and Croats generally have their own localized industry. Their own localized agriculture. Their own localized tourist revenue. They, for the most part, don't rely on the dole. They are a geography of small cities, local markets, domestic production, and localized agriculture. Iraq is not. Iraqi population has exploded over the past decades on their oil wealth. They are fundamentally reliant on it. They are not agriculturally self-sufficient. They have virtually no export product beyond oil. So whatever region does not receive the share of oil revenue that they have come to rely on (and the Sunni Arab regions have traditionally received the vast majority), they no longer have the surplus necessary to maintain the standards that they expect. That they demand. This is why, without an even distribution of oil wealth, there cannot be peace in Iraq--it is the classic problem of the "Arab Street." Many young men on the dole who have no legitimate prospects to support themselves or their families. But with the lengthy history of oppression of the Kurds and Shi'a, these newly empowered groups will not accept their traditional, disproportionately small share of oil revenues. This is one source--probably the key source--of mutually-exclusive overlap in Iraq. And the Balkan model does not provide a solution here. This problem is only solved by moving the Iraqi economy away from its dependence on oil.
Can this be done? I think that it can, and I think that it is informative to look at why the former Yugoslavia was more successful in erasing mutually-exclusive overlap: its higher degree of localized self reliance. If Iraq is to ever erase this mutually-exclusive overlap, it will require a focus on creating localized self-reliance, not on some dream of establishing Iraq as a tourist center or manufacturing center--the solution must be possible within the zero-security environment that currently exists. Anything that depends on first solving that security problem is getting the cart before the horse. Localized self-reliance--the ability to create a quality life on your own--is something that CAN be done in the current environment, and that CAN then pave the way to remove the reliance on oil and reduce the criticality of the existing oil-based mutually exclusive overlap. I have only seen one example of this actually taking place: Geoff Lawton's excellent, Middle East permaculture initiatives. With his wife Nadia he has worked to create local self-reliance in Jordan. And he has worked to create a self-dependent, permaculture orriented village in Iraq. This is far too little, but it is creating a model for how this CAN be accomplished--something that, if seized upon by other NGOs or governments, could, one day, actually solve this problem.