How to save Iraq

IRAQ’s quest for the Holy Grail called constitution hasn’t still borne results despite weeks of protracted and painful negotiations. And now there are clear signs that if major players do not soon agree on a new charter soon, Iraq could fail as a state.

Which would be a catastrophe for the Iraqi people and the whole of Middle East. As if the country hadn’t had enough of Shia-Sunni-Kurd disputes over the constitution, the pro- and anti-US Shia groups clashed this week leading to scores of deaths.

The best way to resolve the constitution conundrum is the recognition by all three groups —Sunnis, Shias and Kurds —of the fact that Iraq is a Muslim country. In fact, it’s strange that there should be disagreement on the identity of a country whose population is 95 per cent Muslim. The Kurds who have raised questions about Islam’s role in the new Iraq are Sunni Muslims. The legendary ruler and liberator of Jerusalem Salahuddin Ayubi was a Kurd.

The Sunnis in the south and rest of the country are Muslims and so are the Shias. So where’s the need for discord? Islam has been the strong glue that has held Iraq and Iraqi society together notwithstanding its sectarian identities for over a millennium. And it can yet again guide modern Iraq in the years to come as all groups can agree on Islam as the common binding factor and guiding force.

While retaining its Islamic identity and character, the new Iraq can have a secular polity as is the case with most modern nation states. This should be acceptable to all groups and parties and end the endless brainstorming. The one redeeming feature of the Baathist regime of Saddam Husain was its secular approach to polity. The state institutions were secular in nature and did not favour one religious group over another.

This may be the only way to prevent Iraq from disintegrating and breaking up in tiny, dangerously unstable provinces. An Islamic Iraq with secular polity could allow limited regional autonomy while maintaining a strong centre. This talk of separate Kurd or Shia regions must stop now. It could only lead to breaking up of Iraq. The Kurds in the north apparently believe that with massive oil reserves of their own at Mosul, they’ll be better off with their own state. They are wrong. Turkey, which has a Kurdish problem of its own, will never allow an independent Kurdish state along its border in the south.

The Shias are wrong too to have these delusions of grandeur of a separate state with its own oil. The Sunnis will never accept it. The best way out, therefore, is a Muslim state with a secular polity and democratic institutions. This wouldn’t be the first example of an Islamic nation with a secular polity. Most UN member states that include many Muslim countries have a secular polity. Many European nations regardless of their religious beliefs are secular.

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