Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

Jumping Off Maps is Forbidden

Jumping Off Maps is Forbidden

Monday, 23 October, 2017 - 10:00
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

A stable Iraq, which comprises all the nation’s components, is needed at the Arab, regional and international levels. The removal of the Iraqi leg from the Turkish-Iraqi-Iranian triangle has weakened the Arab arena’s immunity to non-Arab influence. Therefore, Iraq is needed to restore balance and to control the appetite of countries, the roles of which have caused instability.


The visit of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to Riyadh expressed Iraq’s desire to resume its normal role. At the same time, it reflected the Saudi and Arab embrace of this longing. American support for this orientation was present and clear. The launch of the Saudi-Iraqi Coordination Council promises to establish relations on the basis of mutual interests and numbers. Partnership in the war on terror and extremism facilitates the opening of wide doors for consultation and cooperation.


Iraq is vitally needed. Erbil may have misjudged the strategic importance of a unified and stable Iraq when it went too far in the referendum and involved the disputed areas. This is why the message was harsh: jumping off the map is forbidden.


The world does not like jumping off maps. It is a dangerous adventure. The manipulation of the unity and limits of states is feared. It is therefore advisable to look for solutions within the states no matter how late they are and whatever the price will be. Dealing with marriage problems is better than divorce and its high costs.


Nevertheless, in recent decades, the world has been going through experiences that it wished to avoid. Eritrea jumped off Ethiopia’s embrace. The South of Sudan has reinstated its independence and its divisions. Members of the Yugoslav family were dispersed as if Marshal Tito had been forcing them to live under one roof.


Czechoslovakia chose the Velvet Divorce. Masoud Barzani was hoping for a divorce of this kind, forgetting that he does not reside in Europe, and that it is not usual for the people in the Middle East to have a “velvet discussion”.


These thoughts crossed my mind as I was touring Kirkuk last month. The city has become a plight in Iraq’s life over the past decades. Attempts to control it by disputing parties have caused many wars and tragedies.


Kirkuk summarizes the predicament of both the Kurds and the Iraqis. Kurds cannot forget it or give it up. Baghdad cannot let it flee the map to become the nucleus of an independent Kurdish state. In the past decades, Iraq’s neighbors have disagreed over everything except on preventing the Kurds from jumping off the maps, in which they were distributed one hundred years ago. The region cannot tolerate maps to be shredded.


Rebelling against history is much easier than rebelling against geography. History comprises stories and tales that can be circumvented and reinterpreted. Geography has harsh features and fixed judgments.


Geography becomes more rigid when the insurgent lives among nationalities, ethnicities, languages and nations that are ultimately the heirs of empires. When a country regards maps as tight outfits, how would it agree to lose more of its land, wealth and prestige?


Jumping off the map is forbidden, especially in this part of the world, where gunpowder barrels are placed near many wells. This explains the international and regional support received by the Iraqi government in the process of taking back Kirkuk and the disputed areas. It is clear that there is an international and regional agreement on the need to restore the Iraqi State… the restoration of its full presence within the map.


There is a feeling that the return of Iraq as a normal and effective country is needed at the regional and international levels to reinstate balance between the components of the Middle East, especially as Iran went far in its coup against the international borders and has changed capitals and locations of the concerned countries.


Abadi’s government has so far faced two major tests: recapturing Mosul and taking back Kirkuk. The tests are completely different. In the first, there was no solution other than to uproot ISIS and to eliminate local terrorists and mobile fighters. The Peshmerga forces were active partners in this battle.


Taking back Kirkuk is not similar to recapturing Mosul. It is an old conflict between the people of the map itself, and victory must never turn into a defeat that would force the other component to live with bitterness waiting for a chance to retaliate. Perhaps for this reason, Arab and international support doubles the responsibility of the Abadi government. Iraq’s real success will be in reintegrating the Kurds, not only in taking back Kirkuk.


Reintegration begins with the return to the provisions and spirit of the Constitution, i.e. the return to the logic of the state, institutions and national partnership. It is no secret that what is happening in Iraq now would not have happened if successive governments had complied with Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, which set out a mechanism to address the problem of disputed areas.


Abadi’s government sent a conclusive message to Erbil that jumping off the map is forbidden. But successfully achieving the State project, instead of defeating the Kurds, is essential.


It is perhaps an opportunity for a comprehensive Iraqi awareness to allow for necessary concessions to make the Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds able to live again in a country that can accommodate everyone… A state of law and institutions; a state that makes its decisions in Baghdad for the benefit of all its citizens; a sovereign state that contributes to restoring balance to this sensitive part of the world…


Jumping off the map is forbidden. Iraq’s Kurds have received a harsh message.

The same message also targeted every group or minority dreaming of a safe haven by withdrawing from the map to which it belongs.

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