The Unity of Iraq: A Nexus of Stability

Baha Erbas
THO Fellow

Iraq is the Middle East in miniature. It holds all the religious and ethnic diversity of the entire region from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf; from Anatolia to the Indian Ocean. To look at the grand Middle East picture realistically, the social scientist or diplomat must recognize Iraq as the region’s essence and heart; the social fabric and the harmoniousness of the Middle East is alive in all parties in Iraq.  Sunnis, Shias, Yezidis, Arabs, Persians, Kurds, Turks—with thousands of years of history. Being the cradle of all these ancient civilizations makes Iraq the one indispensable social and political actor throughout the region. Iraq is the bedrock of the Middle East, for providing stability in the region. The stability of the entire region has a deep balance and connection with the future of Iraq. 

The Shia of Iraq have a profound effect, acting as a buffer between Iran and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States and the Sunnis. The Kurds being the buffer zone between Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria; Sunnis being the heart of the traditional monarchies and the state until Saddam’s fall, and occupying a special place between Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran. All these groups  have a potential stake and risk in any social or political developments in all these countries. Conversely, the instability in Iraq deeply affects the stability of all these countries. Therefore, the crux of the stability in the region depends on the future of Iraq.

Due to this socially vital composition of Iraq, any political decision made without taking into consideration the balance and equilibrium of all these macro-regional factors would bring the entire region into greater instability and calamity.   
Throughout history, no great power was able to dominate the region without having a strong hand in Iraq. The Ottoman Empire, due to Iraq’s unique geopolitical and social position, had wielded a strong hand in the days when it controlled Bagdad. 

The invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the vacuum that created, has had direct consequences for the entire region through ISIS, DAESH, PYD, and YPG. The situation in Syria isn’t readily understood without looking at Iraq’s last decade of instability. Today, the Syrian Civil War represents the most bitter story of the post-Cold War era.  A third of the country’s population has fled the country, almost a million people are lost or dead, and no one knows that when the calamity will end. As we have observed, Iraq always has had a massive potential to destabilize Turkey, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region, and also could affect the US, which has a strong interest in the region for its global posture. Any development in Iraq could easily lead the entire region into a calamity with its domino-effect. Due to these crucial points, the US, Turkey, the EU and all Iraq’s neighbors strongly support the unity and the territorial integrity of Iraq, and all actors see that the future of Iraq has come to be the future of the Middle East.

Today, the scholars, pundits, diplomats, and politicians are all concerned about the future of Iraq and the possible outcomes for the region. All these concerns come down to a single point: whether Iraq will keep its territorial integrity or not. A united Iraq keeping its territorial integrity is crucial for Turkey and Turkey’s relations with the US and all other regional actors. Therefore, all groups within Iraq politics should look for a better atmosphere in which to collaborate, cooperate for the prosperous future of Iraq, and avoid any confrontation that would lead to any break-up and another humanitarian calamity as we are seeing today in Syria.