Is Iraq heading toward disintegration? The question is asked frequently by observers, never mind their attitude toward Iraq and Iraqis. The question implies more fundamental ones: is Iraq an artificial state? Or is it built on certain necessary foundations? If these foundations are no longer valid, should Iraq disintegrate?
Iraq as a state and a civilization has existed well back in history. Deep-rooted civilizations, be they in the north, middle or south, came into being not because some power interest required them to but as a result of natural evolution. Even in modern history, when the Ottoman Empire introduced the villayet system it could not separate the three villayets of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra.
Indeed, the British occupation formed the new Iraqi state according to these lines after cutting out some of its territories. One should remember that after signing the Sykes-Picot treaty, the British found that it was not realistic and changed their minds. This was not an accidental decision. The British strategists and political officers who controlled Iraq found that for economic and strategic reasons Iraq should be formed in the way it was. They realized that the north of Iraq could not subsist without the riches of the south and the south could not be defended without the natural boundaries of the north. I believe all these factors are still valid today.
If we were to discuss the issue purely from a modern political understanding of realpolitik and national interests the facts also argue against disintegration. The only element, regionally or internationally, that could benefit from the disintegration of modern Iraq is Israel, for reasons no longer secret. Israeli analysts, in the 1980s during the Iraq-Iraq war, were the first to advocate the division of Iraq into three different states.
All other regional actors are not of this view. This, of course, is not because of our blue eyes. Neighboring countries fear that a divided Iraqi state will be a source of instability in the region. They also know that any disintegration of Iraq will be a powerful precedent that could affect other, truly artificial, states in the region.
In addition, any new and by necessity weak and fragile Iraqi entities that might emerge, would soon be swallowed by neighboring countries, seriously affecting the present balance of power in the region.
In the end, the disintegration of any state remains wholly a matter of the will and desire of the people in question. Talk of Iraqi dissolution is only entered into by those who came with the occupation, who, knowing they possess no real support among Iraqis, began to play on the sectarian divisions of the people.
Yet in spite of all that has happened in Iraq, especially after the bombing of the two sacred shrines in Samarah, Iraqi resistance to total civil war, similar to the one fought in Lebanon, has proven to be very strong. One cannot, of course, discount the possibility of a civil war under the chaotic situation Iraq is suffering under the occupation, but I maintain that it remains a remote possibility.
Should it happen, and should Iraq disintegrate, the whole region will suffer, and no state can remain immune.