Mar 16,2016 – JORDAN TIMES – MICHAEL JANSEN
The dread word “federalism” is back on the forked tongues of politicians and diplomats in discussions of the shape of Syria, if and when the war ends.
UN mediator Staffan de Mistura should be ashamed to have put “federalism” on the agenda of this week’s talks on ending the Syrian war and fashioning a “new” Syria.
Moscow, plus some Western powers, should also be sharply criticised for thinking of such a possibility.
Syrians reject it. “Federalism” is the product of colonial minds who seek to divide and rule subject peoples.
“Federalism” in the context of this region is another word for division and partition. It is a curse word and a curse concept for countries in this region where sectarian and ethnic communities have been planted for centuries in the bodies of states like raisins in a Christmas fruitcake.
“Federalism” means majority rule in areas where there are majorities and sectarian or ethnic cleansing of minorities. It means sectarian- and ethno-centrism rather than pluralism.
The notion of “federalism” in Iraq has been pursued by the Kurds, awarded autonomy in three northern Kurdish-majority provinces by the US’ divide-and-rule occupation regime.
Syrian Kurds are now calling for “federalism” to be applied in Syria, although there the Kurds are scattered.
“Federalism” has set the Iraqi Kurds against Baghdad on the issue of oil exploration, exploitation and revenue sharing. Furthermore, if and when Daesh is defeated in northern Iraq, Baghdad is certain to demand the Kurdish peshmerga withdrawal from Kirkuk and its oil fields, regarded by the Kurds as their patrimony and occupied in 2014, following the cult’s conquest of Mosul and sweep across northern Iraq.
This could lead to Arab-Kurdish conflict.
The Syrian Kurds’ proposal for a Kurdish autonomous area in the north along the border has already prompted Turkey to threaten military action.
A Syrian Kurdish self-rule area would be adjacent to Turkish Kurdish majority areas where Kurds demanding self-determination have been battling Ankara for more than 30 years.
For the Kurds, autonomy is the first step on the road to an independent Kurdish state consisting of southeastern Turkey, northeastern Syria, northern Iraq and western Iran.
All four of these states reject the emergence of such a state and are prepared to wage war to prevent this from happening.
For the majority of Iraqi and Syrian Arabs, “federalism” means partition and, perhaps, the fracturing of these two central Arab states into warring ethno-sectarian fiefdoms where communal cleansing is rife.
This has already happened to a certain extent in Iraq, including in Baghdad where before the 2003 war, the population of the city was divided almost equally between Sunnis and Shiites. Now inhabitants are said to be about 80-85 per cent Shiites.
Kurds and many Christians have gone to the Kurdish autonomous area, fleeing Shiite militia abuses and Sunni Al Qaeda bombs.
In Syria, the war has concentrated 65-70 per cent of the population still in the country in Damascus, the coastal cities of Latakia and Tartous, Homs, Hama and districts of Aleppo that are under government control.
Instead of driving sects and ethnicities into areas where they are majorities, the war has mixed them up.
These cities have become islands of pluralism and secularism where Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Christians, Druze, Kurds and Alawites live together peacefully.
This admirable model of coexistence would be destroyed by “federalism”.
While the Syrian government and opposition oppose “federalism”, this would suit Daesh, Al Qaeda’s Jabhat Al Nusra and other Sunni fundamentalist factions that could exploit the division of Syria to create semi-autonomous, Sunni-only entities heavily influenced by their puritan ideologies.
This would be disastrous for Syria.
It is hardly surprising that the application of “federalism” to Iraq was first mooted in 2006 by then Democratic senator now Vice President Joe Biden and Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the US Council on Foreign Relations.
The idea would be to create three “largely autonomous regions” for Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.
In 2007, Biden and Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas proposed a resolution to the US Senate calling for three semi-autonomous regions with a federal government for Iraq. This measure was adopted by 75 votes to 23 and has been regarded as a US plan for “a soft partitioning” of Iraq.
It has been recently revived as the solution for post-Daesh Iraq and mentioned as a possibility for Syria.
It is interesting to note that Biden voted against the 1991 war to drive Iraq from Kuwait, but later expressed support for driving Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from power and voted for the 2003 war on Iraq.
Biden, who considers himself a Zionist, and Gelb co-authored other articles on Iraq.
A former New York Times columnist who writes for the Daily Beast, Gelb has persisted in his call for tackling Daesh by partnering with Damascus, Tehran and Baghdad, and ultimately dividing Iraq and Syria into semi-autonomous ethnic regions.
He put forward such a policy in June 2014 after Daesh seized Mosul.
Gelb is a staunch supporter of Israel who has argued that the pro-Israel lobby in the US is not as powerful as portrayed by critics and Israel has every right to blockade Gaza.
Gelb, along with the Israeli lobby, supported George W. Bush’s 2003 war on Iraq, a war which empowered Al Qaeda in this region and led to the creation of Daesh, Jabhat Al Nusra, and the multitude of fundamentalist factions now operating in Syria.
Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, also favoured dividing Arab states near Israel into sectarian and ethnic statelets that would not threaten Israel while the creation of Israel, a Jewish majority entity, would be justified.