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Nov 14, 2004 5:14 pm


Imagining Provincial Iraq



Fred Kaplan and Juan Cole are debating whether some new subdivisions for Iraq will help to ease ethnic tension. They differ on whether there should be larger regions that encompass the major ethnic groups (between three and six territories) or smaller that better represent social and tribal structures (on the order of eighteen territories) respectively.

Prof. Cole comes up with a few reasons why smaller regions should be preferred over larger regions. First, the creation of a"Kurdistan" will cause tensions between the ethnic majority and the Christian and Turkmen minorities. Second, larger provinces are a prelude to partition, drawing boundaries that define the players in an eventual civil war. Third, smaller provinces have already been established: they have already proven to be a" bulwark against ethnic cleansing" and will help to stabilize the country as prosperity begets internal migration.

There is every good reason to keep the territorial structure as it is. It has a history of its own. The provinces themselves match up with existing social structures.

However, the preservation of the eighteen provinces does not preclude the creation of larger territories to encompass them. The eighteen can be maintained as administrative entities for the state while regional power is represented by larger regions. There can be a" congress of Sunni territories", and perhaps there should be. Regionalism works best when there are multiple levels to intermediate government, each of which is a different mixture of popular participation and state administration. Better to have eighteen provinces and five regions.

Furthermore, the preservation of eighteen provinces does not guarantee that forces that oppose the government will remain fragmented. The notion of ethnic regions, like Kurdistan, have already been imagined and, to some degree, operationalized. If the existing provinces don't appear to fulfill political ambitions and interests, people will fight for imagined regions in their stead



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