Map Frenzy: Partitioning Iraq

Back in my 70’s post-college crowd, there were three trendy things: Mash, Monty Python, and Risk.While everyone enjoyed watching Mash and Monty Python, and never missed an episode, the playing of the board game Risk was a strictly male event. For hours at a time four or five guys would spread out the map-like board and stare at the wooden risk.jpgsquares occupying each land mass as they pondered how, like Pinky and the Brain, they could Try to Take Over the World.

This week, after the presidential speech, suddenly new maps started appearing online. Are we about to embark on a new game of risk, this time with the Iraqi map and real armies, not to mention real people?

One of the first maps appeared in the Jordan Times and was credited to the White House. The map was divided into colors representing the Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni regions.

Here is the map from the Jordan Times January 12, 2007 to accompany the president’s “troop surge” speech:troop-surge-plan-jt1-12-07.jpg

The first thing I notice about the bar graphs on the top is that the troop strength has been up and down over the course of several years. The proposed troop strength is more than over the December holidays, but fewer than during the elections. So is that really a “troop surge”? To me, it’s a little bit like a store raising prices and then declaring a “sale” where the prices are “drastically lowered”.

No, I’m not buying the “troop surge” rhetoric. Then what’s it about? Why the sudden publicity? Clearly the presidential speech was geared to put the Iraqi question on the front page and keep it there for a while. The message, I believe, was to Iraq’s president, al-Maliki. The American public will not tolerate much more civil war in Iraq. Maliki is about to be left high and dry unless he can produce results and produce them very quickly. No wonder he has said that he has a difficult job and he no longer wants to be president. So the map is a fish-or-cut-bait type of proposition to the Arab world. Maliki will have to ditch Moqtadr and the lunatic Mahdi army. The Sunnis will have to embrace Maliki and the moderate Shiites.

In the map we see a Shiite area in the south dominated by a British-held Basra. Not the first time the Brits have outplayed us at the Game of Nations, and it probably won’t be the last.

Baghdad looks pretty much in the area controlled by the Sunnis in the central region. Then we see a long Sunni area bordered on one side by Syria and on the other by Iran. A clear shot for any Hisbollah activists that want to continue their lines of control between Tehran and Damascus and the independent militias of Beirut for years to come. And instead of being allied with the U.S., the Sunni area is controlled by al-Qaeda, a clear self-declared enemy or the U.S. But wait, now that Saddam is out of the way, does that clear the U.S. to be an ally of the Sunnis, as it is of the Sunni nations of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt? The U.S. has always embraced the southern Shiites a little awkwardly, never quite getting over the idea that they were “marsh-Arabs”. The U.S.? The Sunnis? It’s as natural for us as Ali Baba and Flying Carpets. Why can’t we all be friends?

Then there’s the Kurds. Yes, the Kurds are fun. Yes, they’re more like us in their form of government and in their culture than the Arabs. They have this incredible music like the flute music of the Andes and like the dances of Katmandu, a haunting history and a charming winsome people. But we need Turkey. Turkey is not comfortable with its own Kurdish population. And if Iraq splits apart and the U.S. is left only with Shiite Allies in the south with the Brits controlling the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates, the Sunni/al-Qaeda block controlling the river area and the passages between Iran and Syria, how on earth would we protect our Kurdish “allies” isolated in the middle of their –and our–enemies in the mountains?

Sunnis have no oil in their present territories. Oil can do amazing things for a country’s economy. How long does anyone think the Kurds would be safe with Mosul and Kirkuk sitting there like ripe grapes across the flat, unimpeded plains? And how could we, their allies, protect them surrounded on four sides by fledgling nations hostile to the U.S.? More flyovers? We tried that for ten years already. What a nice, fun map for the Sunnis to think over.

This next map appeared last summer but has started reappearing in the blogosphere this last week. It’s another Risk game that reorganizes the whole Middle East based on ethnicity and changes quite a few present borders. Their declaration? “Ethnic cleansing works.” Apparently they haven’t studied actual ethnic cleansing like that in Rwanda, where the post massacre Hutu-Tutsi population ratio was the same as the pre-massacre percentages.


You have to wonder how these military analysts would divide California.

My favorite is an interactive map from the Public Broadcasting System that shows population densities as well as mixtures of ethnic groups and Sunni Turkoman populations.

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