Saddam the Phoenix
Today nearly one-fifth of 22 million Iraqis are Kurds, members of Indo-European tribes who stand apart from Semitic Arabs. Among the country's Arabs, 70 percent are Shiite (that is, 56 percent of the total population), 25 percent Sunni and the rest Christian, the best-known among them being Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, born Mikhail Yahunna.
Externally, the Bush and Clinton administrations, publicly committed to Saddam's overthrow, have drawn a not-so-thin red line: no American ground troops and no direct involvement in the byzantine politics of Iraq.
Beyond the man-made politics and policies stand geography and demographic distribution. Iraq is surrounded by Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Turkey's restive Kurdish minority lives in an area contiguous with the Kurdish zone of Iraq. The events in one region directly affect those of the other. Iraq's Shiite majority is concentrated in the southern plain, which extends into the overwhelmingly Shiite republic of Iran. Iraq's Sunni-dominated area adjoins Jordan and Syria.
Shouldn't all this play into the hands of Washington, determined as it is to oust the Saddam regime? In a word, no. At the first sign of central authority in Baghdad weakening, Iran will exploit the situation, as it did in the aftermath of the Gulf War. Since the early eighties it has built up an extensive Shiite network in southern Iraq through the Teheran-based Supreme Assembly of Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SAIRI), which maintains its own army.
To the north, Turkey is hellbent on denying its Kurdish minority autonomy and is extremely wary of the quasi-independence that the Iraqi Kurds have enjoyed for more than seven years under the protective umbrella of the US and British warplanes enforcing the no-fly zone in northern Iraq. Were the Iraqi Kurds to declare an independent state of Kurdistan as the central power in Baghdad waned, the Turkish military would march into Kurdistan.
The prospect of a civil war in Iraq alarms Washington because oil prices will skyrocket, causing inflation and a downturn in corporate America's profit margins.