Compare and contrast. Fareed Zakaria:
Can Iraq hold together? It’s worth examining what is happening in that country through a broader prism. If you had looked at the Middle East 15 years ago, you would have seen a string of strikingly similar regimes — from Libya and Tunisia in the west to Syria and Iraq in the east. They were all dictatorships. They were all secular, in the sense that they did not derive their legitimacy from religious identity. Historically, they had all been supported by outside powers — first the British and French, then the superpowers — which meant that these rulers worried more about pleasing patrons abroad than currying favor at home. And they had secure borders.
Today, across the region, from Libya to Syria, that structure of authority has collapsed and people are reaching for their older identities — Sunni, Shiite, Kurd. Sectarian groups, often Islamist, have filled the power vacuum, spilling over borders and spreading violence. In Iraq and elsewhere, no amount of U.S. military power can put Humpty Dumpty back together.
Several nationally representative surveys carried out in Iraq between 2004 and 2013 provide important facts about Iraqi orientations toward secular politics, basis of identity, Americans, and Iranians. These facts have serious implications for the territorial integrity of Iraq, support for an Islamic government, and the U.S. policy toward the country. These surveys have shown evidence of:
(1) Support for Secular Politics: A much higher percentage of the Sunnis, even higher than the Kurds in some years, believe that Iraq would be a better place if religion and politics were separated. This support has increased from 60% in 2004 to more than 81% in 2013. By contrast, support for secular politics among the Shia has an inverted U-shape between 2004 and 2013. It went up from 44% in 2004 to 63% in 2011, and then dropped to 34% in 2013.
From the standpoint of public opinion, this evidence implies that the cooperation between the Sunni tribes/groups with ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) may not indicate mass conversion to religious extremism. Rather, it is driven by a common hatred of the Shia sectarian government ruling the country.
(2) Recognition of Iraq (and not religion) as the basis for identity: The Sunnis and Shia converge in defining selves as Iraqi, rather than Muslim or Arab, above all. This support rose from 22% in 2004 to 80% in 2008, and then dropped to 60% among the Sunnis. Among the Shia, it was 28% in 2004, increased to 72% in 2007, and then dropped to 62% in 2013. There is not much support for Iraqi identity among the Kurds. Among the Kurds, on the other hand, there has been a shift from predominantly Kurdish identity to religion.
I think the problems in Iraq are not what Mr. Zakaria imagines them to be. The Iraqis overwhelmingly want to remain Iraqis.