this was the debate topic I set for my colonialism & nationalism in India module this autumn. it was fun. we debated the merits of British India's partition into India and Pakistan in 1947, discussed the casualties (estimates range from less than 100,000 to over 500,000 dead, many more displaced/separated from their families, etc., and took sides on the issue.
at the end of the discussion I took 10 minutes to allow the students to express their own views (not their pro/con roles) on the topic. they all agreed that partition was not the right thing to do, that it had led to horrible migrations and deaths, it was the result of the calcification of a bi-polar discourse of Hindu and Muslim, and that it seemed like it could have been avoided, perhaps not in the years immediately prior to 1947, but had the discourse gone another way, it might not have seemed the only option.
so I asked/suggested: the situation in Iraq, then, given what you're saying about India/Pakistan, would also fall into the same category: partition would be a bad thing. most of them protested this, saying, in fact, that partition of Iraq would be a good thing and seem to solve the myriad problems there. Ah. history. we love learning from it, don't we!
yes, the situation is different in many ways, but it's also similar: artificially reified broad categories (Hindu/Muslim--Shia/Sunni/Kurd) mapped onto territory that itself relies on earlier colonial line-drawing. my expertise doesn't lie in Iraq, Kurdistan, or the Gulf region, but this piece provides a good argument against partition, and reveals the extent to which American pundits (next blog post! etymology of pundit and its political implications!) are making the same arguments that many in the British colonial establishment made. Let's hope that the Iraqis aren't forced, by the exigencies of international and domestic political maneuvering and typological pigeonholing, into positions similar to Jinnah and Nehru in 1946-7. Let's hope.