If that is the case, it does not bode well for the notion of Iraq as a unified country. Indeed, that notion is already more fiction than reality. The Kurdish population in the north successfully used Washington’s blood feud with Saddam Hussein to establish an independent country in all but name. Iraqi Kurdistan not only has its own government, but its own military (the Peshmerga), flag, and currency. Despite the continuing complaints from the national government in Baghdad, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Erbil routinely bypasses that authority and concludes lucrative agreements with foreign corporations, especially in the energy field. Indeed, Kurdish oil has begun to flow through a major pipeline to Turkey, giving the KRG yet another source of independent revenue. It is a major stretch of the truth to contend that the Baghdad government exercises any meaningful authority in Kurdistan. Indeed, the Peshmerga openly confronted Iraqi military forces last year when the Maliki government moved those forces northward, supposedly to repel terrorist elements infiltrating Iraq from the fighting in Syria.
If Baghdad now loses control of the Sunni heartland, U.S. and other Western governments may need to accept that “Iraq” is increasingly a geopolitical fiction. At a minimum, Washington ought to ponder that scenario and not be blindsided. As a hedging strategy, U.S. officials at least should evaluate how to strengthen diplomatic and economic ties with the KRG. It is probably not too early even to establish productive contacts with Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar and its environs, rather than ignoring them or dismissing them as Al Qaeda fronts.