This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Population Growth and the Mess in the Middle East

In 1916 Mesopotamia was divided up with borders drawn in secret by British and French imperialists represented by Sir Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot. At the time there were relatively few people affected by this. Even by 1950, Iraq's population was only 5.7 million and Syria's was 3.4 million. Combined, they had fewer people than live today in the metro area of Paris. But today there are 36 million Iraqis and 22 million Syrians (although they are not all in Syria at the moment). If they were a single country it would be the most fourth most populous in the Middle East, behind Egypt (85 million), Turkey (76 million), and Iran (76 million). So, the numbers are large enough that it really matters. The problem with those arbitrary lines was that, just as in the former Yugoslavia, they bound together disparate groups who would generally prefer to be on their own. In Yugoslavia, the Croats, Serbs and Muslims were ruthlessly bound together by Tito. In Iraq the Shia Muslim population (the majority), the Sunni Muslim population (the  largest minority), the Kurds (predominantly Sunni Muslim, but predominantly non-Arab), and a small Christian population (Chaldeans) were ruthlessly held together by Saddam Hussein. 

Once torn asunder, it is not clear that these pieces can, or even should, be put back together in Iraq, just as they were not in Yugoslavia. Many of the Christians have left the country, with many arriving in the US after the passage of the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act was passed in early 2008. But the Sunnis (including the militant group ISIS) appear to be supported by Saudis, the Kurds are backed by Turkey, and the Shia are supported by Iran. Indeed, the Iraqi prime minister, al-Maliki, was in exile in Tehran and Damascus for most the of the time that Saddam Hussein (a Sunni Muslim) was in power. 

In the meantime, it appears that most of the refugees who fled Mosul--a predominantly Sunni Muslim city--when ISIS took over headed to Iraq's Kurdistan region, since that was relatively close and populated by Sunnis. It now appears that many of them are headed back to Mosul, convinced that life under the Sunni militants will be OK. Oddly enough, it seems that the breakup of Iraq, if it happens, will make more sense than the current mess in Syria. Only time will tell.

1 comment:

  1. Balkanization is indeed the answer: A Shi'a Arab state, a Sunni Arab state, and a Kurdish state. Or, allow for history to take its course by allowing one group to exile/kill the others until they establish unquestioned hegemony. The latter is the the norm historically. The former is the requirement for modernists who still think the nation state is important.