The United States is learning that, in many ways, Iraq is three nations in one — just as the British and Ottoman Empire learned, a University of Utah military historian said.

Speaking to about 25 military history buffs at the Fort Douglas Military History Symposium on Saturday, U. historian John Reed said Iraq comprises the Kurd majority in the north, the Sunni majority in the so-called "Sunni triangle" in the central part of the country including Baghdad, and the Shiites in the south, with Basra as a sort of regional capital.

Iraq didn't exist as a nation during the time of the Ottoman Turks, who ruled the three areas independently of each other through World War I. After the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, the British obtained the area, named it Iraq and crowned a Jordanian as king of the area.

But the Iraqis revolted.

"As soon as they established Iraq, they were chased out," Reed said.

Between 1922 and 2003, various leaders — all Sunnis — led a united Iraq by giving each group a lot of regional autonomy.

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After Saddam Hussein was deposed, the United States tried to install an American-style democracy by handling most government power to the Shiites, who between 1922 and 2003 had become the majority group in Iraq. That didn't fly with the Sunnis, who began fighting U.S. troops. Eighty percent of U.S. troops killed in Iraq have been killed by Sunnis, Reed said.

However, in more recent years, the U.S. government has been able to broker a truce with the Sunnis by arming them to fight foreign insurgents in Iraq.

A successful Iraq, Reed said, will ultimately require "someone at the center of government who acknowledges autonomy but kicks anybody's butt if they get out of line," he said.

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