TCS Daily


Out of Many, Many

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - October 20, 2006 12:00 AM

The issue of whether a partition or federalization plan might be implemented is currently being examined by the Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Representative and 9/11 Commission Co-Chairman Lee Hamilton. Initial news stories stated that Secretary Baker and the ISG appeared to be considering partition or federalization as a potential tool for the successful reconstruction of Iraq. Consider, for example, this article in the Washington Post and the following passage:

Baker and panel members have been exploring different ideas, such as a greater degree of regional autonomy for Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions. But those familiar with the group's work said there is far from a consensus yet on what to do. One well-placed source said panel members came away from their trip sobered, with "a sense that we can't continue to do what we have been doing," adding that Baker was not simply looking to protect the administration. (Emphasis added.)

And then there is this article in the Times UK, entitled "America Ponders Cutting Iraq In Three":

AN independent commission set up by Congress with the approval of President George W Bush may recommend carving up Iraq into three highly autonomous regions, according to well informed sources.

[. . .]

The Baker commission has grown increasingly interested in the idea of splitting the Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish regions of Iraq as the only alternative to what Baker calls "cutting and running" or "staying the course".

"The Kurds already effectively have their own area," said a source close to the group. "The federalisation of Iraq is going to take place one way or another. The challenge for the Iraqis is how to work that through."

[. . .]

[Baker's] group will not advise "partition", but is believed to favour a division of the country that will devolve power and security to the regions, leaving a skeletal national government in Baghdad in charge of foreign affairs, border protection and the distribution of oil revenue.

However, this account of Secretary Baker's appearance on the Sunday talk show This Week with George Stephanopoulos suggests something different:

[Baker] explicitly rejected a rapid withdrawal from Iraq, saying that would invite Iran, Syria and "even our friends in the gulf" to fill the power vacuum. He also dismissed, as largely unworkable, a proposal by Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to decentralize Iraq and give the country's three major sectarian groups, the Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis, their own regions, distributing oil revenue to all. Mr. Baker said he had concluded "there's no way to draw lines" in Iraq's major cities, where ethnic groups are intermingled.

If you look at the actual interview here, you might come to the conclusion that Baker did not so much "reject" the partition plan as he identified potential problems with it, and it was noted that a number of members of the ISG appeared to like the plan. That having been said, we may yet note that Secretary Baker did not engage in anything approximating a full-throated endorsement of the partition/federalization plan.

Secretary Baker's concerns are well-taken. Partition and/or federalization cannot be achieved with a snap of the fingers and even a full commitment to a partition/federalization plan backed by the Iraqi people will take a great deal of behind-the-scenes negotiations to bring about.

But one thing that Secretary Baker may be failing to consider is that in Iraq's major cities, lines are already being drawn, and violently at that. As this NPR news report points out, sectarian violence is already causing demographic divisions in Baghdad. Such divisions may very well spread to other cities. Indeed, there is nothing to suggest that the phenomenon of sectarian violence will be restricted to Iraq.

The danger for American policymaking in Iraq may stem not from the drawing of lines between sectarian groups in Iraq, but rather from the refusal to draw lines. Whether America wills it or not, sectarian divisions are already taking place and they will result in violence that is more frequent and unmanageable unless the United States brings the situation under control. To do that, the U.S. may continue to try to work against any kind of planned division of Iraq. Or it may come to grips with the fact that the various Iraqi sects are finding it close to impossible to live with one another and accordingly, craft a viable partition/federalization plan.

Any plan for partition/federalization requires the consent of the Iraqi people. That consent can be given by the current elected Iraqi government, by parliamentary elections with the issue of partition/federalization as one of the key campaign issues facing the Iraqi people, or via a special referendum devoted to sounding out the Iraqi electorate on the issue of partition/federalization. If the Iraqi people choose in a free and fair manner not to pursue a partition plan, the United States is bound and compelled to respect that choice and to fashion its reconstruction work with the Iraqi government accordingly.

Partition and/or federalization should not be preemptively rejected by either the ISG in its recommendations, or by the United States government in its implementation of those recommendations and in the implementation of any other changes in strategy regarding Iraq. The United States should explore the option as a novel and practical way to bring about a peaceful resolution to Iraqi sectarian conflict and the prospects of a full-fledged civil war in Iraq.

Pejman Yousefzadeh is a TCS Daily contributing writer.

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14 Comments

It's not for us to say
It's all very nice for us to decide that Iraq must be partitioned, and that no consultation with the subject population is necessary. But we are supposed to be bringing democracy to the country, are we not? And the Iraqis themselves appear to be firmly opposed to such a plan.

According to the recently released WorldPublicOpinion poll, The Iraqi Public on the US Presence and the Future of Iraq,

"Iraqis appear to agree on having a strong central government. Large majorities among all groups want the government to get rid of the militias. Majorities of all groups do not favor a movement toward a looser confederation and believe that five years from now Iraq will still be a single state. A large majority sees the current government as the legitimate representative of the Iraqi People."

http://www.worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/pdf/sep06/Iraq_Sep06_rpt.pdf

What they feel most strongly about is that the government be strong enough to get rid of the militias-- not that everyone sit back and allow the competing militias to duke it out. To the question "Would you prefer to have a strong government that would get rid of all militias or do you think it would be better to continue to have militias to provide security", they responded as follows:

In favor of strong government:
All: 77%
Shia: 65%
Sunni: 100%
Kurd: 82%.

So the results are clear. If, out of the goodness of our hearts, we want to help the Iraqi people get on their feet by backing the central government, we will focus our energies on finding ways to help them defeat the militias, both politically and militarily. We will not attempt to impose an unpopular solution on them because we have decided we know better than they what they should have.

Obviously, the Iraqis must decide this issue...
Roy, I saw nothing in the article to suggest that America has any interest in imposing a partioning of Iraq on the Iraqi people. Indeed, the article suggests that the Baker committee is somewhat reluctant to even suggest such a division because of the real difficulties that would have to be addressed should ultimate partionining take place.

If anyone is imposing partioning on the people, it is the terrorists and the militias.

Personally, I think the idea of partioning has some merit, it certainly has worked in the Kurdish area. But I don't count. The Iraqi people will have to decide. It may be that your WorldOpnionPoll is outdated and that the growing violence between the Sunni and Shia has changed many minds.

The only way to know for sure is to invite an national vote.

a federalized system
may be the answer. This could give some local control under a powerful central government.

The problem here is the militia groups; they must be disarmed and disbanded.

Reason Magazine says....
This is an article called The Kurds Go Their Own Way .

In essence it points out something that many Americans forget or may not realize: That the Kurds already are effectively partitioned and already ruling themselves. It's a long artiicle but worth reading (IMHO) if you really are interested in the subject.

sorry, here is link
The html link works in the preview, but not in the actual message. Interesting. Anyway, here it is:

http://www.reason.com/0608/fe.mt.the.shtml

How much more worng can you get?
Take a look at the last three paragraphs of this story, where the author specifically discusses how to get approval for a partition.

You go on to cite the same poll from the "Culture War" article, and you do so on a question that is not asked: Should we have a strong central government or three, mostly autonomous regions? That is a very different question from: Should the government protect us from terrorists, or should other terrorists?

Inviting a national vote
1. I'm not in disagreement with Pejman. He's pointing out the pros and cons of partitioning, and does not come out in favor of either approach. He even says "If the Iraqi people choose in a free and fair manner not to pursue a partition plan, the United States is bound and compelled to respect that choice and to fashion its reconstruction work with the Iraqi government accordingly."

So his approach is very balanced. I'm just weighing in with my opinion.

2. "If anyone is imposing partioning on the people, it is the terrorists and the militias."

True. That would include the foreign adventurers (Al Qaeda in Iraq), the "former regime elements" and the various militias of every faction. It's a small proportion of the population that is making life miserable for everyone. And sadly, the current Iraqi military, police and security services are unable to address the issue effectively. Indeed the assumption is that many of these units are compromised, and death squads are working from within. At least their trademark is to work while in uniform, using police vehicles.

3. Kurdistan has been relatively quiet until recent months. But everyone is waiting for the real trouble to begin. If the Kurds are granted autonomy it is anticipated that the ethnic cleansing of Kirkuk and Mosul will begin in earnest.

So, in light of the many Arabs and Turkomans now living in those cities, it seems that partitioning is likely to cause as many problems as it solves.

4. "It may be that your WorldOpnionPoll is outdated and that the growing violence between the Sunni and Shia has changed many minds."

The growing violence began at the start of 2006, and has been raging hotter and hotter across the summer. The poll has just been published within this past week. It's very current.

But I agree with your conclusion. This is an issue that will have to be decided by national referendum.

Better options needed
"The problem here is the militia groups; they must be disarmed and disbanded."

Agreed. Any ides as to how?

The al-Maliki government is not up to the job. And the US initiative has been unsuccessful.

Advance word from the Baker-Hamilton commission is that they are considering a plan to turn security over to regional players, like Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Iran. Of course they haven't yet consulted any of these countries. It may be that they will be reluctant.

And Turkey, for one, would not be welcome into the country. They're a hair's breadth from going to war with Kurdistan as it is.

Letting Iraqis decide
I'm in agreement with the last three paragraphs of the author's article. Does this make me wrong?

The article is nuanced-- very rare for anything published here at TCS. He says "The danger for American policymaking in Iraq may stem not from the drawing of lines between sectarian groups in Iraq, but rather from the refusal to draw lines."

The operative word is "may". The question is a jump ball. Any partition plan might alleviate stresses on areas where the population was already separate. But it would make problems much, much worse in those areas where the population is mixed. I'm looking at places like Baghdad, which can't be ethnically divided, and Kirkuk, which is a volatile mare's nest waiting to explode.

The question was not asked as to whether the respondents favored a partition plan. But this was asked: ""Would you prefer to have a strong government that would get rid of all militias or do you think it would be better to continue to have militias to provide security."

Since the militias are the centripetal force driving Iraq into fragments, while the central government is the glue trying to hold it together, I think their overwhelming response in favor of the central government does give us some inkling as to how they would vote in a national plebiscite on the question.

But I agree, such a plebiscite should be held, probably at their next election.

Interesting article...
...but misleading. In reality Iraqi Kurds are conducting ethnic cleansing operations in the mixed cities of Kirkuk and Mosul. Ethnic Arabs, Turkomans and Chaldean Christians are fleeing for safety.

Meanwhile Michael Totten in Reason says flatly: "There are no insurgents in Kurdistan. Nor are there any kidnappings."

Here's a Washington Post article titled "Kurdish Officials Sanction Abductions in Kirkuk; US memo says Arabs, Turkmens secretly sent to the north"

"KIRKUK, Iraq -- Police and security units, forces led by Kurdish political parties and backed by the U.S. military, have abducted hundreds of minority Arabs and Turkmens in this intensely volatile city and spirited them to prisons in Kurdish-held northern Iraq, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials, government documents and families of the victims."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/06/14/AR2005061401828_pf.html

It may be safer to say that Mr Totten was conducted on a tour during which no kidnappings or murders occurred.

Even though...
Roy is continuing to base his opinions on suspect polls he has the central point right: only the Iraqis should make this choice. They have an elected government that has the support of the people and it would be a disaster to just willy-nilly dissolve it and start dividing the country.

If the Iraqis want division then they can ask for it themselves.

this is backtracking mistakes made by Britian decades ago
The British may not consider a mistake the fact that they drew all the current middle eastern national boundaries across religious and ethnic lines, purposefully mixing antagonistic groups so that one group will always be repressing another fomenting strife. But I consider it a mistake since MY nations military is taking an average of 80 deaths a month to attempt a fix.
The entire middle east is a mess dating from the unnatural divisions imposed by the British. I believe this is one of the reasons they are there now, a bit of guilt mixed in with a realization that the fight is already in their home…..

In light of this fact, redrawing the lines maybe the best fix even if the results are out and out war between the new nation states and war between the USA, Iraq and possibly Turkey. In this case the results will be like the results of Israel letting the Palis have complete control of their territory, thus they are 100% responsible for the actions of Pali citizens and forced into different paradigm then a movement fighting for freedom, the paradigm of responsibility as opposed to rebellion.

The two largest problems with autonomy for the three Iraqi people is:
1 turkey, the Turks are completely freaked out by the possibility of an independent Kurdistan, due to their own “restive” Kurdish population that constantly gives them terrorist problems. The Turks are as we write, massing on the Turk/Iraqi border
:2 as are the Iranians for the same reasons, they have NO interest in an independent Kurdistan since their Kurdish population is unhappy also. The Iranians also are in the process of adsorbing the south of Iraq with no apparent resistance by the American administration to this aggressive advance by Iran. A purposeful fragmenting of Iraq will play into their hands in an uncomfortable way.
Unless this administration is willing to shut down the Iranian Mullahs in Qom and face down the Turks at the Kurdish border with air power and tanks, fragmenting Iraq is out of the question.

The one reliable party in Iraq
Given the Turks policies I really don't care too much what upsets them. As for the Iranians, an independent Kurdistan is a thumb in their eye, so by all means let us create and support an independent Kurdistan. As for the rest of the nation allow the Jordanians to take it over. I rather have allies fighting alongside us than listening to jokers who have opposed us.

In fact, we should allow the Kurds to clean house and turn our backs for two months as they do so. In the meantime, our dhimmiecrats can withdraw to Canada and tell us how patriotic they are.

more deaths?
It seems like people are always worried about there being so many deaths in Iraq, yet we know that when Sadam was in power there were about 2400 deaths from him. Now some people think that if the americans leave there will be what; the same as when sadam was there, or the miracle of none? And we can be sure that if a pull out then a civil war with really high death rates, who would be blamed? The States of course! Liberals will then say that you could have, and should have prevented it.

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