Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Is Partitioning Iraq Antidote to Violence There?

Yesterday at, readers were asked, "Would Iraq be better off if it dissolved into three ethnic enclaves?" The responses are interesting, some quite well-informed. You might want to read the entries there.

A separate Kurdish entity would be easily established. In fact, with its recently-inaugurated advertising campaign for foreign investments, Iraqi Kurds already seem to be tilting toward an independent state. (How long the Turks would allow that is an open question.)

More problematic would be separate Shiite and Sunni states. I've read that members of the two groups have historically been integrated. But, given sectarian violence which now sees something like 100 Iraqi civilians dying each day, there has undoubtedly been a migration of Sunnis and Shia to safer places. De facto partitioning may already be happening. (On the other hand, once the situation was stabilized and partitioning was put into effect, the business of reparations for those who've lost home and property would be a nightmare!)

Some argue that a dissolution of Iraq makes sociological sense, that Iraq is the artificial result of British colonialism.

But all nation-states are, of course, artificial constructs. When the United States miraculously decided itself into being, there were many reasons to believe that the thirteen colonies, which had been far more accustomed to dealing with London than with each other, would crack up. If the three major population groups in Iraq want unity, they can make it work.

On the other hand, the fledgling United States had the assets needed to make a go of it as a single nation. These included common philosophies of government, common belief that no single religion should prevail, common experiences with self-government, extraordinary leadership committed to creating national unity, and the experience of having stood together to defeat the British and establish a new nation.

Many treat the dissolution of Iraq as a "silver bullet" that will solve all of that country's problems and allow the US to withdraw. What's interesting to me is that in recent weeks, I have read comments from both conservatives and liberals commending partitioning or seeing it as inevitable. Its appeal seems to cut across ideological lines.

But important questions go unaddressed in these speculations:

  • What would be the effects of partitioning or dissolution on the global war on terror?
  • Would al-Qaeda be encouraged?
  • Would the three Iraqi states quickly submit to radical Islam or be subsumed under other nation-states?
  • If it's difficult to train a single Iraqi army, what would happen if suddenly three armies with separate command structures and infrastructures had to be brought into being?
Whatever the answers, this discussion will undoubtedly continue.

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