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May 10, 2005

Iraqi Split: Hold off on the chocolate sprinkles, maybe
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

OK, I'll  take the mandarins on:  I groan every time I hear or read Les Gelb talking about how the US should "promote" a three-state solution, whether a confederacy or formal independence, for Iraq's regions.  (For those who don't want to listen to the NPR interview, here is an older Gelb op-ed that makes the case clearly.)

Mike is right to say that progressives should be talking about what happens next in Iraq.  It's a discussion that, in the ideal world, all serious foreign policy thinkers would be having, regardless of ideology or views on the war.  BUT that discussion needs to start, and end, in Iraq.  What we think ought to become less and less relevant.  And for now, while what we think is at least as relevant as what Iraqis think, jumping immediately to federalism -- or beyond -- is likely to do more harm than good.

Here's why:  first, it feeds every conspiracy theorist in the Arab world (and that seems to be a good chunk of the population) who is already convinced that the US aim in the Middle East is to weaken Arab states and prevent them from standing up for themselves, their people and Islam.  And here we want to dismember Iraq?  US policy doesn't come much more self-defeating than that.

Second, it is pretty disheartening to our allies in Turkey, who sought and got some explicit promises from us about not promoting Kurdish independence and destablizing their southeast as a result.

I know, I know, what about the rights of peoples to self-determination?  The international jurisprudence on what is "right" is not exactly clear.  The right to self-determination co-exists with the right to territorial integrity.  The international community, heck, even Europe and the US, have had six years to agree on what those principles say ought to be the final status of Kosovo and still cannot do it.

For those reasons, it is very, very difficult to imagine any division of Iraq that could gain acceptance in the Arab world and more broadly.  We should also list the ways that such an arrangement would be at least as unstable as the current arrangement:

i.  Kurdish irredentism in Turkey and Syria, coupled with hostility bordering on paranoia from Turkey's security forces;

ii.  already-hostile Sunnis in central Iraq feeling extremely hard done by, with support from much of the Arab and Muslim world; and

iii.  new and unforeseeable currents between Shiites and Iran.

I'm always astonished that Gelb and others promote a partition as a way to get US troops out of Iraq, because supposedly the three entities would be self-policing and everyone would go quietly to his or her "own" state.  That seems to me completely at odds with the history of partitions in Europe, Asia and Africa over the last century.  Juan Cole, also in an older argument against Gelb, spins out some of the less pleasant possible consequences.

So Mike, I think that progressives thinking hard about what comes next in Iraq is good.  But the only people who ought to be talking about federation or partition are the Iraqis.   



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» Ethnic Parastates Bad from THE BELGRAVIA DISPATCH
Can I just say that I agree with Heather Hurlburt here (and Juan Cole!). B.D. has blogged this meme previously here, here here and here. P.S. Oh, and can someone please inform Michael Signer that ethnic partitioning is not a... [Read More]


Although we should not dictate Iraq's future, the U.S. has a responsibility to help the Iraqi people help themselves. And yes, that may mean promoting (but not promulgating) possible solutions. Tom Friedman's Pottery Barn rule comes to mind - we broke it, we own it, and can't walk away without paying the bill and picking up the pieces. That does not mean breaking it into smaller pieces, however - and that's where Heather's analysis is right on, as usual. Dismembering Iraq would be seen as weakening Iraq by the Arab world, and that perception would match the reality. To borrow from Cold War Europe, a three state solution will keep the Iraqis down, the Americans out, and the Iranians in. That's not in the interests of Iraq, the United States, or democracy.

you'd be talking about massive ethnic/sectarian cleansing if you were to push for the Gelb solution. the middle of Iraq is very integrated. What happens to Baghdad?

--" feeds every conspiracy theorist in the Arab world... who is already convinced that the US aim in the Middle East is to weaken Arab states and prevent them from standing up for themselves..."---

If I lived in the Middle East I'd be a conspiracy theorist too. There's good reason to be: the CIA really did overthrow the Iranian gov't; Reagan really did secretly arm both sides in the Iran-Iraq war; the US and British gov'ts really knew that Saddam was not much of a threat in 2002, etc.

And is it really not US policy to keep Arab states weak? We're committed to Israel's military superiority in the region -- including it's nuclear supremacy. There's good reason for that, but we can't say we wish to ensure Israel's military dominance and at the same time claim we want Israel's Arab neighbors to be strong.

There's a reason we give so much foreign aid to Egypt and Jordan, and it's not because we wish to see these Arab states stand up for themselves.

A final Iraq solution will need to be an Iraqi solution, but I think the emphasis should not be on delegitimizing American ideas on Iraqi political arrangements, but on demanding good, well-informed American ideas on Iraqi political arrangements. A necessary premise for the latter would be the understanding that American preferences don't take priority.

Nonetheless, I agree with Heather that the Gelb Solution is nonsense, for the reasons I outlined under Michael's post.

But above all, we should get beyond this hackneyed notion of federalism. There are many different federalisms, so stating whether one is for or agin' federalism in Iraq is uninformative. Thus, to think the Gelb Solution is stupid beyond repair is not to be against a federalist outcome in Iraq. In fact, I think it is an inevitability, but that a healthy federalism requires a strong, stable, and representative central government.

This idea that a three-state solution in Iraq will somehow protect "minority rights" from the Big Bad Central Government is deeply flawed. Minority rights are protected not by geographic division based on religious identity (what better way than to validate the repression of religious minorities?), but by a durable, legitimate political structure embodied in a constitution.

We need to get over this deterministic ethnic-sectarian violence attitude in the West that paralyzed Balkan policy for so long. It just affirms to the fanatics within the given ethnicities/religions that their cause is just and inevitable.

Correction; MI-6 and CIA did aid the bourgeois elements
(including not a fair number of the mullah's) to reverse
the nationalization program led by Mossadegh.(Taheri's
history bears that out) The British, French, Indian, Russian, Chinese, Swedes, et al; did arm both sides in
the Iran Iraq War; (re Timmerman's Fanning the Flames
and Who Armed Iraq)Everyone SVR, DGSE, Jordanian & Egyptian Moukharabat to the BND (Curveball was their asset;afterall)thought Saddamm had the weapons) On the
last point, we supply the Egyptian, Jordanian, & Palestinian virtual regime,as to the Saudi's,we
supply them with cash, while they provide the madrassahs
and the jihadists even the Brits have a foreign military mission, selling fighters to Riyadh (influence
of the Camel Corps) Other than that; you're right

...tempest in a teapot: we will either stay in iraq for the next 10-20 years while we assist the iraqis in creating a government/country we like, or we're out in the next 5 years (those 40 new bases be damned)and the country is left to go to hell in its own fashion.

if it's the former, partitioning the country is something the current administration would try: when it failed, they would try something else.

if it’s the latter, they will eventually partition themselves and why do we care?

guilt? wrong administration.

I found this man in the street, or perhaps, "Taxi Cab Confessions" Iraqi style was fairly interesting. A conversation between a non-secular Sunni and a Shi'i driver.
I asked him if it's true that there are many deaths among civilians in Sadr city.

-Yes there are so many deaths these days and most of the bodies are still in the streets, as no one can burry them.

- I see, but are these dead bodies for civilians or for Sadr men?
-I don't know.
-Where these dead men armed?
- Yes their weapons lay beside them.
(So they are not civilians as he said first!)

-Why are you pessimistic about the future? Aren't you happy that Saddam is gone? Shouldn't that give you at least some hope?

-How can I have any hope!? Look at our situation now; poor electricity, life is more expensive and shooting and bombing does not stop. Things are far worse than we expected them to be. At Saddam days we reached a state of despair where we longed for anyone to come and save us. We were ready to accept being ruled by the Jews and we knew it would be a thousand times better and would make us happy. Now the Jews are here and it's still the same bad situation, no it's even worse!

-But the Americans are not Jews. They're Christians, Jews and Muslims and some are Buddhists and some have no religion.

- Ah… you know what I mean. We used to call them like that.
(It's true that Iraqis call every westerner a Jew. So you can be a German Muslim or even a new NAZI but you're still a Jew!)

I understand, but can you tell me what's wrong with being a Jew!? Uncle, you seem to be my father's age and you must have known some Iraqi Jews as there were many of them at your time still living here, and all I heard from my father and his friends about Iraqi Jews were good things.

- It's true. Jews here were mostly merchants and they were the best and most honest in their work. But you know what I mean.

Uncle, do you have kids?
- Yes thank Allah, 5 boys and one girl.
-Are they all in school?
-Yes thank Allah. He answered
- Do you intend to let them finish their education or are you going to let them work after finishing primary or high school?
- Of course I'm going to let them finish their education!
- Even the girl?
Of course, even the girl!

- But why is that? Don't you need their help?
Life is difficult and their education would surly cost you a lot of money.
-Yes but it's worth it.
- How come?!
- Son, things are different now. Education is very important, as those who have a good education will have a secured future.

Perhaps things might be improving in Iraq after all despite efforts by the insurgency to spark a civil war? Unfortunately, at this point, the solution may be to convince Rumsfeld to swallow his pride, send 100,000 more troops for a short time and add urgency and expediency to the interim government's efforts to create a Constitution and a legal representative government.

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