Iraq: 1963, 1995 or 2006
Posted by Heather Hurlburt
Going through my emails after a quick business trip, I'm suffering from a bad case of vertigo. The Washington Times reports rumors of coup-plotting in Iraq that sound straight out of 1963; Joe Biden and Les Gelb have mounted a new push for their Iraq-partition plan, whose substance reminds me of mid-1990s Bosnia but whose presentation is every bit clever 'Net 2006. What decade are we in again?
Would anybody really try a coup in Iraq?
At the end of a piece which mostly sums up the rumor-mongering on Jim Baker and his commission and reviews the praise the Biden/Gelb partition proposal is getting, the Washington Times reports this:
Coup in Baghdad: While given little credence in Washington, this scenario is being widely talked about in Iraq and in neighboring countries, both on the streets and among senior political and military officials.
According to the scenario, the new U.S.-trained army, along with elements of Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist-led army, would stage a coup to oust the al-Maliki government and replace it with one led by a more effective figure -- by most accounts Mr. Allawi.
Reading on, it looks as if this is the fond hope of a group of Sunni exiles and generals rather than a Washington initiative. But the prediction of how the US would respond has a certain chilling quality:
According to most coup talk, the United States would publicly condemn the move but support the new government after a decent interval.
"My preference would be that there would be a certain amount of sanctimonious hand-wringing and saying that we don't agree with the overthrow of a democratically elected government," said [retired USA colonel] Mr. Killebrew. "But we will continue to support the Iraqis in their fight against the insurgency, which would be de facto support."
Allawi, as everyone in the region will remember, is alleged to have longstanding CIA ties
Partition -- What Would It Achieve?
Senator Joe Biden's PAC has set up a very nice-looking website to give all the details of Biden and Les Gelb's proposal for partitioning Iraq. Amusingly, it also has a very long list of "Praise for the Plan" -- much of which is not so much praise for the idea as praise to Biden for putting forward an idea.
Our in-house PhDs, Mike and Derek, are better-placed than I to comment on how ideas disperse and take over the discourse, but it strikes me that Biden and Gelb have now cleverly occupied the "commanding heights" by putting forward an idea that has the appeal of being concrete and relatively easy to understand and offering at least some appeal to ideas of fairness on the one hand, and frustration that "these people just won't live together" on the other. I see it perhaps coming to dominate the discourse for those reasons alone.
But I mentioned Bosnia 1995 for a reason. Lest anyone forget, the US and its allies have kept troops in the country ever since Dayton's partition-within-a-state. Since last December the EU has been in charge. 11 years after Dayton, there are more than 6,000 troops still there.
Iraq's population is nearly eight times Bosnia's -- and the twin challenges posed by terrorists on the one hand, and our dependence on a stable flow of Middle East oil on the other, are more severe than Bosnia's were. Other 20th-century experiences of partition, from Cyprus with its decades-old UN peacekeeping force, to the tragedies that families and communities throughout Central and Eastern Europe still recall from post-World War I, were at least as unhappy. Then there's the Korean DMZ.
I'm willing to consider, unhappily, an argument that partition would lessen the violence. But it sure looks to me as if history says that it would take a lot of outside troops, especially around Baghdad, to make such a partition stick. That's not how Biden and Gelb are selling their proposal.
Then there's the problem that only Iraqi Kurds and some Shiites, not even a majority of Shiites, seem to favor partition. If at least twice now in the legislative and constitutional processes, we've invited Iraqi leaders to partition/federalize their country, and they haven't done so, why do we think we ought to do it for them? And why do we think that imposing a partition and then leaving them to enforce it will work?
Having said all that, I do think the innovation of a website setting out the plan is an excellent one -- inviting into the discussion a whole segment of our population that is vey concerned about these issues but finds it very difficult to follow or participate in the inside-the-Beltway debate. It's also very politically-clever, and it will be interesting to see whether it spawns a trend.