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October 19, 2006

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.

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Comments

Yes, deja vu all over again.
The original intent of the US was a US-controlled puppet, Chalabi, but that was sidetracked by Sistani and his silly democracy idea which we will never support in an arab country. Thus was necessary the mosque bombing in Samarra, accomplished under US control, and the death squads which were trained by US military representatives (the "Salvador Option" touted by Cheney).
The whole thing is taking longer than I expected but these things take time. The goal is an intact Iraqi state with the US controlling our puppet dictator as well as the country's oil and water of course.
This may require a massive increase in US troops, and that can be covered by instituting a draft as is being promoted by the Dems and the New Progressives.
I just happened to be in Saigon when the US overthrew Ngo Dinh Diem and it's no big deal, really. The US government is quite experienced in this area--a superpower has to be (so the thinking goes).

So much for spreading democracy. The U.S. true intent in Iraq has always been to control the country, its water and its oil.

"Coup against Maliki reported in the making"

CAIRO, Oct. 23 (UPI) -- Iraqi army officers are reportedly planning to stage a military coup with U.S. help to oust the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Cairo-based Iraqi and Arab sources said Monday [October 23] several officers visited Washington recently for talks with U.S. officials on plans for replacing Maliki's administration by a "national salvation" government with the mission to re-establish security and stability in Iraq.

One Iraqi source told United Press International that the Iraqi army officers' visit to the United States was aimed at coordinating the military coup in case the efforts of Maliki's government to restore order reached a dead end.

He said among the prominent officers were the deputy chief of staff, a Muslim Shiite, the intelligence chief, a Sunni, and the commander of the air force, a Kurd. It is believed the three would constitute the nucleus of the next government after the army takes over power.

The proposed plan, according to the source, stipulates that the new Iraqi army, with the assistance of U.S. forces, will take control of power, suspend the constitution, dissolve parliament and form a new government. The military will also take direct control of the various provinces and the administration after imposing a state of emergency.

"There was a military plan for an overthrow of the government and that except for one or two general officers, all were in agreement. The plan consists of a military ruler advised by a committee of three. The reason for the military takeover was that President Diem had failed to act in the best interests of Vietnam on the occasion of the 8 May Buddhist incident in Hue. The entire Ngo family must be eliminated but the plan did not specify whether they would be killed or merely exiled from Vietnam. [Diem and his brother were shot to death inside an armored personnel carrier donated by American taxpayers.] When the military group assumes power over the government, elections will be announced immediately and will be held from three to six months following the takeover of power."

I've been surprised at the recent attention given to the Biden plan. The elements of drawing in the international community and committing to real reconstruction have been around for some time. And the core of the proposal—extreme federalism with a small central government is essentially the language in the existing Iraqi constitution. So while it seems like a new proposal it wouldn't likely change the conditions on the ground.

But Washington loves window dressing. Perhaps that's why there are rumors that 12 GOP senators have been talking to Biden about the plan—it gives the impression that the course is changing.

The plan falls into the trap sprung by Bremmer and crew at the onset of the occupation—thinking that Sunnis, Shi'ites, and Kurds all share the same aspirations. During the 1990s there were frequent clashes between the two regional Kurdish militias and political parties. Today we see fighting between the Shi'ites in Basra and Amara. Dividing up the country isn't going to resolve these problems.

As Heather points out, the plan wouldn't remove a significant portion of the U.S. military occupation. Longtime proponent for the Kurds and of a three state solution, Peter Galbraith, argued on the NewsHour on Tuesday night, that if partition happened the U.S. would need to have forces in the Kurdish region to run military ops in the Sunni region as the Sunnis wouldn't be strong enough to take on al-Qaeda elements. Overtures are already being made to the U.S. Iraqi President Talabani, (who is Kurdish) commented a few weeks ago that he would welcome a long term U.S. military presence in the north.

While unspoken, perhaps the allure of the Biden plan is the possibility of making the Kurdish area the new home of "freedom and democracy" in the Middle East now that the larger Iraq project has failed. With U.S. military bases seemingly welcome and plenty of oil to spread around, it's clear why this might be a popular option in Washington.

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