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Partitioning Iraq
Posted by: Dale Franks on Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Cragg Hines writes in the Houston Chronicle that a partition of Iraq might be a good solution to the sectarian violence there.

Or not.
the Wall Street Journal published on its front page an article headlined: "Goal of Iraqi Unity Fades as Fissures Harden Into Place." Illustrating the piece was a map of what current Iraq looked like in 1914, with its three major provinces: Mosul, Baghdad and Basra.

The three areas represent what is roughly the current ethnic and sectarian divisions of Iraq: the Kurdish (largely non-Arab) north (Mosul), the Sunni center (Baghdad) and the Shia south (Basra).

But only very roughly.

Iraq would not fracture neatly into three pieces but "into hundreds of pieces," said James Phillips, a Middle East specialist with the Heritage Foundation. "This would be a formula for unending instability."

Especially the big cities — Baghdad, Mosul and Basra — are "completely mixed populations," said Joost Hiltermann of the human rights organization Crisis Group.

Phillips predicted that because of the "complex mosaic" of ethnic and sectarian settlement patterns that a division of Iraq would engender "ethnic cleansing" that would make the bloody massacres in post-partition India and Pakistan pale in comparison.

"It couldn't come about except by a tremendous bloodbath,"Hiltermann said. "This is not a natural solution."

Additionally, Turkey would not be content with a Kurdish-run state on its eastern border. Nor would Iran likely keep even arms-length from a new Shia state on the Persian Gulf.

Tempting as it may be to return to the old British Colonial Office or High Commission drawing board and carve up Iraq, it hardly seems the prescription for increasing the number of the world's peaceable democracies.

Partition is an admittedly tempting option, which has been advocated by an eclectic group of Middle East practitioners.

Almost two years ago, former U.S. diplomat Peter Galbraith, a liberal Democrat, wrote in the New York Review of Books: "Iraq is not salvageable as a unitary state." Even before that Ralph Peters, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who writes generally conservative military commentary, said that "speaking of Iraq as a single, integrated country is a form of lying." He called for Bush to "perform radical surgery on Iraq."

But thinking back to pre-World War I Mesopotamia, the Heritage's Phillips recalled that it was the essentially outsider Ottoman Army that kept the peace.
The essentially "outsider Ottomans" had also been running the place for nearly a millennium, and were fellow Muslims, which made their job somewhat easier. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire—which, by 1914, had all the energy and activism as the piece of furniture bearing the same name—suffered the "benefits" of British and French imperial partitions of the Ottoman Empire. The boundaries of Mideast states are essentially artificial constructs, and have been for the last century. So, we're living with the results of the same kind of arbitrary, short-sighted, and failed Post-WWI diplomacy that led to WWII.

The only good solution in Iraq is a unified, democratic, federal state. But, whether such a state actually can come into existence is dependent on Iraqis themselves. The worst solution is a fractured region where Iran, or their agents, runs the Shiite southern region; Turkey emasculates and manipulates a Kurdish north; and Islamist—or Baathist (which is worse?)—elements controls the region around Baghdad; and all three regions live in a constant state of sectarian violence. And the bottom line is that we do not control that outcome, unless we're willing to keep US troops forever. Which, of course, has its own, obvious, problems.

Let me be clear: We needed to invade Iraq, and overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein. We needed to give the Iraqis a chance to build a stable, consensual government. Moreover, having decided beforehand, and subsequently embarked upon, a nation-building exercise, we need to stay in Iraq long enough to try and build a stable government there. Now, as McQ has argued, building a stable government may take a while. It took nearly a decade in Germany and Japan after WWII. That's a non-starter in Iraq, if for no other reason than we've pushed ahead with a much faster, more optimistic agenda than we did in the occupied Axis powers. So the time line is much more abbreviated in Iraq. I suspect we must out of Iraq—or, at least, substantially less involved—by 2008.

But, we will leave, eventually, and Iraq will become whatever it will become.

UPDATE: [Jon Henke]

The always-thoughtful Gregory Djerejian has some pessimistic thoughts on this theme, too...
let's not kid ourselves. Any gains to date are eminently reversible, and huge American involvement will remain critical, especially by Ambassador Khalilzad's team on the ground. And, of course, his main currency is the 130,000 forces in theater, for if they leave, Zalmay, however talented a diplomat, will be revealed a shadow proconsul left ingloriously without clothes. So I'm sorry to be so very dreary, but I see no option but for the US to stay in country likely through the end of Bush's term and beyond at troop levels likely above 80,000 even in late '08/early '09. Otherwise we will have made a mockery of our policy objectives in that country and indeed the region. We will have betrayed our own ideals, the lives of our lost soldiers, and countless Iraqis as well. We will have failed, dismally.
The future will be far, far worse if the Bush administration's rhetoric on Iraq continues to be at stubborn variance with the facts on the ground. After so many years, the failure of Iraqis to "stand up" in substantive and reassuring ways will expose the disequilibrium between how the Bush administration wants the public to feel about the war and how they actually feel about the war. And the public will — indeed, it already has begun to — turn on the Bush administration and the war fiercely.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

It may not be in the cards for Iraq to remain one nation for any length of time, but I don’t dismiss the possibility out of hand. When I feel less than optimistic about the chances for Iraq to become a stable democracy, I think about our own history. The Europeans in the late 18th century gave the United States about the same chance of remaining one nation as many give Iraq today. They were nearly right: our country almost did fragment on more than one occasion even before 1861. But by the grace of God and the blood of several hundred thousand Union soldiers, the United States is still united. The Iraqis - Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds - are going to have a tough time ahead not only because of the terrorists but also because they are going to have to accustom themselves to the idea that they are NOT a collection of quarreling groups, but rather members of one nation.

We will do them no favors if we encourage parochial, sectarian thinking.
Written By: docjim505
URL: http://
Partition is the new vogue for folks who didn’t like the war but can’t get the US to pull out... It won’t work. If Iraq partitions, Turkey and Iran ae likely to intervene in Kurdistan to prevent/preempt Kurdish uprsings in their own states. The Iranians may move into the south of Iraq and the Sunnis will assault whichever group, Shi’i or Kurd that appears WEAKEST, as the Sunni did not intend to live in an empoverished rump state! So partition doesn’t end or solve anything, it merely means the war(s) go on... it’ll be like Yugoslavia fragmenting. Partition is a tale people tell themselves to make themselves feel OK about a US defeat in Iraq...’cuz it won’t be a DEFEAT you see, just an "partition."
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
After so many years, the failure of Iraqis to "stand up" in substantive and reassuring ways will expose the disequilibrium between how the Bush administration wants the public to feel about the war and how they actually feel about the war.
I have great problems with the framing of this issue, and in particular it being the problem of the Iraqis failure to ’stand-up’.

When the US invaded in 2003 it not only occupied the country and removed Saddam from power, but also removed the institutions and infrastructure of government, the Baath Party and the ruling elite, and ALSO the army.

With a political vacuum like that I don’t think many nations could rebuild sufficiently to ’stand-up’, whatever that means, within 3 years. Nevermind a country with historical divisions held together tightly by a dictator like Saddam.

The US Administration was very naive to think it could.

Partition could get very messy in the near term and I don’t think the US has the stomach for that, politically or militarily.

It also seems unlikely as the major players in the Shiite and Kurdish political/religeous factions seem to be happy with their collective lots in the new unified country. It just leaves the Sunnis to cause friction in the new set up, but they gain very little from a division anyway.

Written By: symptomless
URL: http://
After so many years, the failure of Iraqis to "stand up" in substantive and reassuring ways will expose the disequilibrium between how the Bush administration wants the public to feel about the war and how they actually feel about the war.

Exactly how have they failed to stand up? You mean several hundred thousand troops in the field don’t count as standing up? From some sources,, one of the limiters, beyond the obvious onces of lack of decent NCO’s and officers, has been a lack of ogistical support units for the Iraqi forces. That is something being remedied now, so the numbers of troops in the field may rise further.

I think I want from the opponents of the war or the "wobblies" on the war a fairly detailed picture of the Iraqi End Game that they would consider acceptable. They always want it from George Bush, so how about turnabout’s fair play? What is an acceptable stand up of the Iraqi Armed Forces, Civil Society, Goverment, and Economy that would count as "success?" If the Iraqi Army and People have not stood up in the face of the current situation what did they expect?
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Well, firstly, why would you listen to the wobblies now when they weren’t listened to before the war when they said that the war was wrong, that the US Administration was ill prepared for an insurgency, for containing a fractious country like Iraq and that they weren’t even a threat.

When many of the pro-war people, or the ’prowlers’, were still worried about the false allegations that Saddam was tied with al-Qaida, involved with 9-11 and more interested in turning Iraq/middle east into a parking lot/pane of glass etc.

This is seriously a horrible situation that has evolved and it is fair to say predicted by many ’wobblies’. Unfortunately its the ’prowlers’ that are responsible for the solution, the very same people that caused it.

I’d be happy to discuss solutions (not withstanding my time machine being completed) but this thread is about the prospect of partitioning Iraq. Something we at least agree would be a bad, and is an unlikely, event.

What I would say is that I think you’re not correct in assuming that this is the end game. I’d say Iraq is still deep within its middle game. There’s no clear indication that things will improve and with the escalating civic unrest every possibilty that things could go from bad to worse.

Its true that there is a growing military force, but depending on who you read, that force is in vary forms of readiness, and certainly far from independence. And in many cases far from cetain of allegence.

If the US is looking for its end-game, looking for its closing gambit, and feel content to withdraw to a safe distance to merely observe the onsueing events then you’re right, this may be an end-game.

In that respect the "Iraqis failing to ’stand-up’" can then be seen in a more clearer context.

Written By: symptomless
URL: http://
Symptomless you ignore one point and mistake another. I hear things are not going well in Iraq. That one option may be to PARTITION Iraq? OK, riddle me this, by what standard are things not going well in Iraq? At what point would the Wobblies admit that things ARE going well in Iraq? You choose to ignore that question. Things are good or bad in RELATIONSHIP TO SOME STANDARD. Please advance the standard by which you would judge success. Without that standard why ought I accept that things are not going well? And without a standard of success it is quite possible that the war will NEVER end satisfactorily, for the Wobblies. After all with no goal posts to cross how can any policy be judged or be judged successful? Now this is a good POLITICAL trick, you don’t have to commit to anything and you can never be judged "wrong" because we have no criteria by which to judge YOUR position. Or as we say here, "It’s good work if yo can get it." I just don’t think I’m in the mood to give you the job.

Also, I am not suggesting that the US is in an end-game. I wanted YOUR definiton of the end game, for reasons related above.
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Joe, if the war didn’t start for satisfactory reasons its hardly likely to end satisfactorily.

Your ’point’ it seems to me is to posit the criteria for success and failure on the very people who would deem it a total failure for existing.

Where are Geoge Bush’s criteria for success and failure? Apart from Iraqi’s ’standing-up’, which isn’t a measurable standard for anything.

You’re correct about it being a good political trick. All of the US Administration’s criteria, promises and goals hae all fallen by the wayside.
Written By: symptomless
URL: http://
I quit reading Symptomless’s first post after his ludicrous claim that there were no ties between Saddam and Al Qaeda.
Written By: Mr. Kennedy
URL: http://

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