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September 28, 2007

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Zathras

I agree with this comment. I understand the attractiveness of the partition idea to people looking for a solution to the Kurds' problem, and I'm sympathetic as far as that goes.

But the Kurds' problem is not necessarily our problem. I've always thought that while there might be pluses and minuses to Iraq lurching toward partition, there couldn't be anything but minuses for the United States in being perceived as making this happen.

Truth is, of course, that no partition (or anything close to it) could be "externally imposed" if internal support for greater ethnic separation were not very strong. Kurds aren't willing to submit to Arabs, Shiite Arabs aren't willing to submit to Sunni Arabs, Sunni Arabs aren't interested in a state in which Kurds and Shiites don't submit to them, and so here we are. But just because there is a problem here doesn't mean there has to be an American solution.

That's been my view, but the discussion among Democratic critics of the administration has taken another tack. This is that, wrong and incompetent and criminal as the administration policy has been for the last five years, the future of Iraq is still of first importance to the United States. Whatever the cost, we must arrange a satisfactory outcome somehow, and the "soft partition" idea represents one path toward this objective.

It's only one path, one that Biden has chosen to identify himself with explicitly and other Democratic candidates have at least not opposed. But whether it's the right path or not isn't the problem; the problem is instead the absolute priority Iraq now has over all other American interests in the foreign policy and national security field. This is what has to be changed, fundamentally, and if we are as serious about that as I think we ought to be we can't afford to be too worried about whether Iraq settles into a mutually satisfactory condition after the American army leaves.

We just don't need that many things from the country -- really, we need just one, that Iraq not become a base and sancturary for terrorists operating against us. There may indeed be things we might like to see in addition, and if damage control measures can attain some of them while or after the American army is extricated from Iraq that is fine.

The reason the war is such an ongoing disaster for this country is not what might happen to Iraq. A political outcome satisfactory to Iraqis -- assuming there is one -- does not mean a satisfactory outcome for the United States. Full intercommunal reconciliation and a stable liberal democracy in Iraq, if it could only be achieved after five more years of an American war effort comparable to the one now being maintained, would still represent an historic defeat for this country -- not compared with where we were in 2002, but compared with where we are now. That is what the administration is offering (without, of course, a guarantee or even a significant likelihood of such a benign outcome), and that also is what appears to underlie the positions taken by the other major Democratic Presidential candidates on Iraq. They might spend a little less on Iraq than Bush would, they might reorient the mission so as to reduce American casualties somewhat, but that's all.

Alan

Have you looked at Guido Steinberg's argument for a "federal" solution? http://www.swp-berlin.org/de/common/get_document.php?asset_id=4150 I'm not persuaded, but it's not unintelligent. Steinberg is a specialist in MENA and terrorism at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

Peter Principle

This is the same Joe Biden who bashed Guiliani (who is, admittedly, completely clueless) for "not knowing what's talking about" when it comes to foreign policy.

Joe, on the other hand, is living proof of the old adage that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Patrick

Leave it to the Senate's most loquacious member, Joe Biden, to pass the only non-binding resolution that garnered bipartisan approval.

Al-Jazeera's take on it shows that the only thing that Arab Iraqis agree on is that they should be one country. Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani denounced the plan in his Friday sermon (especially well-attended as we are in the middle of Ramadan) as not conducive to reconciliation in Iraq. Iraq's neighbors equally derided the measure, with the all-powerful Gulf Cooperation Council heaping on this afternoon.

Normally, non-binding resolutions tend to go gracefully into that good night. Unfortunately, this one has the potential to do real damage, and not just to Sen. Biden's prospects of becoming the next Secretary of State. This bill attracted a lot of attention to the ineptitude of the Iraqi central government; it's no secret that it has little control over its own capital, much less the outlying areas. A more subtle approach, one in which the United States worked to actively weaken the federal government by strengthening provincial governments had a far greater chance of quelling violence and unrest. In the wake of this bill and the resulting rancor, it will be nigh impossible to carry-out such a policy without Iraqis accusing us of working to undermine their government.

The spirit of Senator Biden's plan is not as egregious as this political stunt. A "soft-partitioned" Iraq, with some form of representative democracies ruling in the provinces is not a bad idea. Hell, considering the massive failures of the central rule, it might be the only workable plan for a peaceful Iraq. Unfortunately, much like democracy itself, it cannot be imposed upon the Iraqis by the United States; they must accept the plan and implement it themselves. The heavy-handed way in which this was handled makes such a scenario increasingly unlikely.

c. perry

Petraeus has given arms to the Sunni. Is he going to get them back? Of course not. These Sunni will never bow to a strong central government run by the Shia. The Kurds have already established their area. Throughout Iraq citizens are establishing a pattern of moving to safe areas. Iraq will end up with three separate states with no central government no matter what we wish. The option is a military dictator like Saddam. We very well might establish one of those. Democracies are messy and we can get better cooperation from a dictator.

anna missed

What do you expect, when OIF has in its entirety been the cultural equivalent of "Jack Ass the Movie" - against all rational advice and warning of dire consequences, do the first and stupidest stunt that pops into mind, just to prove that you can do it.

NajlahF

I think this resolution was more for U.S. domestic consumption rather than a plan to be imposed upon Iraq. Although it is steeped with condescension and even a throwback to the days of imperialism, I believe the move was meant to bump Biden in his Presidential campaign (as if it would do any good for him at this point) rather than a legitimate effort to divide Iraq. I agree with you that Obama should have taken a stand and voted no and call Biden out on the ridiculousness of this resolution. Creating a partitioned state may 'feel good' for the short term but it will just be Lebanon again, and we've seen how well the French plan has worked out there.

D. Smith

Mark Lynch is totally out to lunch in his disparagement of the Biden plan. What is he thinking?

There is no imperative that American's risk further blood and treasure in "facilitating the 'transfer'" of Iraqis. They seem to have managed on their own to "transfer" 2 million outside the country and another 2 million within an Iraqi population of 20 million Arabs. With 20% of the population having already "transferred," how much more transferring do you suppose needs to be done before a semblance of equilibrium is achieved? The sooner we get out of the way, the sooner the Sunnis and Shias will separate from the areas of
contention -- the southern Shias and northern Kurds are already segregated.

The "Shia-Shia" conflict is ongoing with or without partitioning, and will eventually sort itself out in Darwinian terms. The U.S. isn't going to settle the matter; so there's no sense interposing U.S. troops in that crossfire. What do you tell a mother whose son just came home in a flag-draped coffin: "Your son died bravely for the cause of preventing a
Shia-Shia conflict."??

If it "infuriates the Sunnis," tough. The Sunnis are the guys who have been killing our troops for the past 4 years, in case you haven't noticed. And anyway, what Sunnis "cling fiercely to the principle of a unified state"? The Sunnis have boycotted elections, walked out of Parliament, attacked the representatives of the state at all levels and basically know they will be an oppressed minority in a "unified state" dominated by Shias with scores to
settle from days of the Sunni Baathist dictatorship, not to mention centuries of Sunni-Shia religious warfare.

Partitioning won't fuel "radical trends in those [which?] areas." Left to their own devices, the Kurds, Sunnis and Shias will separate into whatever enclaves they can secure and defend and, once separated, get on with the
business of restoring order and economic activity among their co-religionists.

With ethnically homogeneous, secure enclaves for refugees to return to, why would "the crisis of the internally displaced and refugees never be solved"?
And why would "instability be promoted in the country and region for decades"? Is that the lesson learned in Kosovo, Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro? This guy's an hysteric.

And if partitioning Iraq "rewards sectarian cleansing strategies and encourag[es] them in the future," so what? It's the way the world resolves conflicts between people who will otherwise engage in endless civil war.

Partitioning isn't a perfect solution without adverse consequences. There are no solutions without adverse consequences. Partitioning is, to paraphrase Churchill on the subject of democracy "the worst form of government, except for all the others. . . "
D. Smith

Nesreen

The Israelis have always wanted to divide the neigbouring countries around them into their ethnic groups , and their plan is to continue until they apply that to Syria Iran , etc... Ben Gurion used to dream about that , and the israelis also discussed it again in the 80s . when they divide the saudis between Shia and sunnis , that s when the Moron Arabs will wake up .

bb

Setting aside the Kurds who are already autonomous, the inescapable demographic facts of Arab Iraq are that around 15 million Shia Arabs comprise a 95% majority in 9 out of the 15 Iraqi Arab governorates. Overall they outnumber the Sunni Arabs in Arab Iraq by about 3 to one.

It is surely delusional for the Sunni Arabs in Iraq to imagine they will ever rule over the Shia Arabs again? The Iraq constitution recognised these facts when it adopted a federal system of government, but the Sunni Arab insurgency seems unlikely to ever accept power sharing, consensus, negotiation and compromise with the majority Shiites.

So whether federalism morphs into full blown partition as it did in Yugoslavia is surely going to depended on the US keeping a significant presence in the (few) Sunni Arab governorates to stop the insurgency's provocative mass attacks on Shiites, and also to protect the Sunnis from Shiite retaliation.

In that context, Billary's vote for the Biden amendment and the possibility that Biden might become Secretary of State in a Billary Admin almost certainly means that partition will be the objective of the most likely next US administration and that US troops will be withdrawn leaving the Shiites to prevail via superior numbers and the Iraqi Sunni Arabs to be confined to a rump state?

AA is right to be depressed. Still Bush and Petraous have another 15 months to get on top of the insurgency and maybe the prospect of such a disaster imposed by a Dem Admin will move the Sunnis towards acceptance of federalism and a viable role in the central government?


Ali G.

I think this the best realistic solution in Iraq whose sectarian problems are so deep rooted to be resolved through a central government unless if it a brutal and authoritarian like one imposed by Saddam Hussein. The US government is opposed to the confederation plan drafted by both Democrats and Republicans in the senate fearing it will further destabilize Iraq and reinforce sectarianism. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated that this issue to sensitive and must be handled by the sovereign Iraqi government itself and the Iraqi people. The Secretary's statement is true but the problem is there is no real government in Iraq by all accounts. Iraqis are so divided among themselves and the Maliki government has been ineffective so far in running the countries affairs. The absence of strong governing bodies in Iraq is spreading chaos throughout the country and emboldens terrorist groups to impose its own rule of law.

The US government knows that the Arab countries and Turkey, which the US considers allies, are against confederate Iraq since it might pave the way for the country to break up into three different parts yielding a Kurdish state in the north and Shiite in the south. But guess what, these countries are doing nothing to help the situation and we the are only ones whose soldiers are being killed everyday. Whether we agree on the war or not, the fact of the matter is we are in already and something needs to done collectively to resolve the mess in Iraq.

kao_hsien_chih

I think people are confused as to what the "bad idea" is here:

Whether Iraq should be split up or it will break into pieces by itself in future is one thing--US doesn't really have a control over something like that anyways.

But it's a decisively bad idea if US Senate should be publicly expressing (solely for the sake of talking--as is the point of nonbinding resolution) whether a country that US claims is a sovereign entity should be split into pieces. It does nothing but offend people without doing anything either way. Senators are much better off shutting up rather than needlessly making unhelpful noise.

kao_hsien_chih
Blackshiprgo!

The US HAS ALREADY partitioned Iraq. It did so by allowing so much autonomy (and weaponry) to the Kurds. This was even before the US invaded and occupied Iraq. And it further partitioned the country by making the UK the head of the 'Occupation South' in Basra.

And Iraq as now occupied already has a 'soft partition' plan under a federalist constitution. Federalism under occupation though is largely rejected by all Arab Iraqis and even some Kurds (not all are in or want to be in 'Kurdistan').

The question then becomes what is substantive about the Biden plan (which seems to use the language of the zionist Saban center at Brookings)? That somehow by mixing more shock and awe with devolution, that the US military will gets its permanent bases in the ME?

Blackshiprgo!

I should also have pointed out that, in order to stay in power so long in the face of such international isolation, the Saddam/Baathist regime itself actually came up with much more power-sharing and local autonomy schemes. In other words, by the time of his demise, Saddam wasn't the all-powerful dictator in charge of an autocratic national government that the US media depicted.

Blackshiprgo!

And here, where ML writes:

>>It would infuriate the Sunnis who cling fiercely to the principle of a unified state and fuel the most radical trends in those areas while undermining more moderate leader.>>

One could also point that the Shia Sadrists stand on the same principle of a unified state run from the center. And they are the single largest bloc in the parliament.

brianr

What's the alternative Marc (with a c)? Claiming that now Republicans can claim they voted for a change in policy is far fetched. Most Americans see this in far simpler terms - staying or leaving and that's as far as they'd like to think when it comes to Iraq. It's too complicated. So instead of making some painful decisions that ultimately could work in the long term, you're content on being bogged down waiting for Iraq to get their shit together within a strong central government?

issandr

The range of comments above this one is quite astounding, isn't it Marc?

I'll say this for Joe Biden: he's done more for Iraqi and Arab unity than anyone for a long time.

Adrian

An article on Sunnis in Sadr city celebrating Shia holidays:

http://www.iraqupdates.com/p_articles.php/article/22616

Jonathan Versen

One of the main reasons American politicians who voted for the war in 2002 would favor partition now is it flatters their prejudices; they can hypocritically wring their hands about the good they meant to do in "liberating" Iraq, while chalking up the subsequent violence and US screwups to the truism that it "wasn't a real country anyway," hence not savable and not worth saving.

fghfgh

hi

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