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Debate: Partitioning Iraq

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Should Iraq be partitioned into three autonomous sectarian regions?

Background of debate

"This 'three-state solution' was first proposed in an op-ed published in The New York Times by Leslie Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations on Nov. 25, 2003.
In the U.K.'s Sunday Times (July 15) columnist Peter Galbraith agreed with the plan: 'The partition of Iraq into separate Kurdish, Sunni and Shi'ite areas is the only route to peace. There is no good solution to the mess in Iraq.'"

As sectarian violence dramatically escalated in Iraq following the November, 2006 Samarah mosque bombing, the idea of partitioning Iraq began to form in many policy-making minds. The idea was given substantial credence among policy-making circles only by the middle of 2006, particularly after Senator Joseph Biden began backing a version of the idea. He proposed a high degree of federalism that would divide Iraq into three autonomous regions, with the central government in charge of such things as defense and the distribution of oil revenues. While many believe that the a "soft" partition plan is unlikely to be implemented, given President Bush's opposition as well as the opposition of the Iraq Study Group, a substantial group still supports the idea.[1] Following President Bush's acceptance of General Petraeus' plan in Iraq in September 2007, significant momentum began building for Senator Joseph Biden's federalism plan as a principal alternative to Petraeus' plan. As such, the outcome of this debate carries significant weight for the future of Iraq.[2]

Contents

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Reducing sectarian violence: Would it help reduce the violence between sectarian groups?

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Yes

  • Iraq's history as a united country has resulted only in violence and demanded hard-handed governance, and partitioning it would solve this problem: Peter Galbraith "Iraq’s salvation lies in letting it break apart" Sunday Times 7/16/06 - "Looking at Iraq's dismal history since Britain cobbled it together from three Ottoman provinces at the end of the first world war, it should be apparent that it is the effort to hold Iraq together that has been destabilizing. Pursuit of a coerced unity under Sunni-Arab domination — from the first British-installed king to the end of the Saddam Hussein dictatorship in 2003 — has led to endless violence, repression and genocide."
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No

  • Regional and local government and security apparatuses would be unable to maintain order following a partitioning of Iraq: Rend Al Rahim Washington Post "Partition Is Not the Solution" 10/29/06 - "With the exception of the Kurdish regional government, the institutions of local governance, including regional councils, regional assemblies and the local police forces, are underdeveloped and fragmented, with little capacity to preserve the rule of law or deliver services. In such an environment, partition will inevitably lead to a meltdown of authority, and internecine fighting would intensify. We have had a harbinger of such warfare in the so-called stable areas in the south, where fighting has erupted in Basra, Diwaniyah and Amarah among the various Shiite factions; it has been contained only provisionally and with the greatest difficulty. With control of resources and absolute power as the beckoning prize, the factions would battle even more viciously for supremacy."
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Demographics: Would the demographics in Iraq allow for a partitioning to happen cleanly?

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Yes

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No

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Historical examples: Do historical examples show that it can work?

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Yes

  • Bosnia's sets a reasonably successful model for the partitioning of Iraq
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No

  • Bosnia is an example of the failures of a partitioning arrangement.
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Terrorism: Would the partitioning of Iraq benefit counter-terrorism efforts there?

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Yes

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No

  • A partition would strengthen groups that propagate terrorism and fundamentalism, particularly in Western Iraq: Rend Al Rahim Washington Post "Partition Is Not the Solution" 10/29/06 - "The most probable outcome of this violent competition for territory, resources and power [following a partition] would be a radical Sunni, Taliban-style regime in the west and in parts of central Iraq that would be a breeding ground for terrorism."
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Regional impact: Would the partitioning of Iraq have a positive impact in the region?

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Yes

  • The region would not resist a moderate partition plan, as they have always accepted the basic reality of sectarian divisions in Iraq, and semi-autonomous regions would be little different than that present reality:

Leslie Gelb, President Emeritus at the Council on Foreign Relations, "The Three-State Solution", New York Times 11/25/03 - "Since the gulf war in 1991, a whole Iraq was deemed essential to preventing neighbors like Turkey, Syria and Iran from picking at the pieces and igniting wider wars. But times have changed. The Kurds have largely been autonomous for years, and Ankara has lived with that. So long as the Kurds don't move precipitously toward statehood or incite insurgencies in Turkey or Iran, these neighbors will accept their autonomy. It is true that a Shiite self-governing region could become a theocratic state or fall into an Iranian embrace. But for now, neither possibility seems likely."

  • "Iran might enjoy having an autonomous Shia region under its influence." - Gulf Times 10/28/06.
  • Turkey actually has a strategic interest in an autonomous Kurdistan: Peter Galbraith "The Case for Dividing Iraq" Time 11/05/06 - "Turkey, Iraq's other powerful neighbor, has a population that includes at least 14 million Turkish Kurds. The Turkish nightmare has been the emergence of an independent Kurdistan in Iraq. But now that it is actually happening, Turkey has responded pragmatically: it is by far the largest source of investment in Iraqi Kurdistan and has cultivated close relations with its leaders. As Turkey's more sophisticated strategic thinkers understand, Turkey and an independent Kurdistan have a lot in common. Both are secular, pro-Western, democratic and non-Arab. Not only will Kurdistan depend on Turkey economically, but it can serve as a useful buffer to an Iran-dominated Islamic Iraq."
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No

  • A partition plan would be regionally destabilizing: Rend Al Rahim Washington Post "Partition Is Not the Solution" 10/29/06 - "The most probable outcome of this violent competition for territory, resources and power [following a partition] would be a radical Sunni, Taliban-style regime in the west and in parts of central Iraq that would be a breeding ground for terrorism. In the south it is likely there would be a fundamentalist Shiite regime pliant to Iran's will. In both cases these would be authoritarian regimes hostile to pluralism and genuine democracy. Unchecked by a stunted and impotent national government, these governments would use their resources to promote their radical ideologies abroad, support like-minded movements in neighboring countries and destabilize the region. Meanwhile, Baghdad would remain a war-torn city with a fig-leaf government too feeble to hold itself together, let alone uphold the rule of law across the country."
  • Iraq's neighbors would oppose a partition plan and possibly seek to intervene militarily: Rend al-Rahim "Partition Is Not the Solution" Washington Post 10/29/06 - "Iraq's neighbors would not stand by and passively witness the turmoil attending efforts at partition. There is too much at stake for all of them, and several are already meddling in Iraq's internal affairs. If Iraq is partitioned, Iran, Turkey, Syria and Saudi Arabia will intervene either militarily or directly...as Turkey might do in Kurdistan and northern Iraq, or by increasing and expanding support to Iraqi factions, or both. In the case of Iran, a stepped-up nonmilitary Iranian presence and increased support for pro-Iranian groups are both feasible and likely options. Iraq would thus become the battleground of an undeclared war for control not only of Iraq but of the entire Middle East."
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Iraqi constitution: Can a partition plan comply with Iraq's existing constitution?

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Yes

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No

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Governance: Would a federalized Iraq be capable of functioning as a state?

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Yes

  • The imposition of a centralized government has the potential to foment civil war: World Press "Iraq: Is a 'Three-state solution' Viable?" 7/27/06 - "The country is geographically and ethno-religiously divided into three: Sunni Kurds, Sunni Arabs, and Shi'i Arabs, with Turkoman and Christian minorities. The present endemic violence has a strong chance of boiling over into civil warfare if a federation or confederation is imposed on terms not acceptable to all three major groups."
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No

  • Regional and local government and security apparatuses would be unable to maintain order following a partitioning of Iraq: Rend Al Rahim Washington Post "Partition Is Not the Solution" 10/29/06 - "With the exception of the Kurdish regional government, the institutions of local governance, including regional councils, regional assemblies and the local police forces, are underdeveloped and fragmented, with little capacity to preserve the rule of law or deliver services. In such an environment, partition will inevitably lead to a meltdown of authority, and internecine fighting would intensify. We have had a harbinger of such warfare in the so-called stable areas in the south, where fighting has erupted in Basra, Diwaniyah and Amarah among the various Shiite factions; it has been contained only provisionally and with the greatest difficulty. With control of resources and absolute power as the beckoning prize, the factions would battle even more viciously for supremacy."
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US interests: Is a partitioning of Iraq in the US national interests?

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Yes

  • If partitioning Iraq is the best way to stabilize Iraq, than it is also the best way to uphold US national interests of stabilizing the country and getting out: If it leads more quickly to a stable Iraq, than it will more quickly allow for with the withdrawal of US troops.
  • If civil war is the likely outcome, a partitioning of Iraq may be the easiest way for the United States to exit seamlessly: Peter Galbraith "The Case for Dividing Iraq" Time 11/05/06 - "For many Americans, the biggest appeal of partition is that it makes possible a relatively rapid U.S. exit from much of Iraq. If U.S. goals no longer include preserving national unity or establishing Western-style democracy, there is no need for U.S. troops in the Shi'ite south or Baghdad. We would leave behind a civil war and an Iran-dominated south, but that outcome would be no different if we were to stay with the current force levels and mission."
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No

  • A partitioning plan would leave Iraq worse off, so it would also leave US interests worse off as well:
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Iraqi government: Where does the Iraqi government stand?

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Yes

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No

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Shiites: Where do the Shiites stand on this issue?

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Yes

  • Shias see a partition plan as a means of constraining the Sunnis: Peter Galbraith "One divided by three is the only Iraq solution" Times Online 10/29/06 - "Many Shias are convinced that the Sunnis will never cease from trying to regain control of the central government. Only by cutting the Sunnis loose [in a federalized system], they argue, can peace be restored. Some of the Shia refugees, who have fled Sunni areas and are now living in camps in the south or outside the country, hope that partition will allow them to be permanently resettled, possibly in homes vacated by Sunnis fleeing the other way."
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No

  • Many Shias would reject a US partition plan as an imperialist divide-and-conquer strategy: Nir Rosen, "Three from one doesn't add up" Asia Times 11/27/03 - "An Iraqi population already skeptical of American motives would view any suggestion of further division as proof of a nefarious scheme to divide and plunder their country. Sunnis and Shi'ites would all take up arms and the resistance would be universal. There is no Sunni or Shi'ite Iraqi who wants to divide his country."
    • Iraq's Shiite Al-Basrah Newspaper 3/10/05 - "One of the original aims of the U.S. occupation of Iraq was to weaken and divide a state that served as a focus of power in the Arab East... The partition of Iraq along sectarian lines has been a constant in U.S. occupation policy."
  • Iraq Overall: Chicago Tribune 10/22/06 - "An opinion poll in June conducted by the International Republican Institute found that 78 percent of Iraqis, including a majority of Shiites, opposed the segregation of Iraq along ethnic and sectarian lines."
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Sunnis: Where do Sunni Iraqis stand?

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Yes

  • Claim that Sunnis may have the most to gain from a partitioning of Iraq, giving them reasons to change their general position to support for a partition plan: Peter Galbraith "The Case for Dividing Iraq" Time 11/5/06 - "In fact, the Sunnis may have the most to gain from partition. The Sunni insurgency feeds on popular hostility not just to the Americans but to a Shi'ite-dominated Iraqi government. Most Sunnis don't support al-Qaeda and its imitators, but they often prefer them to Iraqi security forces, which are seen as complicit in the killings of Sunnis. If the Sunnis were to establish their own region, they could have an army and provide for their own security. Since Iraq's known oil fields are in the Shi'ite south and the Kurdish north, the Sunnis do have reason to fear being stuck in the middle with no resources of their own. So, for partition to work, the Kurds and Shi'ites would have to guarantee the Sunnis a proportionate share of Iraq's oil revenues for a period of time, as they have already agreed to do. Over the long term, exploration for oil in the largely unexplored Sunni areas provides the region its best prospect for revenues."
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No

  • Claim that Sunnis fear being isolated from Iraq's oil resources: The Economist "Divisa in Partes Tres" 10/12/06 - "But any attempt to move towards partition would meet fierce resistance. Sunnis, clearly, would oppose any settlement that left them isolated in their oil-poor heartland."
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Kurds: Where do the Kurds stand?

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Yes

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No

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US government: Where does the US government stand?

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Yes

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No

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US military: Where does the US military stand?

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Yes

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No

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Others: Where do other key players and organizations stand?

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Yes

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No

See also

External links and resources

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