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Iraq Partition Becomes Fashionable Policy In Washington

Senator Joe Biden (pictured) is the ranking Democrat on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) May 02, 2006
Partitioning Iraq has become a new, fashionable policy in Washington, but it would easier said than done. The idea has been gathering steam in various think tanks over the past year and it took center stage this weekend when Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, advocated it.

Biden spelled out his ideas in article with Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, in the New York Times Monday.

Anthony Cordesman, who holds the Arleigh Burke chair in strategy at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, Monday published a CSIS paper criticizing the practicality of the idea. "Iraq does not have a neat set of ethnic dividing lines," he wrote.

"There has never been a meaningful census of Iraq that shows exactly how its Arab Sunnis, Arab Shiites, Kurds and other factions are divided or where they are located. Recent elections have made it clear, however, that its cities and 18 governorates all have significant minorities, and any effort to divide the country would require massive relocations."

Also, partitioning Iraq may well make the United States far more enemies than friends in the Middle East. Partition would mean giving effective independence to the roughly five million Kurds in northern Iraq. But this idea is anathema to neighboring Iran and Turkey, nations that both have large Kurdish minorities.

Relations between Turkey and the Kurds are particularly fraught. At least 30,000 people were killed through the 1990s in n uprising across the Kurdish-populated regions of eastern Turkey. Although Turkey is a member of NATO and traditionally one of America's most loyal and powerful allies in the region, relations have deteriorated in recent years. The Turks are especially incensed at U.S. support of the Kurds in Iraq. And there is widespread popular anger in Turkey over threats to the Turkoman minority in northern Iraq from local Kurdish militias.

Major, moderate, pro-American Arab nations like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and the Gulf emirates are likely also to be furious at the Untied States if it partitions Iraq. Baghdad was the seat of the Sunni Muslim Caliphate during the most glorious era of its history and Iraq in modern times too has always been seen as Arabs their most powerful military nation and the one that guards the eastern flank of the Arab world. Partitioning Iraq could therefore give an enormous boost to anti-American passions from Morocco on the Atlantic coast to the Gulf States and Oman by the Indian Ocean.

Also, partitioning Iraq, Cordesman argued, could be tantamount to giving the most fierce anti-American and anti-Western Islamists permanent control of the Sunni Muslim minority in central Iraq. The Sunni Muslim-majority regions of Iraq have no oil of their own and are landlocked. They would be isolated impoverished and bitter if a three-way partition is imposed. "Neo-Salafi Sunni Islamist extremist groups with ties to Al Qaida already have come to dominate the Sunni insurgents. If Iraq divides, either they will dominate the Iraqi Arab Sunnis, or Arab Sunni states like Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia will be forced to do so," Cordesman wrote.

Nor is there any guarantee that the 15-million-strong Shiite majority in Iraq would stay unified or largely pro-American if partition was enforced. "The Shiite south is also divided, with the Shiites in Basra talking about their own area separate from many other Shiites who would control the oil in the south," Cordesman wrote.

Partitioning Iraq would certainly boost Iran's influence in the Shiite community by removing Kurds and Sunni Muslims as political counterweights within the same society. Iran, furthermore, has been concentrating on building up its influence and support for armed militias in the south, where the oil is.

Partitioning Iraq, far from fostering an atmosphere of peace and stability that would allow the country to develop its enormous oil resources, may lead to so much instability and conflict that Iraqi oil cannot be effectively exploited for years or decades to come, Cordesman argued.

"Once the nation effectively divides, so does its major resource, and in ways that make the territorial losers in non-oil areas effectively dysfunctional," Cordesman wrote. "The central government cannot preside over a divided nation and hope to control oil and the nation's infrastructure and export facilities at the same time. This leaves the 'losers' with little choice other than further conflict."

Cordesman concluded that partitioning Iraq would create "a violent power vacuum in an already dangerous region." This result, he argued, "is not a strategy, it is simply an abdication of both moral responsibility and the national interest."

The White House Monday clearly indicated its position on partition. Spokesman Scott McClellan first noted it was a question for the Iraqis to decide, but added "a partitioned government with regional security forces and a weak central government is something that no Iraqi leader has proposed, and that the Iraqi people have not supported."

"The United States remains firmly committed to the vision for the future of Iraq that was outlined in the United Nations Security Council resolution 1546, which called for a federal, democratic, pluralist and unified Iraq in which there is full respect for political and human rights."

Source: United Press International

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