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Many Cooks Spoiling Iraqs Broth

Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr (pictured) suggests that to unite Iraq, we must first divide it. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Claude Salhani
UPI International Editor
Washington (UPI) May 09, 2006
From the White House to the Pentagon, and from the State Department to Washington think tanks, everybody has a solution for the mess in Iraq.

And how can we forget the ever-present squadrons of so-called experts paraded ad-nauseam on the various television networks, each one holding the magic key that will return the contents of Pandora's box that were released when the U.S. invaded Iraq just over three years ago?

Yet the chaos keeps growing; the numbers of bombs explosions are increasing; the killing and the sectarian carnage continues on a daily basis. And still, no one wants to be the first to mention the "C" word or the "P" words: that is civil war and partition.

Enter Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who wants to revisit Sykes-Picot. Biden put forth a new proposal (made in an op-ed essay in the New York Times) recommending that Iraq be divided into three regions -- a Kurdish region in the north, a Shiite-stan in the south and a Sunni state in the middle -- with a central government in Baghdad.

Biden's suggestion is that dividing Iraq will help reinforce it. The intent, he wrote, "is to maintain a united Iraq by decentralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group -- Kurds, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab -- room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests."

But did anyone bother to ask the Iraqis -- and their immediate neighbors -- what they think of such a proposal? They are, after all, the ones most concerned by any major decisions made regarding the status of Iraq. And haven't Western powers learned that solutions to regional conflicts cannot be imposed from outside but must be reached by the parties concerned? Or are we simply reverting back to the 'good old days' of colonialism, when Western powers decided what was best for the rest of the world? Lest we forget the missteps of colonialism, it may be worth going back to the history books for a quick refresher.

For the sake of arguing, let's analyze Sen. Biden's proposal starting with the Kurds in the north. Indeed, Iraq's new constitution allows for the establishment of self-governing regions. But that was precisely one of the reasons the Sunnis opposed the constitution and asked that it be reviewed.

The Sunnis, more so than the other two ethno-religious groups, remain opposed to dividing-up Iraq. It's not that the Sunnis have any great love for the Kurds and Shiites; it's just that they would be the big losers in such a transaction. The Kurds and the Shiites have the oil, the Sunnis do not. If such a dissection of Iraq were to occur, it would place the Sunnis at a colossal fiscal disadvantage.

Now one needs to factor in Iraq's Sunni neighbors: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan; we'll get to Turkey later.

While Kuwait, where memories of Iraq's invasion remains fresh, would not mind seeing an emasculated Iraq, neither Saudi Arabia nor Jordan would want to see Iraq's Sunnis placed in a position of financial and territorial disadvantage. Both kings, Abdullah of Jordan and Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, remain key players in the immediate neighborhood.

Assuming for a moment that the country is 'cantonized,' "what do you do with the millions of Shiites living in Baghdad" if the city were to fall in the Sunni sphere? asks Phebe Marr, a senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace, and a prominent historian of modern Iraq who has just returned from meetings with numerous key Iraqi leaders. That is just one example; there are dozens more.

Breaking-up Iraq into three cantons would give Iraq's Shiites in the south even greater power than they already wield, not to mention how much more influential Iran would become. A concept that frightens the Saudis, lest their own Shiite population in the nearby Eastern Province, where much of Saudi's oil happens to be, get any funny ideas. Ditto for Bahrain, where about 70 percent of the population is Shiite.

Now we come to Turkey, not to be considered a minor player in the complicated game that Iraq has become. There is a good chance that Ankara would not sit idly by and allow a Kurdish state in Iraq to act as a role model for its Kurdish population, estimated to number about 20 percent, or close to 14 million. And neither is Syria likely to be enthralled by an independent Kurdish entity on its border in close proximity to where its own, often restless, Kurdish minority lives.

As Phebe Marr pointed out, "Iraq could breakdown, but not break-up."

Perhaps the final word rests with President Bush, who after meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld upon their return from Baghdad predicted "more tough days ahead" in Iraq.

Quite a turn-around from "mission accomplished" three years ago.

Source: United Press International

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