Divide and conquer

U.S.: A Senate vote to divide Iraq and why Bush’s successors can’t be expected to deliver a better Iraq policy

At first you rub your eyes in amazement because you are naive yourself. The U.S. Senate, according to a news report last week on the desire for an additional $42 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, voted by a majority for a bill recommending the division of Iraq into three zones of rough autonomy.

The Senate vote yesterday calling for the division of Iraq into three regions does not force Bush to take any action, but the vote carves out a common ground in a debate that has become more polarized and focused on military strategy.

Washington Post, 26. 09.07

What, one might think, does the House of Representatives of one country have to say about the basic internal organization of another sovereign state?? What an interference! The thought of petitions that are passed in the German Bundestag, for example, on Chinese Tibet policy, is already a bit of a deterrent. On the other hand: The U.S. is the dominant occupying power in Iraq, no matter how sovereign Iraq is made out to be in Sunday speeches. That is why they are blamed by the whole world for the conditions in Iraq. New proposals are not in principle already colonialist; they are necessary. So the right question should be rather, what are they good for??

The plan envisions a federal government for Iraq, with separate autonomous regions for the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish people. The structure is spelled out in Iraq’s constitution, but the Senate measure calls for local and regional diplomatic efforts to hasten the process.

Washington Post

The Biden plan, which was voted on in the Senate in the middle of last week, is not new, nor are the doubts surrounding this proposal. It is therefore surprising that promising Democratic presidential candidates, such as Obama and Clinton, have not come out strongly against the Biden bill. It does not bode well for the Iraq policy of Bush’s successor candidates. For they testify to the fact that even the presidential candidates from the Democratic camp care little for Iraqi votes or for the Iraqi people. Conditions of grief.

The idea that we have three neat communities is sociologically and politically illiterate

Toby Dodge, International Institute for Strategic Studies

As experts familiar with the country’s currents have repeatedly pointed out, partitioning, even in its soft form ("This plan is not partition") as proposed by Biden, would in all likelihood lead to results that are neither in Iraq’s national interest nor in the U.S. aubenpolitische. Moreover, as Raidar Visser, a Norwegian expert on structural ies and the Iraqi south, points out in detail, the approach is not as in line with the Iraqi understanding as the Americans think.

Those who think that this is too formal must bear in mind that even a "soft partition" would lead away from the substantive goal of the Verfang, namely away from the idea of Iraqi unity. And the implementation of Biden’s plan was most likely to further divide Iraq, exacerbate animosity between Sunni and Shiite milieus, and probably lead to an increase in the flow of internally displaced persons. Moreover, the likelihood that the Shiite superprovince will be led by forces close to Iran is very rough. Iran’s position in Iraq has been considerably strengthened.

The reorganization of Iraq after the fall of despot Saddam Hussein has its fashionable themes. One of them is the division of the country into semi-autonomous zones. The model for this is Kurdistan in the north of the country, which has been repeatedly highlighted as a successful model for democratic development. Observers therefore also suspect that the lobbying for the Biden plan originated in this zone. Der Biden-Plan kommt ganz sicher den Wunschen der Kurden entgegen, aber ebenso sicher ist er ein grober Affront gegen die Grundlagen all dessen, was an politischen Wunschen von Seiten der Sunniten kommt.

I’ve never understood the appeal of "soft partition" to anyone other than dedicated pro-Kurdish activists. It sounds like such a nice, clean exit strategy. But near as I can tell, it would actually mean heavy and active involvement of US troops in facilitating "transfer" of peoples (ah, how delicate that sounds) and a long-term military commitment to protecting the new entities (especially the Kurds). It would simultaneously exacerbate Shia-Shia conflict while enhancing Iranian influence in the Shia areas. 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.

Marc Lynch

Plans for a moderate partition (not three independent, autonomous zones, but a federal model with a central government in Baghdad) were the focus of attention last year (cf. Last resort partition). They were then dismissed by Bush’s new perspective, by the "surge" theme, by the increase in troops as a priority recipe against the violence in Iraq. The division into ethnically divided zones is expected to de-escalate the violence between religious and ethnic groups.

The Biden plan is supported by the separatist plans that the head of the most powerful Shiite party, Al-Hakim of SIIC (formerly SCIRI), put forward as early as 2005: the establishment of a semi-autonomous Shiite superprovince in the south of the country. The corresponding draft law triggered coarser turbulence in the Iraqi parliament (cf. Sumer and Jerusalem in Iraq). Also, the political atmosphere outside the parliament was obviously not created in such a way that al-Haikim and others who advocated a Shiastan could ame relevant support. The tarpaulins were put back in the drawer. The subject was off the table for the time being.

That it was not dead, however, was evidenced again and again by interim reports from Sunni ranks, mostly from the so-called political resistance, which opposed any plans to divide up.

While the attention of the general public has been focused on how the spectacular cooperation between the U.S. and Sunni tribal leaders in the fight against al-Qaeda is unfolding, there has been news and commentary from various sources on the sidelines that has received less attention. They strongly emphasized that the basic demand, the main goal of all actions remains untouched: the withdrawal of occupation armies, first of all the USA. And a second, in the context often somewhat irritating note was to be read in such announcements: That any plans to partition Iraq would be denied. Which probably meant that although the idea of partitioning Iraq was no longer discussed in the Western public, it still existed in the Iraqi political sphere and had to be taken seriously.

The basic idea of the Biden plan is simple and catchy: Partitioning would provide a "home" for each of Iraq’s three broad factions; the Kurds in the north, the Sunnis in the center, the Shiites in the south. A central government would ensure equity among the three near-autonomous entities, especially in the distribution of oil revenues. In the ideal case, each one would get his own and would not be disturbed by the others anymore. The Sunnis did not have to fear a Shiite supremacy over the whole country; the Shiites in the South did not have to fear a Sunni reconquista.

The risks of the plan are concrete and huge compared to the vague benefits it promises, observers say. The division, it is feared, will deepen divisions among the factions. Instead of a conciliatory process, this called for completely opposite tendencies: Separation and concomitant resettlement on a scale that would be almost impossible to manage and would further inflame inter-group tensions.

It would guarantee that the crisis of the internally displaced and refugees will never be solved, promoting instability in the country and the region for decades (while also rewarding sectarian cleansing strategies and encouraging them in the future). And – most ironically – it would probably go along quite nicely with the current Bush strategy of ignoring the national government and focusing on the local level.

Marc Lynch

Obama is said to have abstained on the Biden proposal in the Senate, and Hillary is said to have voted for it. Both reactions do not speak for competent insights into the country’s situation. One can rather fear the opposite.

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