Thursday, December 07, 2006

Donald Horowitz warns against partition in Iraq (in WSJ)

Duke University law and political science professor Donald Horowitz is one of the very smartest people I know, and is one of the handful of the world's leading experts on ethnic conflict - his Ethnic Groups in Conflict remains, after twenty years, the leading study, and I strongly recommend his 2001 book, The Deadly Ethnic Riot. Professor Horowitz has written several important pieces in the Wall Street Journal on ethnic strife and the political risks and possibilities there. His most recent piece appeared on Monday, December 4, 2006 in the WSJ opinion page, and I strongly recommend it to anyone trying to figure out Iraq war policy. Here in the WSJ. A bit of it:

The Iraq Alternative

Wall Street Journal
December 4, 2006; Page A16

Just when you thought the midterm election results had weakened President Bush's hand in Iraq, it turns out the opposite is true. The president has been liberated from a stay-the-course policy that the Iraqi government could pocket as an open-ended commitment. The voters have given Mr. Bush a chance, perhaps a last chance, to turn Iraq in a new direction.

The Iraqi government does not want the U.S. to leave now, but the American electorate has said that the choice is to show real progress or draw down the troops. For the first time in many months, the Bush administration has a credible weapon to use on the Iraqi government and its Sunni opponents, who increasingly see the U.S. as their last line of defense against Iran and against Shiite militias.

* * *
Many of Iraq's current problems stem from the Kurdish-Shiite attempt to carve the country into a confederation of three regions with a very weak central government. The result would be to leave the Sunnis, who strongly favor an indivisible Iraq, with a rump region in the center, devoid of most oil revenue. The deal would also leave minorities, large and small, stranded in zones dominated by their opponents and their respective militias. Sunnis hate this deal, and so should we. They fear it will make Iraq an Iranian satellite. If regionalization deteriorates into partition, they will likely be right, at least in the south, where pro-Iranianism, although contested among Shiites, shows signs of winning.

Partition would bring horrific bloodshed as minorities are targeted and forced migration purifies territories. The regions could very well go to war with each other over contested boundaries and people left on the wrong side of a border. Smaller groups will organize to resist, and outside forces will surely be drawn in. Turks may aid Turkomen in the north, as they have already threatened to do. Sunni states, especially Saudi Arabia, are deeply fearful of growing Iranian influence on their own Shiite minorities, and they will probably aid the large Sunni minority in the south of Iraq and those stranded in the center. The position of Islamic radicals will be strengthened.

If Iraqi politics does not change, this is the most likely outcome. Since it threatens all the Sunni states in the region, partition also means the danger of a wider war. Even though the violent partition of Iraq is not in America's interest, the U.S. will be blamed for it. Or, in the paranoid version, this is what the "Zionist-imperialist conspiracy" planned: division of an Arab country, accompanied by mass killing.

How does the Bush administration use its new leverage to prevent this? If the Iraq Study Group thinks the road to peace in Iraq runs through Iran and Syria, it has missed the point. Neither country has had any interest in fostering stability at a price we would or should be willing to pay. The only chance for peace in Iraq lies in changing the Kurdish-Shiite deal so that the Sunnis are incorporated into an undivided federal Iraq with a real central government, limited regional autonomy, and a new agreement on the distribution of oil revenue.

The odds may not favor such a new dispensation. The violence and distrust have gone too far, and strong measures against militias will be necessary. Still, the Sunnis know that if American forces leave Iraq, they are vulnerable to brutal repression. They would prefer a unitary state to a federal Iraq, but they have been coming around to accepting a federation that is not loaded against their interests, as the current arrangement is. Shiites also have reasons to reconsider. The Maliki government has not been able to put down either the Baathist or the Islamist insurgency. The former is particularly well organized and hard to defeat. Not all Shiite elements in the Iraqi regime are friendly to Iran, and they must understand that foreign Sunni states might just fill a vacuum left by departing Americans.

There is a process in the Iraqi constitution to produce the amendments demanded by Sunni opinion before the 2005 constitutional referendum, but Kurdish leaders and Shiite advocates of an autonomous south have made clear their opposition to fundamental changes. A parliamentary committee was duly appointed to consider amendments; it has wasted months squabbling over trivia. By contrast, last month the Iraqi parliament narrowly approved, over a strong boycott led by Sunnis, secularists and some Shiites, a law prescribing the procedure for the regionalization of the country. So things are going in the wrong direction. The U.S. needs to turn this around.

The Maliki government should have a choice: progress on real Sunni incorporation in the regime, or progress on phased American withdrawal. Sunni incorporation would need to begin with a revitalized and serious constitutional amendment process to avert the de facto partition of the country. To convince Sunnis that this was genuine, the government would have to discuss a Sunni agenda, make serious constitutional proposals in the amendment committee, work harder to cool down Shiite militias, reverse the most extreme de-Baathification purges in the civil service, and possibly reshuffle the cabinet. If it did all this earnestly so that Sunnis were drawn in -- as they would have every reason to be -- the Baathist part of the insurgency might either decline or be less warmly received in the Sunni heartland. Recall that even the Saddamist insurgent Ibrahim al-Douri recently called for a truce. External supporters of the Sunni insurgency would have good reason to urge Sunnis to participate in the new initiative to empower them, and if Sunni insurgents were less active, Shiite revenge killings would probably decline.

Shiites who are not pro-Iranian could find the proposals congenial. These would include some in Mr. Maliki's own Dawa party; supporters of the Fadhila party, which is strong in some southern provinces and opposed to a single, nine-province region there (in which they would be in the minority); and even followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, whose base is not in the south. All are wary of the largest Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and its leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the main proponent of a strongly autonomous south with close ties to Iran. There is a more complex politics in Iraq than the one that has formed the basis of U.S. policy thus far.

If such an initiative failed, there is another option for the Iraqi regime. The Maliki government has periodically complained that the Americans have tied the regime's hands in dealing with insurgents. If we pulled back or drew down our troops, government forces could be expected to deal brutally with Sunni insurgents and the hospitable civilian population in which they flourish. The results might or might not favor the government, but either way they would not be pretty. If the Islamic radicals were defeated and prevented from making a comeback, that short-term result would be congenial to our interests, but it is hard to believe that the U.S. could stand by and watch the brutality that made it possible.

Furthermore, if the Maliki government did succeed in repression on this scale, a truly authoritarian regime would likely emerge, with a Shiite region in the south, forcible Shiite occupation of the center, and de facto independence in the Kurdish north. This would be a kind of reverse Saddamism, but without its secular features and with strong Iranian influence. Like partition, this would be a decidedly poor outcome for the U.S.

* * *
There are three main options facing Iraq. One is gloves-off repression. The second is protracted conflict, gradual partition, large-scale ethnic cleansing, and the prospect of external intervention or even outright warfare among states in the region. The third is a last-ditch political effort to reconstitute an Iraq that keeps it whole and includes Sunni interests. This alternative aligns the U.S. squarely with ethnic inclusion and territorial integrity, both worthwhile causes, and with Iraqi political forces whose agenda happens to coincide with ours.

The third course may not have a high probability of success, but it is low risk and, if it succeeds, offers great benefits to Iraq and the U.S. This approach recognizes the large area of overlap between Sunni interests (and those of our regional allies, Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia) with our own. It also offers the prospect of attracting Baathists and isolating al Qaeda insurgents, and it recognizes important differences among Shiites, aiding those who do not wish to see Shiite Arabs subordinated to Iran.

This third course probably will not produce a full-fledged democracy, but it could produce minority guarantees and impediments to a nasty, ethnically exclusive autocracy. In the short run, it will not produce complete peace either. But it should still reduce the violence, and eventually could produce a stable regime that limits Iranian influence, Kurdish provocations of the Turks, and terrorist domination of the Sunni areas.

Keeping all the contending groups attached to Iraq would be a major achievement. If, however, this plan fails, nothing will be lost over and above what is already lost. For the U.S. administration, the plan is an attractive option, for it offers what the electorate demanded: real progress or a drawdown of troops. President Bush's newfound power, paradoxically produced by an election loss, makes this a serious option and the threat underlying it credible with the Iraqi regime. There is no reason not to go down this road.

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