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 Time to split up

 Source : National Post
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Time to split up 27.1.2005
By Ivan Eland


The Bush administration is hoping that Sunday's election will help stop the bloody insurgency plaguing Iraq. But few will vote in the country's violence-plagued Sunni-dominated areas, and so the Sunnis will achieve meagre representation in the country's national assembly -- a result that will only amplify Sunni anger.

So what can the United States do to dampen the insurgency and avoid a potential civil war? Something that till now it has avoided like the plague: rapid troop withdrawal and a complete transition to Iraqi self-determination.

Such a move would probably result in the partitioning of Iraq or at least the creation of a loose confederation in which the nation's Kurds, Sunnis and Shia would govern their own affairs. Many foreign-policy experts speak of this as a scenario to be feared. But such fears are misplaced.

Had the Clinton administration allowed the partitioning of multi-ethnic Bosnia in the mid-90s, Western nations would probably not have been saddled with the ongoing task of keeping the peace in this Balkan tinderbox. If American and European peacekeepers withdrew today, the fighting among Bosnia's ethnic groups would likely resume.

The artificially conceived state of Iraq cannot remain both whole and democratic in the Western sense. Regional self-determination would deal with the root causes of the insurgency and give guerrilla groups some incentive to stop fighting.

The Sunni guerrillas are fighting to repel a foreign invader and prevent payback from Iraq's soon-to-be-elected Shiite government. The Shia, who make up 60% of the Iraqi population, have suffered years of oppression under the Sunni minority, and will likely win significant power in Sunday's election.

Even the Kurds, who are generally friendly to the United States, may turn surly if they are not allowed to keep the autonomy they've enjoyed for the last 13 years. As demonstrated when King George III attempted to revoke traditional English rights from American colonists, taking away freedom is always more dangerous than not granting it in the first place.

If the United States withdrew its forces and each group were allowed to govern itself in its own region, the incentives for violence against both foreigners and other Iraqi groups would decline. The Sunnis would no longer be apprehensive about payback from a national Shia-led administration. The Kurds would keep their autonomy. No group would be able to use the central government to persecute others. And each group could convert its own militias into regional security forces.

There are downsides to such a scenario, of course. First, the three (or more) new governments might not fit the Western democratic model. Second, Turkey would not be happy about the influence that an autonomous Kurdish regime would have on its own restive Kurdish minority. Third, the Iraqi Shia region could be co-opted by Shiite Iran next door.

But such concerns are overstated. There are many nations in the region that are not U.S.-style federations -- Jordan, Kuwait and Bahrain, among others -- but are still friendly to the West. Moreover, Turkey has tolerated de facto Kurdish self-determination in northern Iraq for more than a decade, and would probably not invade an independent or autonomous Kurdistan for fear of torpedoing its entry into the European Union. As for the Shiite region, Iraq's Shia have shown themselves to be independent of their Persian brethren, and have different views on the separation of church and state. Because the holiest shrines of Shiite Islam are in Iraq, not Iran, Iraqi clerics have as much prestige as their Iranian counterparts (or more) -- thus lessening the religious sway held by Tehran.

Sunday's national elections will probably serve only to increase the violence in Iraq. A permanent solution to the country's woes requires a different strategy. Allowing Iraqis complete self-determination, including the possibility of a three-way split, is the only path that permits the Bush administration to extricate itself from the Iraqi tar baby.

Ivan Eland is senior fellow and director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif.

National Post 2005  


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