Thursday, August 17, 2006


Perhaps as a result of reading Daniel Larison and Rod Dreher's blogs recently, I've been thinking of what the options are in the Middle East. It's clear from the news, especially pieces like this, that the current strategy is failing. Something needs to change, and needs to change dramatically. But what? Most options either more or less give the insurgents what they want, or pursue largely the same types of strategy that have led us to this place in the first instance. So, with my trademark humility, allow me to propose The Solution:

First, divide Iraq. Iraqi Nationalism has been shattered by the insurgency, adn there remains no real constituency demanding the country stay together. The Kurds get the country they always wanted, with the cities of Kirkuk and Mosul intact. The Shiites get to have a nation of their own, and will not have to worry about keeping the Sunnis from killing them.

The Sunnis have caused a great number of problems, and so it would be nice to reduce their power still further. I say it's time to call up King Abdullah of Jordan and see whether he's interested in taking over any part of Sunni Iraq. Let's not forget a cardinal rule of geopolitics: a monarchy is better than a republic. The remaining part of Sunni Iraq gets what they want, pretty much: no Shiite domination, no foreign occupiers and a chance to control their own destiny. Of course, their destiny won't include a very substantial part of Iraq's oil resources. That gets divided up principally between the Kurds and the Shiites. Perhaps eventually they'll see the wisdom of coming under the stable rule of the Hashemite dynasty. Since the Sunnis have been deprived of the oil wealth they appropriated during the Baathist years, we might as well allow them to control Baghdad (with the probable exception of Shiite suburbs, at least as a transitional measure. It will be necessary to allow Shiites in Baghdad to provide for their own safety either until the willingness of Sunni radicals to kill Shiites evaporates, or the Shiites leave Baghdad for greener pastures.)

Such a solution means that the substantial military deployments will no longer be necessary. There would be little need to stay in the Kurd or Shia state except at the request of the new governments there- and the entire point is to get out of the Sunni areas. Dividing Iraq not only removes the necessity for America to police Iraq, but it removes the need to fight for control of the central government.

What are the drawbacks? Well, this will strengthen the Shiite domination of the largest and most important state to emerge from the rubble of Iraq. Still, the Shia largely control Iraq as it is- why should we be overly concerned that the Shiite revival will grow stronger with a firmer grip on a smaller prize? If this is a key concern, there is virtually no way to prevent it other than allowing Shiite Iraq to expend all its energy putting down a Sunni insurrection, which is not an acceptable strategy.

Secondly, you annoy the dickens out of Iran, Syria and Turkey by creating a Kurdish nation in northern Iraq. But who cares? Turkey would be foolish to try to invade with American troops helping train a new Kurdish army (not because the Kurdish army would be unbeatable, but because it would be an implicit American guarantee of Kurdish independence, and Turkey is not eager to get kicked out of NATO and lose whatever chance it has at getting into the European Union). And annoying Iran and Syria is a definite advantage. The Kurds would immediately become the most pro-Western nation in the region, and would need minimal international assistance.

Lastly, such a solution will result in substantial population migrations. With Baghdad no longer the capital of a powerful, oil rich nation, I'd imagine that a great number of Shiites will return to Shiite Iraq. A less dramatic result would probably occur in Kirkuk and Mosul, where a fair chunk of the Sunni Arab population will probably slowly migrate back across the border. These migrations are unlikely to prove as bloody as the current near-civil war situation.

I've referred to this as The Solution. Will it be? I don't know. I'm optimistic that the result will largely be positive. But the principal reason to do this is that virtually nothing could be worse than the current situation. As a secondary reason, remember that the entire region is dysfunctional. Exerting pressure Syria, Iran & Saudi Arabia by creating counterweights to their power is a postive move for the region. Ultimately we are dealing with an Islamic threat which will continue to gather its strength unless some events move in our favour. Geopolitics are incredibly complex, no more so than in the Middle East. Introducing a few unknowns into the equation will increase our chances of some positive element emerging.

Update: There have been some significant edits to this post expanding on my initial thoughts.


Anonymous Tuomas said...

I believe this will be the outcome more or less regardless of what the U.S. does - under the condition that the powers around present-day Iraq balance each other relatively fairly.

IF they do balance each other will depend somewhat on U.S. further actions. At the moment it looks like there's a risk for further (maybe unintentional) inflation of Persian and Shiite Arab influence on the expense of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordania (all Sunni, although of different kinds).

Where the U.S. will matter is during the process towards relative stability at and behind the new countries' borders.

Look at any map over distribution of ethnicities in Iraq. Unless you see a VERY simplified map, you'll find that large transfers of Sunni Arabs to a new Sunni Iraq, and of Shiites in the other direction will be required, unless they are to be at severe risk for getting killed like in ex-Yugoslavia.

There are of course also other, smaller, minorities who are at risk during and after a violent civil war.

As long as the U.S. occupies Iraq, or station troops there invited of an Iraqi government (that may be a puppet-regime or that may be led by a more legitimate national unity cabinet), no-one else will have opportunity to facillitate a relatively peaceful partition.

[In fact, personally I expected three years ago that the U.S. promptly would secure a Kurdish independence in exchange for "friendship" and military bases. I was wrong.]

August 21, 2006 11:18 AM  
Blogger gabriel said...

I'm perhaps more optimistic than you, Tuomas. The current fighting is largely due to a struggle for the power of the state. If each receives a secure state of their own, the principal cause of sectarian conflict will be eliminated. I don't imagine it will worsen, anyways.

August 21, 2006 2:07 PM  
Blogger Ando said...

Intriguing idea. A big problem I see is the Shiites and Sunnis putting up a stink about the distribution of oil resources. IIRC, the Kurdish areas are home to some of the larger reserves. I don't know that they'd let that go without a pretty stiff fight, political or military. Also, an Iran-influenced Shiite Iraq is a little unnerving. However, I agree that it can't get much worse and I have no background in geopolitics, so, really, I have no idea what I'm talking about.

August 23, 2006 9:14 PM  
Blogger Bernard Brandt said...

I entirely agree with you on most of this, Gabriel. Dividing Iraq into a northern Kurdistan, a central Sunnistan, and a southern Shiastan also has the advantage of precedent, as that was the makeup of pre-WWI "Iraq" in the old Turkish empire.

I also like your idea of full U.S. support of Kurdistan, and annexing Sunnistan to Jordan, while giving Jordan the means of putting down the insurgents there.

One suggestion: rather than giving the oil-bearing land (in Shiastan near the Persian Gulf) to Shiastan or to their neighbors in the north, instead simply annex it to Kuwait, as reparition for Saddam's seizure of Kuwait and his subsequent sabotage of the oil wells there.

That should be sufficient to piss off Syria and Iran.

August 24, 2006 4:20 PM  
Blogger gabriel said...

Bernard- actually, while there are significant oil fields near the Kuwait border, most of them are further north. The biggest oilfield is in Kurdish territory.

I doubt Jordan would want to try and take on the whole of Sunni Iraq- it's probably more than it could handle. But there's no harm in seeing how much they want to bite off.

August 25, 2006 9:30 AM  

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