Friday, August 25, 2006

Arguments against dividing Iraq

Peter Galbraith has written a book titled "The End of Iraq," which is likely to influence many liberal American politicians and perhaps a few conservatives. Reidar Visser is a research fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs and editor of the website

Reidar Visser argues against the main thesis of Galbraith's book, which is that Iraq must be divided into at least three smaller nations.
With the exception of the author’s claim that, in their inner conscience, leading Kurdish politicians are not in favor of Iraqi unity (p. 99), much of the remainder of his argument for partition is either based on the increasing levels of political violence more generally, or not related to Iraq at all. The idea of coexistence in Iraq is “absurd” charges Galbraith on pp. 100–101. The decisive proof? Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union all fell apart. But what about other possible comparisons, such as Lebanon – which descended into ethno-religious mayhem and saw extensive internal displacement of its population from 1975 to 1990, only to rise again as a unitary “mosaic”-like state? Today’s sectarian violence in Baghdad is certainly reminiscent of Beirut during the Lebanese civil war, where talk of partition and confederations materialized in some circles at particularly gloomy junctures, only to dissipate later on. And what is Galbraith’s position on the large numbers of other “artificial”, post-colonial, multi-ethnic states worldwide that somehow continue to function?

Galbraith seems to have scant interest in such examples of ethno-religious coexistence and reconciliation; instead he mocks anyone who shows interest in keeping Iraq unified. He roundly condemns the Bush administration for the heinous crime of trying to secure a “non-ethnic Iraq” (p. 166) and castigates them for speaking of an “Iraqi people, as if there were a single people akin to the French or even the American people” (p. 83). But he fails to provide any historically convincing justification for his own quantum leap from diagnosing a state of civil strife to prescribing territorial, segregationist solutions. That lack of historical perspective is a serious problem, because it precludes the writer from distinguishing between societies that are chronically unstable and those that experience a serious but reversible flare-up of civic violence. It should serve as a reminder to Galbraith that his claims about Kurdish leader’s anti-Iraq attitudes cannot possibly be repeated with regard to Sunni and Shiite elites, and that, despite the ongoing horrific violence, large masses of Iraqis, certainly in the Arab areas, continue to demand a “national Iraqi” army, a “national Iraqi” oil distribution policy, and a meaningful role for Baghdad as capital.
I do not believe that the Bush administration should encourage the division of Iraq. Since Iraq's oil reserves were not equally distributed by nature over all of Iraq's territory, any discussion of dividing Iraq would have to deal with the inevitable cries of those who would lose access to oil reserves. Also, since the Iraqi Kurds have already gone a long way towards establishing a civil society, keeping Iraq together is likely to have the positive affect of moving the rest of Iraq in the Kurdish direction.