If one Iraq is fun, then three Iraqs must be....

Monday, January 08, 2007 at 06:00 PM

Have you noticed the recent flurry of commentary advocating the segregation of Iraq by sectarian loyalty?  In other words, if you can't make Shia, Sunni and Kurd play well together, then keep Shia, Sunni and Kurd from sharing the same playground.

In plain English, it's a version of break Iraq up into three separate areas (some people propose separate nations, other separate confederated territories).

Take David Brooks in a NY Times column this week:

Perhaps, in other words, it's time to merge the military Plan B -- the surge -- with a political Plan B -- flexible decentralization. That would mean using adequate force levels (finally!) to help those who are returning to sectarian homelands. It would mean erecting buffers between populations where possible and establishing order in areas that remain mixed. It would mean finding decentralized governing structures that reflect the social and psychological facts on the ground.

Then there's a piece in The American Interest magazine issue for January/Februaury 2007, titled A Bosnia Option for Iraq, by Michael E. O'Hanlon & Edward P. Joseph, which commences this way:

In light of the difficult and deteriorating situation in Iraq, we need to consider new options in the event that current efforts cannot soon turn current security, political and economic trends around. A Bosnia Option for Iraq focuses on the controlled realignment of population groups in order to minimize communal violence and set the stage for a stable political settlement--what might be termed a "soft partition" of the country (but with retention of a confederal structure, together with equal sharing of oil revenue on a per capita basis among all groups). This memo briefly reviews current circumstances and then outlines a Bosnia option for Iraq.

So is this a good idea?  What the hell do I know?

If you assume that the Shia and Sunni segments really do want to be segregated, then it might well decrease the opportunity for sectarian conflict.  But that's an assumption.  From what I've heard, the Sunnis in particular are unlikely to find this a satisfactory solution.  And, it really doesn't say what the hell you do with Baghdad, a city important to all segments, in which they have traditionally lived in adjoining neighborhoods, with several mixed neighborhoods as well.

Then there's the problem of resentment from all groups, who almost certainly will feel that (a) they got the shaft in divvying up the country (everyone feels that way about everything), and (b) that they did not get adequate compensation for being forced to move.

Then there's the problem that you end up with bitter enemies occupying adjoining areas.  In my reality, that's an invitation to prolonged periods of war in its various forms.

Then, there's the considerable problem of how the break-up affects the other countries in the region, and how it affects America's perceived interests.  You don't have to be a genius to see that Turkey would hate any version of an independent Kurdistan right on the border of the area in which its own Kurds live.  Or that Iran is likely to be extremely influential with the Shiite territory in the south of Iraq.  Or that the U.S. would not be particularly pleased with an angry Turkey or an influential Iran.

Last but hardly least is the fact that, once again, all these proposals come from American commentators, and no one asked the Iraqis how they feel about it.  Which is, I believe, how we got to this very "rock and a hard place" dilemma in the first place.