Thursday, June 26, 2014

Partition Iraq

Joe Biden, while a Senator, got it right.  Iraq should be partitioned.  Not that prescriptive advice like this really matters any more because the partitioning has already happened and there really isn't any way to undo it.

ISIS, the Sunni extremists, already control northwestern Iraq, along with a good chunk of northeastern Syria.  No one will be able to dislodge them.  The Iraqi government's army is too busy surrendering territory and weapons to retake lost ground.  The Assad regime in Syria no longer has the ability to defeat a force as powerful as ISIS.  And the U.S. isn't sending in ground troops, without which you can't take or hold territory.

The Kurds have carved out a homeland for themselves, anchored by the city of Kirkuk, and they won't give it up, not after centuries of subjugation.  Certainly, the Iraqi army can't retake the Kurdish territory, and the Kurdish paramilitary Pesh Merga appears more formidable than ISIS. 

The Shiites in Iraq hold the southern and southeastern portions of the country, which contains most of Iraq's oil wealth.  Why fight for the less valuable land farther north when they already hold the jackpot?

Trying to keep Iraq together is guaranteed to produce unmanageable friction and endless warfare.  The Iranians now have their claws into the Baghdad government, and won't give that up.  America's Sunni allies on the Arabian Peninsula--Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, etc.--have many secret supporters of ISIS, who will be royally p.o.'d if the Shiite government in Baghdad is able, with American assistance, to repress Sunni tribes in Iraq.  The Kurds have quietly allied themselves with Israel and sometimes with America, and pissing them off could weaken America's influence in the region.

America's power in the region might increase if Iraq were partitioned.  Even though once betrayed by the CIA, the Kurds would still ally themselves with the U.S., and offer American personnel a centrally located place from which to operate.  The Shiite Baghdad government might want to maintain friendly ties with America in order to counterbalance the Iranians.  Yes, the Baghdad government has cozied up to Iran.  But the Iranians are Persian, and the people in Baghdad are Arabs.  Iraq and Iran fought a bitter war with over a million dead in the 1980s, and the Baghdad government won't want its territory to become a province of a new Persian empire.

As for the Sunni area now controlled by ISIS, the U.S. could do what it did during the 2007 surge:  buy off the indigenous Iraqi Sunni tribes.  That's how the U.S. defeated al-Qaeda once before, and it's a way to undermine ISIS now.  The whack jobs that control ISIS impose an extremely harsh form of Islam--even al-Qaeda gave ISIS the boot because it thought ISIS unduly brutal (imagine that!).  The indigenous Sunni tribes in Iraq tend toward moderation, and won't be happy with the beheadings, stonings, non-medical amputations, and other barbarism that ISIS will inflict.  It's a safe assumption that U.S. Special Forces personnel and CIA agents have already started slipping into ISIS controlled areas.  Money talks, and thoughtfully large sums of money placed in the hands of the right Sunni chieftains might well lead to an ousting of ISIS.  The Sunnis might well want to carve out their own independent state, and the U.S. shouldn't get in the way.  A stable, moderate Sunni state in northern Iraq is far less likely than an ISIS caliphate to serve as an incubator of Islamic extremists who would target the U.S.  Especially if American aid flows generously to such a nation.  And America's allies in the Arabian peninsula might look favorably upon such a sanctuary for their religious brethren.

Partitioning has flaws, but not as many as the alternatives.  Yugoslavia no longer exists, but its constituent parts have learned with assistance from NATO how to refrain from ethnic cleansing.  The borders of the Near East (Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Syria and Egypt) are the result of partitioning.  Yes, there's a lot of tension and some low level warfare in the Near East.  But the utter chaos of today's Iraq isn't present.  And South Asia is functional, if not entirely peaceful.

Re-uniting Iraq will involve combat and civilian deaths, probably a lot of them.  All of America's elites, war hawks, chicken hawks, experts, pundits, and bombasts don't have an effective way to put Iraq back together again, not unless hundreds of thousands of American troops are reintroduced to re-fight the ground war.  And that ain't happening.  It's better to leverage the new status quo, which we can't change anyway, to our advantage. 

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