The worsening political disintegration of Iraq -- combined with
George W. Bush's refusal to admit that his 2003 invasion was a mistake
-- has led some analysts to look for creative approaches for resolving
In this guest essay, the Independent Institute's Ivan Eland argues
that partitioning Iraq may be the only way to avert disaster:
Bush has so badly lied himself into a corner that he now needs the
bipartisan “Iraq Study Group”—headed by the Bush family’s fix-it man,
former Secretary of State James Baker—to tell the American public that
things are rapidly going south in Iraq.
According to the New York Times, one commission member
anonymously acknowledged, “There’s a real sense that the clock is
ticking, that Bush is desperate for a change, but no one in the White
House can bring themselves to say so with this election coming.”
But media reports of the situation on the ground in Iraq should tell the
American people that the Bush administration is lying to them about the
prospects for success there. Yet, unlike the Hungarians, who have repeatedly put
tens of thousands of protesters in the streets to try to oust their prime
minister for lying about the Hungarian economy, Americans seem apathetically
resigned to their politicians’ conviction that lying is just good, clean fun.
It is unclear whether even this commission is capable of telling the truth
about Iraq. White House officials and fellow commission members told the
Times that Baker is unlikely to generate findings that do not have the
prior, tacit approval of President Bush.
The Times quotes one of Baker’s colleagues as admitting, “He’s a very
loyal Republican, and you won’t see him go against Bush.” Since Baker is a
respected elder statesman with no job on the line, one would think it would be
easier for him to put loyalty to America before loyalty to George W. Bush or the
Bush family. Apparently not.
Unfortunately this misplaced loyalty has caused Baker to rule out the only
viable solution remaining for Iraq: the decentralization of Iraqi governance.
Baker would have to admit the situation is dire there to adopt this drastic
solution that I proposed more than a year and a half ago and that Joseph Biden,
the Ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has more
Baker has already dismissed the idea of dividing Iraq into three autonomous
regions and distributing the oil wealth among the Kurds, Shi’a, and Sunni Arabs.
He has argued publicly that the populations in the major cities are too
intermingled to create autonomous regions, which he claims would cause a civil
war if implemented.
On their recent trip to Iraq, if Baker and almost all of the other
commissioners had set foot outside the Green Zone fortress, they would have
found that the country is already in the throes of a civil war. In fact, the
civil war and the resulting ethnic cleansing have reinforced what is a natural
The Kurds and their militias have their own quasi country in which the Iraqi
government does not govern and the Iraqi flag does not fly. Many of the Shi’ite
areas are governed by militias, which have also infiltrated the Iraqi police and
army. In Sunni areas, guerrillas effectively control many towns. U.S. forces
have been unable to disarm any of these armies.
The civil war will intensify if these regions are not allowed to govern
themselves. Given Iraq’s recent history, these groups are fighting each other
because they fear that the new central government will be used to oppress
whatever group or groups are not in power.
The only way to ease their fears is to make the central government weak or
nonexistent. As for multiple ethnic/religious groups living in the cities, it is
a fallacy that each of the autonomous regions in Iraq would have to be composed
of contiguous territories. There could also be more than three regions created.
In addition, if, for example, the regional lines had to be drawn so that some
members of the Sunni group were a minority in the territory of the Shi’ite
group, the Shi’a might be deterred from violence against them because they had a
minority in the Sunni areas, and vice versa.
Many opponents of decentralization or partition use the example of the civil
war during the break up of Yugoslavia. Yet that is not the only model.
Czechoslovakia and most of the Soviet Union broke up peacefully. Even in the
case of Yugoslavia, when Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia separated from
Yugoslavia, if the Serbs in those states had been allowed to affiliate with
Serbia, a civil war might have been avoided.
The president and those giving him advice should admit the truth to
themselves and to the American people: A unified, democratic Iraq is
Only then can they adopt and sell the radical solution of recognizing the
existing de facto partition in Iraq and drastically shrinking or even
eliminating the potentially oppressive central government. This solution is the
only remaining hope for a U.S. withdrawal with any honor and the best chance for
achieving peace and prosperity in Iraq.
Ivan Eland is a Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute,
Director of the Institute’s
Center on Peace &
Liberty, and author of the books
The Empire Has No Clothes, and
Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.