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A partition solution is being proposed for the Iraq conflict, based on the Bosnian experience. It won't work.
Thom Shanker in Sunday’s NYT presents a helpful summary, comparing Iraqi conditions for partition with those existing in Bosnia prior to Dayton. He lays out three fundamental differences that tend to invalidate the idea of repeating the experience in Iraq. I will first summarize his piece, then add a couple of comments and a very important fourth condition supporting the argument.
Shanker’s piece in summary, with my asides [in]:
First condition. Bosnia had already been carved up by war before diplomats inked it into a map.

Such a map is far from drawn in Iraq. Although two million Iraqis have fled the country and another two million are displaced within Iraq’s borders, up to five million more — 20 percent of the prewar population — would have to be moved to create an ethnically coherent place....

Stay with me...

The historically established political boundaries within Iraq do not lend themselves to ethnic partition. And the politically exacerbated religious tensions do not correspond to clearly defined and unified regions.

The second unmet condition is that by 1995 in Bosnia, all three sides had fought themselves to utter exhaustion. In Iraq today, polls show that average citizens are exhausted by the war, but militia-style fighters loyal to the three sectarian factions remain fully tooled for combat...

Shanker's third condition: at Dayton all the interested parties were brought to the table, including Muslims, outside strongmen Milosevic and Tudjman in person, and their Bosnian proxies, to ink in and legitimize the new boundaries. By contrast, (on top of the fact that in Iraq there are no major de facto boundaries to ratify), Bush has done nothing to bring the interested regional powers to work together toward any agreement whatsoever.
From this Shanker concludes that:

The three conditions that made Bosnia susceptible to peace under the Dayton accords simply do not exist for Iraq. That’s why you don’t hear American generals in Baghdad, many of whom earned patches as officers in the Balkans, talking about an achievable partition. They say no partition would be "soft." Rather, it would be repressive and murderous. And a huge setback for American foreign policy.

...senior military planners caution that should partition become American policy, withdrawal almost certainly wouldn’t. Partition would require a stabilization force — code for American military presence — of 75,000 to 100,000 troops for years to come. And Bosnia’s record of no soldier lost is hardly likely to be repeated in a post-partition Iraq.

First, a couple of comments on the argument from Shanker's piece, above:
-It’s also true that NATO played an important role in limiting the Bosnia destruction prior to Dayton.
-The lack of negotiation can and should be overcome with foresightful and patient diplomatic work. Certainly by a Democratic administration. However, diplomacy alone, in the conditions of Iraq, would not necessarily make it possible (or convenient) to redraw internal borders along ethnically polarized lines. For one thing, as I understand it, there is no call for partition among the Iraqi Arabs, Shia and Sunni, who make up the large majority. Also, the neighboring countries are perhaps not interested in secession; not Turkey, for sure.

Most important, there is another vital difference between Iraq and Bosnia, not mentioned in the Shanker piece: oil and its unequal geographical distribution. This may be the greatest difference of all, having existed all along, in no way conditioned by the events of recent decades. There was no internationally decisive export resource to fight over in Bosnia. As far as I know, natural resources, with perhaps the exception of the Dalmatian coast, are more or less evenly distributed over the geography of Bosnia and its environs, consisting mainly in land and fresh water.
Contrastingly, Iraq’s legendary oil reserves are largely absent from the lands where Sunnis are concentrated, or located in areas they dispute with the Kurds. No way will Sunnis accept a partition that might conceivably lead to their exclusion from the benefits of those resources, having long enjoyed social and military preeminence in Iraq, and counting, as they do, on financial and military support from neighboring Arab countries where Sunnis predominate.

Only a consolidated, legitimate, stable and sovereign Iraqi national government can guarantee Sunnis equal benefits and thereby assure a peace. [And such a government might well find the reinforcement of ethnic divisions to be counterproductive.]

No such Iraqi government exists at this time. No one will argue that.
Is "Soft Partition" by conquerors a road to such a government, in Iraq or anywhere else?
No. The slogan leads in precisely the wrong direction, toward Iraqi division and colonial subordination, away from Iraqi unity and sovereignty.

New administrative districting is a tool that can contribute to political solutions when it flows from a consolidated central government emerging from a political crisis (Nigeria after the defeat of the separatists in the civil war, for example). But successful redistricting is a consequence of unified, effective sovereign power, not a precondition or a step toward it.

For us to impose partition from our position as conquerors would be to promote division and to give Iraqi sectarian civil-war hawks a welcome focus and bone of contention.
An American partition project has very grave international implications for the long term. United States-sponsored redrawing of Iraqi internal political boundaries would commit us to making those boundaries work. It would involve an indefinite military commitment of large numbers of troops on the ground.
In practice, a partitioning occupation, to create stability, would have to continue for decades, probably a generation at least. [That, in the unlikely case that Iraqis didn’t force us out.] Long-term military occupation and reshaping of a formerly sovereign country has a name: recolonization.

IMO, such a project, presented openly, without weasel words, could not fly politically in Iraq, in America, or internationally.
[A private threat of partition might conceivably be someone’s ploy to pressure Middle East politicians, either to get real ("Those guys are just crazy enough to .............!"), or to provoke some nationalist spunk ("Unite against the Anti-Iraq Divisionist Colonial Project of the American Imperialists and their Treacherous Lackeys!").]
However, as a public message to the American and Iraqi peoples and to the international community, it stinks of dead empire and unending warfare.

Originally posted to seriously70 on Thu Aug 23, 2007 at 02:54 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Shameful (4+ / 0-)

    It's shameful that most of the people now warning about the consequences if we leave Iraq weren't warning about the consequences of entering in the first place.

  •  This is discussed by Kucinich in his plan (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sagebrush Bob, seriously70, junta0201

    Point 6 of the Kucinich plan

    1. Develop and fund a process of national reconciliation. The process of reconciliation must begin with a national conference, organized with the assistance of the UN and with the participation of parties who can create, participate in and affect the process of reconciliation, defined as an airing of all grievances and the creation of pathways toward open, transparent talks producing truth and resolution of grievances. The Iraqi government has indicated a desire for the process of reconciliation to take place around it, and that those who were opposed to the government should give up and join the government. Reconciliation must not be confused with capitulation, nor with realignments for the purposes of protecting power relationships.....

    This is only the first paragraph of point 6.

    Strength Through Peace

    by penguinsong on Thu Aug 23, 2007 at 03:02:52 PM PDT

  •  as in all civil wars (0+ / 1-)
    Recommended by:
    Hidden by:

    when enough people have been killed they will stop fighting. One religious war lasted for  a 100 years

    . If HYPOCRICY stank you cold not get with in a mile of a Republican.

    by roxnev on Thu Aug 23, 2007 at 03:16:35 PM PDT

  •  Faulty Reasoning (0+ / 0-)

    I think the three main reasons mentioned above, as to why partition won't work in Iraq are factually incorrect. From my study it appears that all conditions are perfect for partition. The big sticking point is that the western oil companies want a unified Iraq so they can more easily achieve their goal of privatizing the oil fields.

  •  Is it up to us? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    minorityusa, seriously70

    Rather than partition, per se, a confederacy would be in the realm of the possible-for the Iraqis to consider. Everyone seems to have forgotten self-determination.  Our moment of running things and making those decisions has ended.  The Iraqis can do no worse.

    •  it bugs me to no end (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Most everyone has a plan how Iraq should be pacified. Has it occurred to you that Iraqis have no desire to listen to American plans? They want an end to occupation. They want an end to roadblocks, convoys that speed through neighborhoods killing occupants in cars that dare to get too close, military contractors that don't have to follow any laws, an end to off-limit compounds like the Green Zone, an end to door-to-door searches and imprisonment without trial.

      Is America responsible for this mess? Yes, but I just don't think it has the capacity to improve anything, certainly not militarily. The hate and mistrust is too high. The best for all involved is a speedy exit. Diplomatic engagement should be the primary focus. And massive help for current and future refugees.

      •  A constructive strategy for withdrawal. (0+ / 0-)

        That's what's needed. In the manner and pace of withdrawal is where we have most options for constructive leverage.
        Giving orders and carving up their country is counterproductive for all but the crooks.

      •  Amen to this, and... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        to propose another taboo exercise in stating the obvious, no forecast of events in Iraq can be credible without factoring in the growing influence of Iran. As Iran waits for US troops to lose their effectiveness due to attrition and exhaustion (could take another year or so) they are moving in with commando/political/economic teams to set up local governments, stabilize the economy and set boundaries, while simultaneously forging agreements with Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan, and eventually the UN, to reset alliances based on the new reality of Iran as mideast superpower (the main result of Cheney's invasion of Iraq).

        Let's have fewer kids, and share them.

        by howardfromUSA on Thu Aug 23, 2007 at 04:46:19 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Here, here. (0+ / 0-)

      Same thought struck me while reading this line:

      United States-sponsored redrawing of Iraqi internal political boundaries would commit us to making those boundaries work.

      How about we just stop sponsoring things and start letting the Iraqis themselves decide what they want to do?

    •  Self-determination (0+ / 0-)

      That's the guideline.
      Some sort of confederation is actually what the Soft Partion folks are hoping for, a confederation of regions. Or some other formula, so long as "we" are calling the shots.
      As you say,

      Our moment of running things and making those decisions has ended.


  •  Coming soon, The Art of Withdrawal. Watch for it (0+ / 0-)
  •  The Diary says (0+ / 0-)

    Contrastingly, Iraq’s legendary oil reserves are largely absent from the lands where Sunnis are concentrated, or located in areas they dispute with the Kurds. No way will Sunnis accept a partition that might conceivably lead to their exclusion from the benefits of those resources, having long enjoyed social and military preeminence in Iraq, and counting, as they do, on financial and military support from neighboring Arab countries where Sunnis predominate.

    Perhaps the Sunnis should have thought about where the oil is situated in Iraq when they could have deposed Sadaam and the Baathists, before the USA did so.

    If not partition, it is not clear what exactly you are proposing.  

  •  How'd We Get Out Of Korea? Vietnam? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Hint: Partition

    Not to mention that these were both civil wars that drew America into fights in distant countries where America battled proxies of America's opponents.

    •  It might happen in the end, but (0+ / 0-)

      there are some big differences.
      The oil, with its unequal distribution, the multiple regional configuration, among others.
      What concerns me is the lack of vision in leadership, not just initially but down to today.
      With clunkers like that, how are we going to deal with the real, unavoidable problems?

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