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Bill Steigerwald Bill Steigerwald, 3/24/2006 [Archive]

It'sTime to Partition Iraq



Ivan Eland: It’s time to partition Iraq

Why does Iraq -- an artificial country invented by British diplomats after World War I and composed of three religious and ethnic groups that pretty much hate each other -- have to have a unified national government? Why not let Iraq do what Czechoslovakia and most of the Soviet Union did in the 1990s -- carefully and peacefully partition itself? Why can't the Kurds have their own democracy, the Shiites their own religious theocracy, and the Sunnis their own strongman, if that's what they choose?

Ivan Eland is author of "The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed" and director of the libertarian Independent Institute's Center on Peace & Liberty. A longtime advocate of partitioning Iraq, he argues it's the best and probably only way to avert the bloody civil war he says is just getting started. I talked to him Wednesday by phone from his offices in Washington.

Q: How do you define a partition of Iraq?

A: My observation is that Iraq is already partitioned. You have all these militias running around with guns and the U.S. hasn't disarmed many of them because they are helping with local security. But the problem is that this thing has turned into "sectarian violence," as the president likes to call it, or "civil war," as other people like to call it. What they need to do is have a conclave and manage the partition of the country. Iraq is going to break up because it already is broken up, and it can either be done on a peaceful basis or one that is very nasty and violent. I think a "managed partition" is the best way.

Q: Are we talking about breaking Iraq into three parts -- for Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis?

A: Not necessarily. I don't think it's going to be that easy. What's going to happen is that they are probably going to have a bloody civil war. It'll be wherever the armies are. If one beats up on the other one, then the boundaries will be changed. When you have a war, it's hard to determine what will happen. A peaceful partition would probably be three or more parts.

Q: Can this partition be imposed on Iraq by the United States?

A: No, I don't think so. You have to let them sort it out. They should have done this before. It may be too late now, but it's still the best hope for the place. The Kurds and the Shia don't really want to be a part of Iraq. When you have 80 percent of the population that doesn't want to be in the country, that's a problem. The Sunnis are the only ones who don't want to break up the country. The main reason is that they think they will be a rump state with no oil. If the Shia and the Kurds give the Sunnis some oil, they will be willing to go their own way, too.

Q: What's the principle behind the partition -- decentralizing power and local autonomy?

A: Yes. Decentralization. The main fear of each group, the reason the Kurds and Shia want their autonomy and the reason the Sunni are fighting an insurgency, is that each group fears that the central government will be used to oppress the other group. So they either want control of the central government, or if they can't get that, they want to be removed from it.

Q: What are the upsides of a partition for the U.S.?

A: If every group were confined to its local areas and they all knew what the boundaries were, and they would police people of their own ethnic or religious group, then it might reduce the chances of civil war. And of course then the al-Qaida terrorists would be the outcasts. If they were still bombing, even in the Sunni areas, the Sunni militias would turn against them because they are outsiders. I think you could actually reduce Iraq as a haven for al-Qaida, as well, because the security would be increased. This also provides the Bush administration with a way of saying, "Well, we toppled Saddam Hussein and we gave the Iraqis the best change for peace and prosperity." If there is peace in Iraq, people aren't going to care if there's one Iraq or three or four Iraqs.

Q: Would we, the United States, play a role in the partition?

A: I think we can mediate it, but I think it must be done fairly quickly. We see these negotiations dragging on now because nobody has an incentive. Negotiations can happen real fast if there's an urgent need. If the U.S. declares it's going to pull out, I think you will see the Kurds and the Shia become very receptive to negotiating a settlement.

Q: Is there any interest in the Bush administration for a partition?

A: I don't know. I think they would do this only as a desperation move. The problem is, if they wait too long, even a partition isn't going to work because the civil war is already started. Unless they stop it, it's going to get worse.

Q: Why is the Bush administration wedded to re-creating a strong central government?

A: The president is still holding on to the idea that we're still going to have military bases there. They want them on the Gulf, but the Shia areas are not going to allow that, and they're the ones closest to the Gulf, and that's where the significant amounts of oil are. I think that's one reason the administration is still clinging to the idea of a unified Iraq. The other is just probably bureaucratic inertia.

Q: What's Iraq going to look like in 2008? President Bush said our troops will still be there.

A: I liken it to the pilot with two engines on fire who does not look for an alternate landing strip but tries to continue on his course to his original destination. He's probably going to crash and burn, and I think that's what's going to happen in Iraq. I don't think we're going to make it for another three years there. I think there's going to be a civil war in Iraq if the president doesn't change course. The public won't stand for U.S. forces being caught in a civil war. If all hell breaks loose in Iraq, those forces will be coming home much, much sooner -- to the electoral peril of Republicans. I don't think they have another three years to wait.

Bill Steigerwald is a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. E-mail Bill at bsteigerwald@tribweb.com. ©Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, All Rights Reserved.

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