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Peter Galbraith on Future of Iraq--WashPost 11-7-05

** <>*What Are We
Holding Together?*

By Peter W. Galbraith
Monday, November 7, 2005; A21

Although it was certainly not his intention, George W. Bush broke up
Iraq when he ordered the invasion in 2003. The United States not only
removed Saddam Hussein, but it also smashed, and later dissolved, the
institutions that enabled Iraq's Sunni Arab minority to rule the
country: the army, the security services and the Baath Party. Kurdistan,
free from Hussein's rule since 1991, moved to consolidate its de facto
independence. Iraq's Shiites, suppressed since the founding of the Iraqi
state, have created a theocracy in southern Iraq and have no intention
of allowing a central government in Baghdad to roll it back. Iraq's new
constitution merely ratifies this result.

There is no reason to mourn the passing of the unified Iraqi state. For
Iraq's 80-year history, Sunni Arab dictators held the country together
-- and kept themselves in power -- with brutal force that culminated in
Hussein's genocide against the Kurds and mass killings of Shiites. As a
moral matter, Iraq's Kurds are no less entitled to independence than are
Lithuanians, Croatians or Palestinians. And if Iraq's Shiites want to
run their own affairs, or even have their own state, on what democratic
principle should they be denied? If the price of a unified Iraq is
another dictatorship, it is too high a price to pay.

Iraq's Kurds, Shiites and Sunni Arabs do not share the common values and
aspirations that are essential to building a unified state. The
country's Kurds are avowedly secular and among the most pro-American
people in the world. Almost unanimously they want nothing to do with
Iraq. Iraq's Shiites, whether we like it or not, have voted
overwhelmingly for pro-Iranian religious parties. Iraq's Sunni Arabs,
through their own choice, boycotted the constitutional assembly. Some of
the leaders who claim to speak for the Sunnis say they want a unified
state, though it seems their real concern is that they no longer rule
Iraq. Even if it had been done competently, American-led nation-building
could not overcome these divisions.

The constitution accommodates all three groups. Each can have its own
region. Except for a few matters in the exclusive jurisdiction of the
federal government, regional law prevails. Thus Kurdistan can continue
to be secular while the Shiites can create an Islamic state in southern
Iraq if their constituents so choose. Regions can have their own
militaries and control part of their water and oil resources.

Logic would suggest that once they come to terms with the fact that they
no longer rule Iraq, the Sunni Arabs will realize that the
constitutional framework actually protects them from domination by the
Shiite majority. It does not leave the Sunni Arabs penniless as some
fear; they get a proportionate share of Iraq's oil revenue. But
Kurdistan and the Shiite south will manage new oil fields in their own
regions. When the Sunni Arabs were in charge, they used Iraq's oil to
finance their own development -- and the destruction of Kurdistan and
the south. The Kurds and Shiites will not let this happen again.

The United States should focus now not on preserving the unity of Iraq
but on avoiding a spreading civil war. The constitution resolves the
issues of oil, territory and control of the central government that
might intensify conflict. Engaged diplomacy will be required to make
these provisions work, especially with regard to the territorial dispute
between Kurdistan and Arab Iraq over the ethnically mixed province of
Kirkuk. A referendum will decide its status by Dec. 31, 2007. Meanwhile,
the United States should promote a special regime for Kirkuk with
entrenched power-sharing for all communities, so as to make the
referendum's outcome as painless as possible for the losers.

Iraq's political settlement can pave the way for a coalition exit.
Foreign forces have no security role in Kurdistan and only a minimal one
in the south. In the Sunni areas, the focus should be on developing a
regional army that is aligned with moderate political elements. While
the Bush administration pretends there is an Iraqi army today, it
actually consists of homogenous Kurdish, Shiite or Sunni Arab battalions
loyal not to the civilian authorities in Baghdad but to their respective

It is hard to win hearts and minds in the Sunni Arab areas when the
Iraqi troops fighting there are seen not as fellow citizens but as alien
Kurds and Shiites. There are tribes and other Sunni Arabs willing to
fight the terrorists, but not as collaborators. The coalition could base
its forces in Kurdistan, where the population would welcome them and
where they can be ready to move in case the Sunni Arab military proves
unable or unwilling to take on the terrorists.

As Iraq divides, the problem of Baghdad becomes central. Religiously and
ethnically mixed, Baghdad is already the front line of the sectarian war
between Sunnis and Shiites. Kurdistan's departure from Iraq -- which
seems inevitable in the not-too-distant future -- will not greatly
affect the city, but the separation of Sunni Arabs and Shiites into
independent states would cause havoc. Fortunately, this is much less
likely, especially if federal arrangements work.

As Yugoslavia broke up in 1991, the first Bush administration put all
its diplomatic muscle into a doomed effort to hold the country together,
and it did nothing to stop the coming war. We should not repeat that
mistake in Iraq.

/The writer, a former U.S. ambassador to Croatia, is senior diplomatic
fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. He has
advised Kurdish leaders./

© 2005 The Washington Post Company
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