One of my professors in graduate school once said that the only thing that changes with partition is to make civil wars into interstate wars. I’ve been reminded of that comment lately as an increasingly large number of “experts” have come out favoring some form of partition in Iraq to “avoid a civil war” there. As Colonel Potter would say: horse hockey.
After all, partition does not solve any of the problems. Oil revenues will still have to be redistributed. Multi-ethnic neighborhoods in Baghdad (and elsewhere) will have to be either ruled cooperatively or “cleansed”. Terrorists and insurgents will still fight to destabilize whatever rule of law comes to exist in the country, where they can. In fact, partition will exacerbate a number of problems that Iraq is already having. Iran’s influence over the Shiite regions of Iraq will likely increase, and Turkey will be all that much more likely to intervene into Kurdish affairs. Most importantly, fights over the border regions between the partitioned areas, including the cities of Baghdad and Kirkuk, will likely intensify as each side tries to lay claim to these historically important areas.
The biggest argument in favor of partition is that it is inevitable. That may be, but we gain nothing by hurrying the process along. Any peace agreement and any constitution has to have legitimacy–that squishy undefinable thing that makes people believe that one government’s laws have merit and another does not. That kind of legitimacy is extremely difficult to generate when an agreement is forced by an outside party. To put it another way, people need to work out their own problems, and come to their own solutions, in their own time. If we partition the country from the outside, it will automatically be rejected by a number of people (the Sunnis in particular) as the act of an imperial oppressor. If partition is inevitable, and I don’t believe it is, then the Sunnis need to come to that conclusion on their own time.
We have neither the right, nor the authority, nor the power, to simply divide Iraq into three pieces and solve all of their problems for them. It would be an act of extreme hubris for us to even try. Iraq needs to decide it’s own future. That process will be long and bloody–it always is–but in the end it’s the only way.