Tuesday 23 October 2007

Partition the best hope for Iraq?

Former US diplomat Peter Galbraith has provided some of the more insightful analysis of the current situation in Iraq. In today's New York Times he repeats his assertion that the best hope for the country lies in partition, or at the very least the loose federation envisaged in its constitution:

Iraq’s minimalist Constitution is a reflection of a country without a common identity. The Shiites believe their majority entitles them to rule, and a vast majority of them support religious parties that would define Iraq as a Shiite state. Iraq’s Sunni Arabs cannot accept their country being defined by a rival branch of Islam and ruled by parties they see as aligned with Iran. And the Kurdish vision of Iraq is of a country that does not include them.

As before, Galbraith's main hope rests on the emergence of a stable, independent and democratic Kurdistan. To those who fear that this week's events might have undermined that hope, he counters that, for all its anger over attacks by the PKK, Turkey 'has adopted a pragmatic attitude toward the emergence of a de facto independent Kurdistan, in part by supporting the Turkish companies that now provide 80 percent of the foreign investment in Iraqi Kurdistan.'

Galbraith believes that some kind of partition of Iraq is now 'unavoidable' and that those with an interest in the region need to start facing up to the practical consequences. He concludes:

Let’s face it: partition is a better outcome than a Sunni-Shiite civil war. There is, in any event, little alternative to partition. Iraq cannot be reconstructed as a unitary state, and the sooner we face up to this reality, the better.

I find Galbraith's argument broadly sympathetic. However, it's important not to idealise Kurdistan as some kind of paradise of liberal democracy - not while honour killings and other instances of religiously-motivated violence against women are still rife there.

Meanwhile, Rory Stewart, another writer whose work has offered useful insights into the Iraqi situation, provides some clues as to how we got where we are. He's reviewing books about Gertrude Bell - 'the wealthy Oxford-educated amateur with no academic training in international affairs and no experience of government, policy, or management' who found herself playing a key role in the construction of the new state of Iraq under the British Mandate following World War One.

Stewart finds striking parallels between Bell's experience and his own time as a political officer with the CPA in southern Iraq in 2003. While he's understanding of the competing pressures on Bell and her colleagues, he's severely critical of her most far-reaching decision:

Bell should never have acquiesced in the inclusion of the Kurdish-dominated province of Mosul in Iraq. Rivalry between the Sunnis and Kurds was inevitable but the decision to include the Kurds was determined by British, not Iraqi, interests and in particular by oil; and it has proved of little benefit to either Iraq or the Kurds, 90 percent or more of whom want independence. It continues, moreover, to threaten the integrity of the state.

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