2006 May 04 Thursday
Can Decentralization Stop Iraq Lebanonization?

Can regional autonomy and a massive negotiation stop the low grade civil war in Iraq?

In a report released today, The Fund for Peace (FfP) urges the international community to begin exploring a new negotiated settlement in Iraq based on greater autonomy for the country’s regions or peaceful partition of the country. The current trend toward full scale civil war is documented in the three year summary report, “From Failed State to Civil War: The Lebanization of Iraq, 2003-2006.” The study concludes that there was a window of opportunity for progress in Iraq for approximately four months after the invasion. After that, worsening levels of tension were evident in all twelve indicators measured by the research project. The pattern is described as the Lebanization of Iraq, or an escalating sectarian war.

All the things that were supposed to help made things worse because the Sunnis feared rule by Shias. Also, the capture of Saddam allowed the insurgency to distance themselves from the old regime and therefore boosted their legitimacy.

The report is the fifth in a series in which a dozen social, economic and political/military indicators are measured month-by- month, along with assessments of the strength of Iraqi state institutions. Paradoxically, the report shows that benchmarks proclaimed by the U.S. government as key measures of progress toward stabilization and democratization -- such as the capture of Saddam Hussein, the transfer of sovereignty to an interim government, and the 2005 elections -- were followed by periods of deterioration, due in large part to Sunni fears of domination by Shiites and Kurds, who were reaping the benefits of the transition. This sustained the Sunni insurgency that evolved into wider sectarian warfare within the Arab community, a much larger threat to the integrity of the nation.

They argue for decentralization. That might work. But I suspect decentralization is another word for partition. What could hold the country together in a decentralized model? Only the ability of one faction to conquer the other factions.

The report argues that decentralization may avert full scale internal war if it is negotiated internationally, including participation by regional actors, and provides for a pre-agreed formula for the sharing of oil revenues, international guarantees to protect disputed territories, such as Kirkuk, and minority safeguards throughout the regions.

Dr. Pauline H. Baker, author of the report, says: “The center is not holding in Iraq. We can no longer pretend that a weak central government can reverse these worsening trends. The deterioration has gone too far. The nature and scope of violence, factionalization within and between the major groups, the proliferation of militias, and intensifying group vengeance and fear of retribution are driving Iraq into de facto partition. We must face these facts.”

The report also contends that: “The main questions are no longer whether the U.S. or the insurgents are ’winning’ or ‘losing’ …but whether national disintegration can be reversed, how fast the disintegration will occur if it is not, and whether a soft landing with minimal bloodshed can be managed.” The report shows that Iraq has steadily descended into entrenched sectarian conflict, which is probably irreversible.

The Fund calls for an international conference convened by the UN and Iraq to consider a wider regional settlement involving Iraq’s neighbors and other Arab states, all of whom have a vital stake in not allowing the country to descend into chaos. It may be a long shot, the report concludes, but fresh options need to be put on the table to avoid the violent splintering of Iraq, an outcome that would trigger wider regional conflict.

My guess is that all the UN's horses and all the UN's men can't put Humpty Dumpty back together again. A mere run-of-the-mill king couldn't do the job. A ruthless dictator might be able to pull it off. But neither the Bush Administration or the liberals would find such a choice morally acceptable.

You can find their full report here.

Decentralization has become the new great hope for Iraq in American foreign policy debates. Writing in the New York Times Democratic Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware and Leslie Gelb also argue for decentralization of power in Iraq as part of an exit strategy for the United States.

The idea, as in Bosnia, is to maintain a united Iraq by decentralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group — Kurd, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab — room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests. We could drive this in place with irresistible sweeteners for the Sunnis to join in, a plan designed by the military for withdrawing and redeploying American forces, and a regional nonaggression pact.

...

The first is to establish three largely autonomous regions with a viable central government in Baghdad. The Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions would each be responsible for their own domestic laws, administration and internal security. The central government would control border defense, foreign affairs and oil revenues. Baghdad would become a federal zone, while densely populated areas of mixed populations would receive both multisectarian and international police protection.

I do not think this will work. But I'm for it since we could pretend it will work while we pull out the troops. Peace With Honor! Long Live Richard Nixon! Pretending that beats the heck out of pretending that our current course of action is somehow beneficial to the United States.

Biden sounds like he thinks autonomous regions would give the 3 main ethnic groups time to cool their anger toward each other. (But ParaPundit thinks they won't stop blowing up bombs and dragging each other away in cars to be shot)

"The only way to have a united Iraq five years from now (is) to give each of the major constituencies some breathing room at the front end," says Biden. Noting that the constitution recognizes an already autonomous Kurdish north and provides for other autonomous regions to be formed, the Delaware senator adds, "This [plan] is completely consistent with the elements of the existing constitution."

More years of autonomy for the Kurds will just move them further down the road toward statehood (and good for them I say). But the Sunnis and Shias are fighting over who gets to control the country as a whole. Unless the borders between these autonomous regions become huge mine fields with US troops keeping the separated groups apart I do not see how autonomous regions will stop the on-going civil war.

Writing in Asia Times Ehsan Ahrari finds some serious flaws in Biden's proposal.

There are a number of "sacrosanct" concepts of US democracy that, in the view of American politicians, should be equally sacred to the rest of the world. Foremost is the desirability of a federal (or federally based) democracy.

However, they tend to forget that, when first established, the United States was not a federal democracy as we know it today. The great Civil War of 1861-65 was one of the chief reasons for its emergence as a federal democracy.

Yet a federal government with limited power is a recipe for disaster in Iraq. In the first place, "autonomy" is a code word that the Kurds hope to use to break away eventually and establish an independent Kurdistan. Emulating the Kurdish practice, a number of Shi'ite groups envisage the creation of an autonomous region in the south.

Writing from where he's lived for years in Beirut Lebanon Michael Young points out the same problem where a weak central government wouldn't have the strength to stop the sectarian fighting.

The scheme to divide Iraq, like Lewis' earlier willingness to place his vast expertise at the service of the Bush administration so it could implement deep transformation in the Middle East, has revived accusations that the U.S. is redeploying hubris in its dealings with the Arabs.

This was well expressed by Gary Sick, a former National Security Council staffer during the Ford, Carter and Reagan administrations, on the private Gulf 2000 mailing list which Sick hosts. In a powerful critique of the Biden-Gelb plan, Sick wondered how the weak Iraqi central government outlined by Biden and Gelb could prevent sectarian fighting, defend women and minorities, ensure an even distribution of oil resources, terminate the pernicious role of militias, and avoid regional interference in Iraq's affairs. He concluded that it simply could not, while the autonomous regional governments would likely make matters worse in pursuing their parochial interests. It would be up to the U.S. to resolve and regulate sensitive issues, undermining a principal Biden and Gelb goal, namely offering the U.S. an effective means of exiting Iraq.

Right now security agencies and the military of the central government of Iraq are being used by the Shias against the Sunnis. How can a somewhat neutral central government be created? I do not see how it could be staffed. Where to get people who are willing to be even handed to all factions?

Also see my previous posts "Iraq: Loose Federation Or Partition?", "Ethnic Cleansing To Produce 3 States In Iraq?", and "Unilaterally Withdraw From Iraq Or First Partition?".

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2006 May 04 10:21 PM  MidEast Iraq Partition


Comments
John S Bolton said at May 5, 2006 1:48 AM:

Faux partition will not attract those who want the real kind. If national unity is such a desirable condition, why would the administration be reflexively celebratory of diversity here? If there is a 'down that road' destination of diversity celebrated and valued, to the point of partition, why would the administration say slow down?

Rick Darby said at May 5, 2006 11:16 AM:

"I do not think this will work. But I'm for it since we could pretend it will work while we pull out the troops. "

Well said. However cynical any of us may feel about the Iraq debacle, it is important to be able to say "Mission accomplished!" as we pull out without provoking universal laughter. We need to be able to claim we put into place a framework whereby Iraq can work as a nation if its factions want it to.

Maybe, after what is probably an inevitable amount of bloodletting, they can cobble together a reasonably stable modus vivendi that makes sense in their terms, rather than a system imposed according to our preconceptions. We've given them a chance at a decent life, and there is no shame in saying to the world that that's all we can do.


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