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Monday, April 26, 2004

Worthwhile Reading 

There's a thought-provoking (and more than a little depressing) piece on the future of Iraq by former ambassador Peter Galbraith in the most recent issue of the New York Review of Books. Galbraith, no knee-jerk pacifist, notes that post-war planning has been a disaster:
Much of what went wrong was avoidable. Focused on winning the political battle to start a war, the Bush administration failed to anticipate the postwar chaos in Iraq. Administration strategy seems to have been based on a hope that Iraq's bureaucrats and police would simply transfer their loyalty to the new authorities, and the country's administration would continue to function. All experience in Iraq suggested that the collapse of civil authority was the most likely outcome, but there was no credible planning for this contingency. In fact, the US effort to remake Iraq never recovered from its confused start when it failed to prevent the looting of Baghdad in the early days of the occupation.
After surveying the successes and failures of Iraq's postwar administration, Galbraith comes to the conclusion that a sort of modified confederation (with a central government empowered primarily to run monetary policy and to protect and distribute oil revenues among Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite autonomous regions) is the only stable configuration achievable at this point:
In my view, Iraq is not salvageable as a unitary state. From my experience in the Balkans, I feel strongly that it is impossible to preserve the unity of a democratic state where people in a geographically defined region almost unanimously do not want to be part of that state. I have never met an Iraqi Kurd who preferred membership in Iraq if independence were a realistic possibility.

But the problem of Iraq is that a breakup of the country is not a realistic possibility for the present. Turkey, Iran, and Syria, all of which have substantial Kurdish populations, fear the precedent that would be set if Iraqi Kurdistan became independent. Both Sunni and Shiite Arabs oppose the separation of Kurdistan. The Sunni Arabs do not have the resources to support an independent state of their own. (Iraq's largest oil fields are in the Shiite south or in the disputed territory of Kirkuk.)

Further, as was true in the Balkans, the unresolved territorial issues in Iraq would likely mean violent conflict. Kirkuk is perhaps the most explosive place. The Kurds claim it as part of historic Kurdistan. They demand that the process of Arabization of the region—which some say goes back to the 1950s—should be reversed. The Kurds who were driven out of Kirkuk by policies of successive Iraqi regimes should, they say, return home, while Arab settlers in the region are repatriated to other parts of Iraq. While many Iraqi Arabs concede that the Kurds suffered an injustice, they also say that the human cost of correcting it is too high. Moreover, backed by Turkey, ethnic Turkmen assert that Kirkuk is a Turkmen city and that they should enjoy the same status as the Kurds.
Galbraith may well be correct: this may be as strong a federation as can be achieved in Iraq. I hope the planners at the CPA have a chance to consider his points.

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