OAKLAND, Calif., Feb. 25, 2009March will mark the beginning of the seventh year of the United States military occupation of Iraq, a grave milestone with little cause for celebration. The purported goal of the occupationto foster the creation of a unified, democratic Iraqhas been overshadowed by unending conflict and a staggering number of casualties. Considering the progress made, is true democracy even achievable in the face of an Iraqi parliament deeply fractured along ethnic and sectarian lines? If not, how can the United States withdraw troops without further destabilizing the region?
In his forthcoming book, Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq (April 24, 2009 / The Independent Institute / $15.95), Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland sees this de facto partition as the answer. Incorporating Iraqs societal divisions into a compelling blueprint for a decentralized government, Elands proposal would not only encourage the rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops but would also promote peace, stability, and prosperity within the region.
Partitioning for Peace differs from other treatises on Iraq by daring to explore the merits of a highly controversial solution. The violence typically surrounding partitions, Eland suggests, has not been triggered by the process itself but by poor planning when determining partition lines. After analyzing two centuries of past partitions (both successful and unsuccessful) and addressing everything from the cultural and religious concerns regarding the establishment of boundaries to the security necessary for population movementsEland outlines fifteen lessons that, if applied to Iraq, would greatly increase the chances of success.
Of particular urgency, he notes, is the importance of taking advantage of such divisions before the sectarian violence becomes overwhelming. Without becoming mired in partisan name-calling, he urges the White House to uphold its rhetoric about letting Iraqis determine their own future and swiftly withdraw U.S. forces. Citing the large financial burden on taxpayers and the growing conception of America as an imperial superpower, Eland contends that an exit strategy is the only viable option.
Eland believes the United States still has the opportunity to effect lasting, positive change in the process of removing its military. A serious threat to withdraw troops would provide the Shii/Kurd government, currently backed by U.S. forces, with a powerful incentive to discuss partition agreements with the Sunni population. By removing itself early, the U.S. would avoid the appearance of enforcing a specific political structure.
While acknowledging that no solution is perfect, Eland advocates a partition as the surest way for the people of Iraq to retain their ethnic identities, have meaningful control over their ministries, resources, and tax systems, and achieve real security by defusing the factional tensions now tearing their country apart.
As Eland writes, Iraq will eventually be partitioned, either peacefully with a negotiated soft division, or violently through a full-blown civil war. Partitioning for Peace makes the definitive case for pursuing the former to avoid the bloodier alternative and to foster hope for all sides.
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