The Way Out of Iraq
Decentralizing the Iraqi Government
January 14, 2005
by Ivan Eland
The growing conflict in Iraq has led members of Congress and others who have served in government to propose the near-term withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. Opponents of this course of action argue that after U.S. forces leave, the mayhem and chaos in Iraq will increase and the country will become a haven for terrorists.
In The Way Out of Iraq: Decentralizing the Iraqi Government, Ivan Eland, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute, argues that this dismal outcome does not have to happen if the United States allows genuine Iraqi self-determination, which will probably result in some sort of decentralized government. The study examines the reasons for the violence and determines that they are the result of: 1) the foreign occupation by a superpower and 2) fear of one group (this time, the Shia) getting control of the central government and oppressing the others (a familiar outcome in recent Iraqi history, which causes the formerly ruling Sunnis to fear paybacks by the newly powerful Shia).
The paper notes that experts on federalism argue that a U.S.-style federation probably will not work in countries that have not achieved a certain level of development or in which strong ethnic, religious, or tribal identities would likely pull it apart. Iraq does not meet any of the criteria for the likelihood of a successful federation.
The only hope for Iraq is a deliberate decentralization of power, the study argues. The alternative likely will be an uncontrolled rush toward civil war. The United States needs to recognize as the failed recent election and immediately call together a legitimate national conclave of the various groups (perhaps along the Afghan model) and allow them to negotiate among themselves for genuine self-determination. Even radical and insurgent leaders must be part of this process, and the United States must take a hands-off attitude toward the conclave to make it legitimate in the eyes of the Iraqis.
The report argues that genuine self-determination would probably result in a deliberate decentralization of governance, which could take the form of 1) an economic confederation (similar to the EU) with security provided by existing ethnic or religious militias in their own areas, 2) partition into three or more separate states, or 3) a combination of both.
The paper concludes that only a rapid U.S. military withdrawal and a weak (or nonexistent) central governmenteliminating the need for the various groups to fight over control of itwill give the Iraqis the best hope of future peace and prosperity.
Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore.
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