January 24, 2005
THE WAY OUT OF IRAQ: Decentralizing the Iraqi Government
Oakland, CA.With elections in Iraq only days away, U.S. military officials admit the insurgent attacks will continue unabated on election day and beyond, and many predict the aftermath will lead to even more factional unrest and perhaps civil war. Is it possible to have a democracy in war-torn Iraq?
Iraqs fractious population cannot be made into a U.S.-style liberal federated republic, says Ivan Eland, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute in Oakland, California. A better long-term solution is a partition or an economic confederation of states, which allows Iraqis to segment their multitude of ethnic, religious and tribal factions but integrate economically, Eland concludes in a new Independent Institute policy report, The Way Out of Iraq: Decentralizing the Iraqi Government.
In this fragmented developing country with little prior experience in genuine democracy and more than a decade of the most grinding economic isolation in world history, almost any policy option has its drawbacks, admits Eland, a national security expert. But the plan with the best chance of success would include: a rapid U.S. troop withdrawal, sending in a a temporary multinational force for security, and the creating a constitutional convention that included representatives from all tribes, geographic areas and ethnic and religious groups. The strategic necessity for the U.S. to have a unified, democratic federation in Iraq is vastly overblown, writes Eland. True Iraqi self-determination would probably yield a decentralized governmentfor example, a partition or a loose economic confederation, which allows for local security but features a simple common market and currency and has agreements on oil revenue sharing, he said. These alternatives have the best chance of reducing the violence and putting Iraqis on the road to peace, stability and prosperity.
Iraq, like Czechoslovakia, is an artificial state, created by the British from the Ottoman Empire after World War I, points out Eland. With no national identity or tradition of political pluralism, Iraqs provinces contained three different ethnic/religious groups subdivided by tribal loyalties. Similar to Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, Iraqs ethnic and religious factions were held together by brute force and authoritarian rule. Those multi-ethnic religious societies broke up when the autocrat was removed. Czechoslovakia and most of the former USSR broke up peacefully, but Yugoslavia had a bloody civil war.
An Iraqi federation is doomed to fail because many of its groupsmost of them with armed militiaswould be suspicious that a strong Iraqi central government would eventually fall under the control of a rival group, says Eland. Iraq will eventually break up under a federated system. The question is whether it will be peaceably or through a bloody civil war. True Iraqi self-determination, which would probably lead to a controlled decentralization of power, would eliminate the incentive of these groups to fight for control of the central government.