Iraq Study Group poses “partition”

It seems that hubristic neocons, with their ambitions to dismantle Iraq (and, eventually, the rest of the Arab world) are moving in for the kill, posing it as a solution to the sectarian and ethnic strife their own policies unleashed. Will the State Department pragmatists prevail in stopping them, and somehow shoring up a centralized Iraq with Baghdad as its capital, the traditional Anglo-American strategy for stability-by-proxy in the region? From the London Times, Oct. 8, link and emphasis added:

America ponders cutting Iraq in three

AN independent commission set up by Congress with the approval of President George W Bush may recommend carving up Iraq into three highly autonomous regions, according to well informed sources.

The Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by James Baker, the former US secretary of state, is preparing to report after next month’s congressional elections amid signs that sectarian violence and attacks on coalition forces are spiralling out of control. The conflict is claiming the lives of 100 civilians a day and bombings have reached record levels.

The Baker commission has grown increasingly interested in the idea of splitting the Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish regions of Iraq as the only alternative to what Baker calls “cutting and running” or “staying the course”.

“The Kurds already effectively have their own area,” said a source close to the group. “The federalisation of Iraq is going to take place one way or another. The challenge for the Iraqis is how to work that through.”

The commission is considered to represent a last chance for fresh thinking on Iraq, where mass kidnappings are increasing and even the police are suspected of being responsible for a growing number of atrocities.

Baker, 76, an old Bush family friend who was secretary of state during the first Gulf war in 1991, said last week that he met the president frequently to discuss “policy and personnel”.

His group will not advise “partition”, but is believed to favour a division of the country that will devolve power and security to the regions, leaving a skeletal national government in Baghdad in charge of foreign affairs, border protection and the distribution of oil revenue.

The Iraqi government will be encouraged to hold a constitutional conference paving the way for greater devolution. Iran and Syria will be urged to back a regional settlement that could be brokered at an international conference.

Baker, a leading exponent of shuttle diplomacy, has already met representatives of the Syrian government and is planning to see the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations in New York. “My view is you don’t just talk to your friends,” he said last week. “You need to talk to your enemies in order to move forward diplomatically towards peace.”

His group has yet to reach a final conclusion, but there is a growing consensus that America can neither pour more soldiers into Iraq nor suffer mounting casualties without any sign of progress. It is thought to support embedding more high-quality American military advisers in the Iraqi security forces rather than maintaining high troop levels in the country indefinitely.

Frustrated by the failure of a recent so-called “battle of Baghdad” to stem violence in the capital, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to Iraq, said last week that the unity government of Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, had only two months left to get a grip. Rumours abound that the much-admired ambassador could depart by Christmas.

Khalilzad’s warning was reinforced by John Warner, Republican chairman of the Senate armed services committee, on his return from a visit to Baghdad. “In two to three months’ time, if this thing hasn’t come to fruition and this government (is not) able to function, I think it’s a responsibility of our government internally to determine: is there a change of course we should take?” Warner said.

Bush and Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, have resisted the break-up of Iraq on the grounds that it could lead to more violence, but are thought to be reconsidering. “They have finally noticed that the country is being partitioned by civil war and ethnic cleansing is already a daily event,” said Leslie Gelb, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Gelb is the co-author with Senator Joseph Biden, a leading Democrat, of a plan to divide Iraq. “There was almost no support for our idea until very recently, when all the other ideas being advocated failed,” Gelb said.

In Baghdad last week Rice indicated that time was running out for the Iraqi government to resolve the division of oil wealth and changes to the constitution.

See our last posts on Iraq and the slide towards civil war.

  1. Rice does Kurdistan
    Here is pretty good evidence that even post-Powell, the State Department is working against the aims of the neocons. From the AP, Oct. 6:

    IRBIL, Iraq Oct 6, 2006 (AP)— Convinced oil revenue is the long-term key to economic independence for a unified Iraq, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appealed Friday for cooperation from the autonomous and oil rich Kurdish north.

    Rice visited the region’s powerful president, Massoud Barzani, less than two weeks after the regional government threatened to break away from Iraq in a dispute over oil.

    After a session with their staff, followed by a lengthy one-on-one meeting at the Kurdish government offices in Irbil, Rice and Barzani stood in front of U.S. and Kurdish flags and spoke to reporters.

    Barzani, speaking in Kurdish through an interpreter, said Kurdistan, “like any other nation, has the right to self-determination.” However, he said he is committed to a “federal democratic and pluralistic Iraq.”

    For her part, Rice thanked Barzani for the Kurds’ long cooperation with the United States, adding, “and I appreciate also your important participation in the process of national reconciliation. Thank you.”

    When he was asked about the future distribution of oil wealth, Barzani did not repeat recent assertions that Kurdistan alone should control new contracts and business arrangements for oil pumped in the region. But at the same time, he gave no endorsement of proposed national legislation on dividing up income from oil.

    Rice’s two-day trip to Iraq is meant to show U.S. support for the country’s fragile central government, under assault by a spiral of sectarian violence and growing calls for autonomy among Iraq’s regions.

    And while she said the administration is always reviewing its policies in Iraq, she said it would not halt its backing for the country’s struggling government.

    “The option that the President has been very clear that he is not reviewing is beginning to somehow remove American support for this regime, for this new government in Iraq, before it’s able to do the job on its own,” she told reporters as they flew to London for a meeting on Iran’s nuclear program.

    See our last post on the struggle in Kurdistan.