Deo volente.

Iraq Partition is a Bad Idea

Partition is always the first fallback position for moderates or for those with an agenda.

I quote from Wuzzadem, because I refuse to consign my soul to the LA Times:

Leaders of Iraq’s powerful Shiite Muslim political bloc have begun aggressively promoting a radical plan to partition the country as a way of separating the warring sects. Some Iraqis are even talking about dividing the capital, with the Tigris River as a kind of Berlin Wall.

Partition does a lot of things, and it does them all poorly. First, instead of forming a single cohesive government, you would have to form three. Instead of the US playing the role of militarily protectorate to one country, you would have three.

Worse than either of these, partition cedes 1/3 of the country to Iran. The Shi’ite presence in Iraq has been controlled or heavily influenced by the mullahs of Iran since at least the 1960’s. You would also be ceding the Straits of Hormuz, access to the Persian Gulf, and the oil fields to Iran. Consider that these natural resources produce a huge chunk of the wealth for the country as a whole – where will that leave the other two factions, besides economically, geographically, and probably militarily weaker?

Partition would also cede 1/3 of the country to Sunis. This would essentially make it a puppet political regime of the House of Saud to the South. That may be bad, or it may be ok, but it won’t be good. Unless and until Saudi Arabia eliminates its anti-US factions, it needs to be treated as a viper.

I believe that the Sunis of Iraq are more moderate in nature than the hard line Wahabbiists of Saudi Arabia, but if this is wrong, or if the Wahabbiist clerics in SA focus their attentions to the North, Suni Iraq will become Afghanistan(c. 2000) in time. Maybe worse, it could become another Rwanda with Syria to the West and difficult supply and political lines to their regional protector to the South.

Finally, the Kurds would likely be friendly and supportive of American presence. In a war with Iran, they would likely provide a stabilizing element to the North, access via roads and mountain passes, and an “in” with the Kurdish tribes in Persian. But the cost would be an isolated friend with political and ethnic enemies on all sides. Can you say “Israel?” How long before we hear of the “scourge of the Kurds that must be eliminated.”

Within American politics, Partition would be a disastrous setback – an admission of defeat. Only as a united demoratic republic can America hope to present a united secular political front in the region. Also keep in mind that a united Iraq with US presence provides 3x the benefit (at least) of a country split along ethnic and religious lines.

Thanks to Ace, who should know better. Don’t placate, man. Never placate.

Update: Via Geoff at Ace’s: the poll that shows the Iraqis agree with the AnalogKid. Or that the AnalogKid agrees with the Iraqis.


August 11, 2006 - Posted by | Battle of Iraq, Politics


  1. I agree with all your points. Although if we simultaneously invaded Iran and combined its Southern minority (Arab shiites) unite with South Iraq, and did the same with Iran’s and Iraq’s Kurds to the North, everyone would be happy except Turkey. Yes, the Sunnis would be subject to Saudi and Wahhabi domination, but they would also be weak and oil-less. I wouldn’t advocate invading Iran just to impose this grand scheme, but I’d rather war with Iran now than nuclear war with Iran in a few years, and I think that is the choice we’ve got. Taking away Iran’s oil money, combined with destruction of what we can of their nuke program, would do what nothing else (besides invading the whole of Iran, which would likely be costlier to us) could do: eliminate their ability to build nukes and bring on Armageddon.

    Comment by dwpittelli | August 11, 2006 | Reply

  2. Strategically, your point is really interesting. How do you think it would go over, though, to say to the Iraqi people and politicians (the stakeholders in Partition / Unification) that their country is about to be the spoils in a war with Iran?

    Also, do we really want to cede the secular vs. ethnic/religious debate? A secular state will almost de facto be more pro-American than a reliogious-based one.

    Comment by John | August 11, 2006 | Reply

  3. You talk as if the ‘reality’ on the ground was not already a de-facto Partitioning of Iraq. Which Iraq are you viewing?

    Kurdistan IS a separate country in all but name, and so are the Southern Provinces(albeit far less advanced). It is only Baghdad that is in dispute and sooner or later the Sunnis will be driven out.

    Iraq should be partitioned (formally) soonest and the US should leave. And this is from a supporter of the enterprise from even before day 1. Sometimes you just have to stop beating your head against the wall. Wish-fulfillment is not a policy. Or at least it’s not a viable policy.

    You talk about Saudi Arabia supporting the Sunni rump-state left behind. Well maybe yes, maybe no, but as dwpittelli says,the Sunnis “would also be weak and oil-less”. IMO, the Sunnis will be extremely fortunate if they don’t find themselves cleansed right out of Iraq. They have built up a veritable mountain of revenge minded enemies, and Iraq is nothing if not a REVENGE Culture. As nasty as it is now, it is likely to become very much nastier when the victims of Sunni generated terror really are free to reach out and touch someone.

    Time to be brutally honest, guys. We won’t be doing anyone any good camped out in the bunker, moving phantom armies around on the maps.

    Comment by dougf | August 11, 2006 | Reply

  4. “But the cost would be an isolated friend with political and ethnic enemies on all sides. Can you say “Israel?” How long before we hear of the “scourge of the Kurds that must be eliminated.”

    The Kurds have more or less been suffering that fate already, for decades if not centuries. Why not make a guaranteed ally out of them, a la Israel?

    You know, if Syria was invaded or Assad Junior’s regime otherwise toppled, northeastern Syria could be part of the new Kurdish state, and the former Iraq’s Sunni rump state could be federated into a redrawn Syria.

    Suppose, heaven forbid but still likely, an all out war with Iran and Syria comes to pass. I suspect the aftermath would include a “Congress of Vienna” for the region, redrawing the maps.

    The difficult question, of course, is Turkey. The Turks have been friendly to America (and Israel) for decades, and I suppose if the USA was to create and support a Kurdish state, the USA would have to reaffirm a defense pact with Turkey (perhaps in the existing NATO framework), guaranteeing existing Turkish boundaries.

    Any unhappy Kurds in Turkey? Well, I have a simple solution for them: move. The Sunnis in Iraq pushed the Kurds around for decades, time for the Kurds to move into Northern Iraq en masse and push back.

    Comment by Nick Byram | August 11, 2006 | Reply

  5. kurds

    As I undderstand it, Kurds have a heavy ethnic presence in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria. Their nation-state was divided up into quarters by the British after WWI (I don’t have time to fact check, but it was early in the 20th century). This might have been done as revenge for the Kurds siding with anti-British forces, maybe not.

    So the Kurds have a continuing presence in the region.

    The real problem is not the Kurds, for whom I have sympathy, but the notion of secular v ethnic divisions. What’s different about creating a new Kurdistan out of whole cloth at some point in the future, and giving California back to Mexico? Both are political moves based on where an ethnic people live, which may change over time. Are we supposed to redraw political lines arbitrarily based on populations?

    Whether or not Kurdistan was destroyed for revenge, you cannot, as policy, create countries based on ethnic distinctions. That just draws the front for the next war.

    Comment by John | August 11, 2006 | Reply

  6. Hmmmm, anyone say similar things about Yugoslavia?

    Comment by Aaron | August 11, 2006 | Reply

  7. You talk as if the ‘reality’ on the ground was not already a de-facto Partitioning of Iraq. Which Iraq are you viewing?

    De Facto? Oh, you mean “if you ignore the Iraqi constitution and the parliament”?

    You know, Oklahomans and Texans hate each other, too, but vis a vis the United States, they aren’t partitioned. At least until October 7th.

    Comment by John | August 11, 2006 | Reply

  8. John, where are you getting your history from?

    “(Kurdish) nation-state was divided up into quarters by the British after WWI (I don’t have time to fact check, but it was early in the 20th century). This might have been done as revenge for the Kurds siding with anti-British forces, maybe not.”

    Pre WW1, it was all part of the Ottoman Empire. The Kurds have NEVER had a nation state of their own in centuries. Brits didn’t divide the Kurds up alone the French and Attaturk led Turks were very involved in the line drawing as well.

    What the Brits did do was give the Hashemite brothers, who got kicked out of Hijaz (Western Saudi Arabia) by the Wahabbists, little kingdoms of their own. Brit policy back then was to create client states out of the carved up Ottoman Empire.

    The Brits even entertained the idea of a Kurdish state that would be another Brit client state, but Attaturk was too powerful to let that happen:

    Comment by Nick Byram | August 11, 2006 | Reply

  9. Nick, I’m far from a history expert wrt Middle Eastern geography. As I said, I was not sure of the specifics.

    Even though I cannot recall my source, I recall that Britain refused to form the Kurdish state after defeating Turkey in WWI. I inferred “split up” – the effect was the same: an ethnic element that spanned 4 countries. Again, as I recall, the reasoning was a matter of revenge – again, it’s irrelevant. The net effect was the same.

    FWIW, I’m not sure that it was Attaturk who kept Britain from taking the Kurdish parts of his empire. The Ottoman leadership wasn’t successful in keeping the Western Allies from removing other parts of his empire between 1918 and 1922. You can see another good Wiki article on the aftermath of WWI here.

    Comment by John | August 11, 2006 | Reply

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