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Thread: The argument to partition Iraq

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    Default Merits of Partitioning Iraq or Allowing Civil War Weighed

    30 April Washington Post - Merits of Partitioning Iraq or Allowing Civil War Weighed by Tom Ricks.

    As the U.S. military struggles against persistent sectarian violence in Iraq, military officers and security experts find themselves in a vigorous debate over an idea that just months ago was largely dismissed as a fringe thought: that the surest -- and perhaps now the only -- way to bring stability to Iraq is to divide the country into three pieces.

    Those who see the partitioning of Iraq as increasingly attractive argue that separating the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds may be the only solution to the violence that many experts believe verges on civil war. Others contend that it would simply lead to new and dangerous challenges for the United States, not least the possibility that al-Qaeda would find it easier to build a new base of operations in a partitioned Iraq.

    One specialist on the Iraqi insurgency, Ahmed S. Hashim, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College who has served two tours in Iraq as a reservist, contends in a new book that the U.S. government's options in Iraq are closing to just two: Let a civil war occur, or avoid that wrenching outcome through some sort of partition. Such a division of the country "is the option that can allow us to leave with honor intact," he concludes in "Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency in Iraq."...

    The goal of U.S. foreign policy right now, said former ambassador James Dobbins, a Rand Corp. expert on peacekeeping, should be to prevent the country from sliding into a large-scale conventional civil war. "Our economic leverage is already essentially gone," he said at a recent discussion at the American Enterprise Institute, and "our military leverage is also a waning asset." So he is calling for a much more intense campaign of regional diplomacy by U.S. officials.

    Others say it is too late to go shopping for help in a region whose governments are generally hostile to U.S. goals in Iraq.

    "I agree with Ahmed," said retired Marine Col. T.X. Hammes, a counterinsurgency expert who has worked in Iraq on training security forces there. "The Iraqis are positioning for civil war," and so, he said, the United States should be contemplating a "soft partition" of the country by design, rather than through violence. An all-out civil war would not only endanger U.S. troops more but also would be more likely to spill over into neighboring states and so wreak havoc on the international oil market, Hammes said.

    On the other side of the debate are many military insiders who believe steady progress is being made in Iraq, despite violence and setbacks.

    "I do not agree that there are only two options, especially these two options" of civil war or breaking the country apart, said Army Lt. Col. James A. Gavrilis, a Special Forces officer who participated in the invasion of Iraq and now works on Iraq issues for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Gavrilis said that allowing a civil war or a partition of Iraq would be an admission of failure that is not required by the current situation.

    "The potential for civil war is there, certainly, but it is not as far as many are claiming. We have not seen indicators of full-scale civil war or mass mobilizations or a collapse of politics," said Gavrilis, noting that he was expressing his personal views. He argued for continuing to emphasize the democratic revolution that he believes is changing Iraq. Likewise, Gary Anderson, a retired Marine colonel who in the past advised the Pentagon on the Iraqi insurgency, thinks that the administration should stay the course: "I think drawing down our participation . . . and continuing to grow security forces that are loyal to the central government rather than to sects is the way to go, but that is obviously easier said than done."...

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    From CSIS: Dividing Iraq: Think Long and Hard First
    It is easy to call for dividing Iraq as if that could somehow solve the nation’s problems, and allow the US to exit. There are also some lobbyists calling for Kurdish independence or autonomy who see such calls as the road to their success. The US needs to think long and hard before it supports such a policy. Civil war and division may be inevitable, but the results could be anything but pleasant:

    • Sectarian and ethnic cleansing: Iraq does not have a neat set of ethnic dividing lines. There has never been a meaningful census of Iraq that shows exactly how its Arab Sunnis, Arab Shi’ites, Kurds and other factions are divided or where they are located. Recent elections have made it clear, however, that its cities and 18 governorates all have significant minorities, and any effort to divide the country would require massive relocations. Moreover, Iraq is heavily urbanized, with nearly 40% of the population in the divided Baghdad and Mosul areas. Kirkuk is already a powder keg, and Basra is the subject of Shi’ite Islamist “cleansing.” Ulster and the Balkans have already shown how difficult it is to split cities, and with Iraq’s centralized and failing infrastructure, and impoverished economy, violence and economics cannot be separated.

    • The Army and security forces: The regular military have held together so far, but they are largely Shi’ite with a large number of Kurds. The Ministry of Interior forces are largely Shi’ite, and the police are hopelessly mixed with militia and local security forces that divide according to local tribal, sectarian, and ethnic ties. Dividing the country essentially means dividing the army and security forces, creating local forces on sectarian and ethnic lines, and reinforcing the militias -- all-leading to more violence.

    • Oil and money: More than 90% of Iraq’s native government revenues come from oil exports. The Sunni Arab west has no present oil revenues. The Kurds want the northern oil fields, but have no real claim to them and no secure way to export. The Shi’ite south is also divided, with the Shi’ites in Basra talking about their own area separate from many other Shi’ites who would control the oil in the south. Once the nation effectively divides, so does its major resource, and in ways that make the territorial losers in non-oil areas effectively dysfunctional. The central government cannot preside over a divided nation and hope to control oil and the nation’s infrastructure and export facilities at the same time. This leaves the “losers” with little choice other than further conflict.

    • Foreign linkages: Neo-Salafi Sunni Islamist extremist groups with ties to Al Qa’ida already have come to dominate the Sunni insurgents. If Iraq divides, either they will dominate the Iraqi Arab Sunnis, or Arab Sunni states like Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia will be forced to do so -- and they may well end up competing. Iran will compete for the Shi’ites and exploit the power vacuum if the US leaves. The Kurds have no friends: Turkey, Iran, and Syria will all threaten, and attempt to divide and exploit them.

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    Default Three Iraqs Would Be One Big Problem

    9 May New York Times commentary - Three Iraqs Would Be One Big Problem by Anthony Cordesman.

    Some pundits and politicians have been floating the idea that America consider dividing Iraq into three ethno-religious entities, saying this would not only stem the insurgency but also allow our troops an earlier exit. They are wrong: fracturing the country would not serve either Iraqi or United States interests, and would make life for average Iraqis even worse.

    The first problem is that Iraq does not have a neat set of ethnic dividing lines. There has never been a meaningful census of Iraq showing exactly how its Arab Sunnis, Arab Shiites, Kurds and other factions are divided or where they live. The two elections held since the toppling of Saddam Hussein have made it clear, however, that Iraq's cities and 18 governorates all have significant minorities...

    Moreover, Iraq is heavily urbanized, with nearly 40 percent of the population in the multiethnic greater Baghdad and Mosul areas. We have seen in Northern Ireland and the Balkans how difficult it is to split cities, and with Iraq's centralized and failing services and impoverished economy, violence and economics cannot be separated...

    And of course, there is no way to divide Iraqi that will not set off fights over control of oil. More than 90 percent of Iraq's government revenues come from oil exports...

    Dividing Iraq would also harm regional stability and the war on terrorists. Sunni Islamist extremist groups with ties to Al Qaeda already dominate the Sunni insurgents, and division would only increase their hold over average Iraqis...

    Iran, of course, would compete for the Iraqi Shiites. The Kurds have no friends: Turkey, Iran and Syria would seek to destabilize the north and exploit the divisions between the two main Kurdish political unions. In the end, these divisions could spill over into the rest of the Middle East and the Arab world, creating a risk of local conflicts and the kind of religious tension that feeds Islamist extremism...

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    Default The argument to partition Iraq

    The argument to partition Iraq seems superficially attractive given there are discernable ethnic and religious divisions that seem to correspond roughly to geographical areas. Violence against minorities is most prevalent where that minority is sufficiently large or powerful to pose a threat - Rwanda being a horrific example, Fiji being less so. By dividing Iraq into states based on the primary divisions is there a possibility of easing tensions and working towards a sustainable peace not only in Iraq but the broader region?

    Pakistan was formed on the basis of creating a nation state for those of similar religion. The process was not pretty, but neither is the current situation in Iraq and all previous efforts to restor peace appear to be in vain.

    I pose these questions not becasue I have a firm opinion but becase I am seeking input from those that actually do know about this.

    JD

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    The problem with partition are several:
    -neighbors will quickly move in to establish influence and these new states will be de-facto vassals (think Syria-Lebanon prior to 2005)
    -depending on drawing of borders 2 will be landlocked which translates into dependance on neighbors for imports and exports (see above)
    -the problem of borders (how and where they are drawn) will be long memory and fuel for tensions (think Kashmir)

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    I would argue that while any partitioning Iraq would be messy and bloody but so is the current situation. Some form of ethnic partitioning is probably the only way to bring any form of stability to the region, short of restoring a ruthless dictatorship. I think the real choice is not between a untied or a divided Iraq, but rather between a terrible ending and a never ending terror.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stu-6 View Post
    I would argue that while any partitioning Iraq would be messy and bloody but so is the current situation. Some form of ethnic partitioning is probably the only way to bring any form of stability to the region, short of restoring a ruthless dictatorship. I think the real choice is not between a untied or a divided Iraq, but rather between a terrible ending and a never ending terror.
    But would partition create stability? as I said before, sunni and Kurdish parts would be landlocked. How would they export oil and import stuff? By making agreement with either shi'ia parts or some neighbour. which would leave them at their long term mercy. so when shi'ias would want to squeeze sunnis all they would have to do would be impose embargo on them. Nothing gets out, nothing gets in. Then what? Either sunnis give in to their demands or go to war. First one creates resentment that is likely to lead to war, second one is war. None of which brings stability.

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    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    You'd be surprised how many Kurds understand how much they need a unified Iraq (say at least over the next 20 years) in order to continue to move ahead. They understand regional politics and regional fears better then we do.

    Coalition folks will often point to the "map" of Kurdistan you can buy in Dohok or Irbil which includes parts of Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. People will often tell you how there are more Kurds in Iran and Turkey then in Iraq, and how that indicates a kind of “manifest destiny”. I think we are coloring that perception some with our own cultural proclivity and historical ref. – we are impatient so the rest of the world must be as well.

    The Kurds are not in a rush to failure. I believe they are prudently trying to improve their position from a domestic point of view by arguing for Kirkuk, or buy consolidating some of the gains they have made over the last 5 years and some of the political compromises they have arranged to improve both Kurdish internal and "other" external relationships. Since the people they are primarily engaged with range from Arabs, to Turks to Persians, I'd say they are pretty open minded about what provides them leverage - they are businessmen in that sense. Even with Iran occasionally shelling into Sulimaniya, and the fighting on the Turkish / Iraqi border - they still trade and enter into agreements with those states and their citizens.

    They understand that eventually we will leave and they will still have to live in the neighborhood. I think its useful as well to consider the strange relationship between Pakistan and India - one where they were able to exchange fire in the Kashmir Valley, but one where at the same time the President of Pakistan could fly to Delhi to observe a crikett match (read some of Eric Margolis' War at the Top of the World)

    Perhaps the best way I heard of describing Kurdistan in its current form is to compare it with Texas - while abroad if you ask a Texan where he is from does he reply - "I'm American", or "I'm from Texas"?

    That was one of the things I had a hard time rationalizing being both a foreigner and a transient - What would I do if I were Iraqi (or an Iraqi Kurd)and trying to consider the future?

    I believe any discussion around partition or political longevity of Iraq as a state, the various peoples, nations (as an Identity) first needs to be taken from the perspective of is its survivability; and that I'd argue is in large part a matter of indigenous perception and will. It matters less if we think its a good idea, our perceptions are colored by a bias to find a solution we're comfortable with.

    You can argue that we are the bill payer and therefore have earned at least an equal vote. While that is true (outside of the Iraqis), the question is what are we trying to purchase, and how much are we willing to pay. While a long drawn out political maturation is messy and costly, it may in the end keep us from having to pay more by further regional intervention down the road, or keep us from waking up the next day and finding out we bought a lemon.

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    Council Member Stu-6's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by aktarian View Post
    But would partition create stability? as I said before, sunni and Kurdish parts would be landlocked. How would they export oil and import stuff? By making agreement with either shi'ia parts or some neighbour. which would leave them at their long term mercy. so when shi'ias would want to squeeze sunnis all they would have to do would be impose embargo on them. Nothing gets out, nothing gets in. Then what? Either sunnis give in to their demands or go to war. First one creates resentment that is likely to lead to war, second one is war. None of which brings stability.
    Legit point, but there are other landlocked states out there, it can be done. Solutions can be found perhaps through Jordan or Syria. I guess in my opinion in comes down to the fact that the current situation is definitely unstable, a partition is possibly unstable.

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    The Brookings Institution, Jun 07: The Case for Soft Partition in Iraq
    The time may be approaching when the only hope for a more stable Iraq is a soft partition of the country. Soft partition would involve the Iraqis, with the assistance of the international community, dividing their country into three main regions. Each would assume primary responsibility for its own security and governance, as Iraqi Kurdistan already does. Creating such a structure could prove difficult and risky. However, when measured against the alternatives—continuing to police an ethno-sectarian war, or withdrawing and allowing the conflict to escalate—the risks of soft partition appear more acceptable. Indeed, soft partition in many ways simply responds to current realities on the ground, particularly since the February 2006 bombing of the Samarra mosque, a major Shi’i shrine, dramatically escalated intersectarian violence. If the U.S. troop surge, and the related effort to broker political accommodation through the existing coalition government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki fail, soft partition may be the only means of avoiding an intensification of the civil war and growing threat of a regional conflagration. While most would regret the loss of a multi-ethnic, diverse Iraq, the country has become so violent and so divided along ethno-sectarian lines that such a goal may no longer be achievable....

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    Default Voting with their feet?

    Gentlemen,
    Just from what I read in the news, it seems that there is already alot of ethnic cleansing going on in Iraq. There won't be any need for a formal or informal partition of the country if that continues. It will be partitioned through people voting with their feet, not from some agreement on a piece of paper.

    It is beyond my forecasting ability to predict how this phenomenon will affect regional or internal security. But the current effort in Iraq is inexorably leading to this, whether intended or not.

    I don't see the Maliki government being able to appeal to all the groups/sects/tribes. Does anybody have confidence in it, either here in Iraq? It just seems to me that the Alawi government had more of a secular vibe to it, with leaders taking a more national perspective.

    Our political leaders might eventually be tempted to overthrow the Maliki government, thinking it just won't happen with him in charge. JFK felt that way about Diem, and nothing that followed seemed any better in Vietnam, which was already divided in two.
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    CSIS, 9 Oct 07: Pandora’s Box: Iraqi Federalism, Separatism, “Hard” Partitioning, and US Policy
    A debate has developed over whether the US should try to legislate Iraqi federalism and encourage some form of “soft partitioning.” It is time to take a much harder look at the facts in Iraq, at just how “hard” partitioning has already been, and at the dangers any form of federalism or partitioning can have unless they are achieved as the result of some form of Iraqi accommodation that can minimize the years of turbulence and instability that could follow any form of sectarian and ethnic division.

    Some formal political division of Iraq’s population may take place as a result of force, intimidation, and other factors causes by the insurgency and Iraq’s civil conflicts, but planning and managing it in any orderly way will be incredibly difficult for Iraq’s leaders and the Iraqi government, and is not something the US should overtly encourage.

    No one can deny that Iraq is already dividing along sectarian and ethnic lines in many areas. This process, however, has been forced upon Iraq’s population by its violent extremists rather than by popular will, and Iraq’s Kurds are the only faction in Iraq that show major popular support any formal effort at partitioning. The term “Soft Partitioning” has also been shown to be a cruel oxymoron. Virtually every aspect of sectarian and ethnic struggle to date has been brutal, and come at a high economic cost to those affected. The reality is that partitioning must be described as “hard” by any practical political, economic, and humanitarian standard.....

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    Council Member ali_ababa's Avatar
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    Iraq does not need to be partitioned. The whole middle east needs to be redrawn. This new of the middle east seems reasonable - i support it.

    http://www.armedforcesjournal.com/xm..._map_after.JPG

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    Default Polyanna In the Middle East

    Quote Originally Posted by ali_ababa View Post
    Iraq does not need to be partitioned. The whole middle east needs to be redrawn. This new of the middle east seems reasonable - i support it.

    http://www.armedforcesjournal.com/xm..._map_after.JPG

    Reasonable in a perfect world where one is free to draw new lines on maps without care for the people or the politics on the ground.

    Sorry this is more of Ralph Peter's semi-polyannish behavior played out; what looks like a deft solution is only more crap sown on the same old fields. The Brits were quite good at drawing maps, followed closely by the other colonial powers. You might as well refer to this map as "Peter's Hiccup" as the 90 degree bend in Jordan's current border is referred to as "Winston's Hiccup."

    The US Sec Def had to apologize to the Turks because Peters pulled this map out at a US govenrnment sponsored speaking engagement at the NATO defense college since Peters was essentially saying that the Yurks should give into the PKK.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JD View Post
    The argument to partition Iraq seems superficially attractive given there are discernable ethnic and religious divisions that seem to correspond roughly to geographical areas. Violence against minorities is most prevalent where that minority is sufficiently large or powerful to pose a threat - Rwanda being a horrific example, Fiji being less so. By dividing Iraq into states based on the primary divisions is there a possibility of easing tensions and working towards a sustainable peace not only in Iraq but the broader region?

    Pakistan was formed on the basis of creating a nation state for those of similar religion. The process was not pretty, but neither is the current situation in Iraq and all previous efforts to restor peace appear to be in vain.

    I pose these questions not becasue I have a firm opinion but becase I am seeking input from those that actually do know about this.

    JD
    My position for years has been that partition is probably necessary, but it can't be imposed. As Ralph Peters points out, a large portion of the world's violence today is the direct result of British boundary-drawing. We don't want to assume that role.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Odom View Post
    You mean they wore gloves versus bare knuckles?
    I actually agree with a lot of what he says (the exception being anything dealing with counterinsurgency). It's just that I try and express the ideas without insulting half the audience. Someone introducing me when I gave a talk at the Marshall Center once noted this and referred to me as a "kinder, gentler Ralph Peters." I took that as a compliment. If nothing else, I wish I could speak and write half as powerfully as he does.

    I gave a pitch based on my "rethinking insurgency" ideas at the Brookings thing on Monday. I really expected Ralph to jump on me. I had already girded my loins. But he didn't.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SteveMetz View Post
    My position for years has been that partition is probably necessary, but it can't be imposed.
    Steve,

    Partition is a nice idea from 'our' point of view perhaps, improbable is my guesstimate from my (albeit very limited) understanding of Iraqi society and nationalism, and 'never going to happen' from an assessment of the real poltik of the region. Does anyone seriously think that Turkey and Saudi Arabia are going to idly sit by and let such a thing further destabilise their interests?

    I think the whole idea is as much of a wet dream for people looking for a way out of Iraq as the necon ambitions for Iraq in 02/03.

    Cheers

    Mark

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    Council Member SteveMetz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mark O'Neill View Post
    Steve,

    Partition is a nice idea from 'our' point of view perhaps, improbable is my guesstimate from my (albeit very limited) understanding of Iraqi society and nationalism, and 'never going to happen' from an assessment of the real poltik of the region. Does anyone seriously think that Turkey and Saudi Arabia are going to idly sit by and let such a thing further destabilise their interests?

    I think the whole idea is as much of a wet dream for people looking for a way out of Iraq as the necon ambitions for Iraq in 02/03.

    Cheers

    Mark
    One of the great ironies of the Iraq conflict is that nations like Syria and Saudi Arabia which have a direct interest in the place hanging together and stabilizing haven't done squat to promote that end. Same thing with "old" Europe. The whole pile of them have decided that seeing the United States get its comeuppance is more important than stabilizing SWA. Just like us, they're going to be paying for their stupidity for decades.

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    Here's the reason partition can't work: There are no logical borders.

    People look at the big chunk of Shiites in the south and Kurds in the north and figure that it makes sense to cut the country into three, but it doesn't quite work that way.

    1. Baghdad: What the heck do you do about Baghdad? 2 million Shia in Sadr City alone, but if any sort of partition is going to work Baghdad has to be in Sunni-land.

    2. Karbala and Najaf: Karbala especially is real far north, but both'd have to be incorporated into a Shia state -- no way Hakim or Sistani would accept losing the historical center of Shia Islam, or the tourism revenue from all the pilgrims.

    3. Kirkuk: Neither Sunni Arab nor Kurd are going to accept a real partition without Kirkuk being in their zone. It's already a pain in the neck of an issue -- it'll only get worse if you start talking real partition.

    4. Coast-lines: You're cutting of the Kurds and the Sunni from the sea. That leaves a Kurdistan at the mercy of Turkey and Iran for everything, and a Sunni-stan at the mercy of Syria. The only route for oil out of Iraq that doesn't pass down to the Gulf is overland through Turkey. Turkey probably wouldn't allow an independent Kurdistan to use their pipeline, and that's assuming Ankara doesn't just invade. They'd want to make sure that the Kurds didn't grow powerful enough to destabilize Dyarbikir.

    5. Ethnic minorities: However you draw the map, you have significant ethnic minorities in each area. People also forget to talk about groups like the Turkomen. If we split off a Sunni-stan, suddenly they're a big chunk of the population of that new state; or at least a much higher percentage than they are in Iraq right now. The ethnic tension isn't going to disappear, it's just going to be devolved down to lower levels of minorities.

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    Quote Originally Posted by charter6 View Post
    Here's the reason partition can't work: There are no logical borders.

    People look at the big chunk of Shiites in the south and Kurds in the north and figure that it makes sense to cut the country into three, but it doesn't quite work that way.

    1. Baghdad: What the heck do you do about Baghdad? 2 million Shia in Sadr City alone, but if any sort of partition is going to work Baghdad has to be in Sunni-land.

    2. Karbala and Najaf: Karbala especially is real far north, but both'd have to be incorporated into a Shia state -- no way Hakim or Sistani would accept losing the historical center of Shia Islam, or the tourism revenue from all the pilgrims.

    3. Kirkuk: Neither Sunni Arab nor Kurd are going to accept a real partition without Kirkuk being in their zone. It's already a pain in the neck of an issue -- it'll only get worse if you start talking real partition.

    4. Coast-lines: You're cutting of the Kurds and the Sunni from the sea. That leaves a Kurdistan at the mercy of Turkey and Iran for everything, and a Sunni-stan at the mercy of Syria. The only route for oil out of Iraq that doesn't pass down to the Gulf is overland through Turkey. Turkey probably wouldn't allow an independent Kurdistan to use their pipeline, and that's assuming Ankara doesn't just invade. They'd want to make sure that the Kurds didn't grow powerful enough to destabilize Dyarbikir.

    5. Ethnic minorities: However you draw the map, you have significant ethnic minorities in each area. People also forget to talk about groups like the Turkomen. If we split off a Sunni-stan, suddenly they're a big chunk of the population of that new state; or at least a much higher percentage than they are in Iraq right now. The ethnic tension isn't going to disappear, it's just going to be devolved down to lower levels of minorities.
    Baghdad is currently self partitioning. Perhaps it could be an independent free city under international administration. Mosul is actually more of a problem than Kirkuk. If there was a program to share oil revenues, who actually administers Kirkuk becomes fairly unimportant. I think they US would have to retain a major presence in Kurdistan, particularly along its borders. Other pipelines could be built. Iraq's access to the sea is pretty limited anyway. This really struck me while standing on the docks at Um Qasr in 2003.

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