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Monday, November 06, 2006

Op-Ed: Iraq Partition May Not Be A Bad Thing

By Pauline Baker

Of all the proposals considered for the political future of Iraq, partition is usually dismissed out of hand. Most observers believe it will plunge the country into a level of violence comparable to that of the partition of India and Pakistan and open the door to neighboring countries intervening in the resulting power struggle.

Yet a managed partition might be the best path to take at this time. It could replace violent state dissolution occurring now with a new vision of political self-determination and economic integration that would permit coalition forces to withdraw and the foundation for regional stability to be laid.

A managed partition could be based on a modified version of the European Union. A new Union of Iraqi States (UIS) would divide sovereignty among three states -- affirming Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish self-determination -- joined in an economy with a single market, currency, customs union and Central Bank. Each state would have its own constitution, government, security forces and a seat in the United Nations, but no passports would be required for citizens who could live, travel, work and invest anywhere in the union.

Unlike the India-Pakistan experience 60 years ago, a managed Iraqi partition is more likely to follow recent precedents in the Balkans and Sudan. Partition stopped bloodletting in Bosnia in 1995 after ethnic hatred had consumed the former Yugoslavia. Africa's longest civil war in southern Sudan ended in 2005, with an internationally negotiated pact that granted the south autonomy for six years and a referendum on independence in 2011. In both cases, separation did not escalate the violence; it ended it.

Partitions that successfully stop civil wars may take years to fully complete, can be costly, and are not always the preferred way to end ethnic and religious conflict. However, when other options fail and the relentless killing reaches a point of systematic ethnic cleansing, partition under international stewardship can stop the carnage.

A partition plan would contain six principal elements.

1) Internationally monitored agreements among the UIS member states must be concluded to guarantee protection of minority rights, freedom of religion, and amnesty for insurgents and militia members who enter a disarmament, demobilization and reintegration program. Universal human rights under international law should also be guaranteed, with targeted sanctions for violators.

2) An oil revenue sharing formula must be agreed upon by all three emerging states based on equitable criteria. One distribution method, for example, would assign one-third of the oil income pool to states based on derivation, one-third to the three states in equal shares, and one-third according to population and need. This would ensure that the Sunnis would get a guaranteed source of income while allowing states the right to manage their natural resources, including oil concessions. For 10 years, all oil receipts and disbursements would be managed by the World Bank to prevent revenue diversion, and then turned over to the UIS.

3) Each state must get a major city as its capital: Kirkuk to the Kurds, Baghdad to the Sunnis, and Basra to the Shiites. Residents who voluntarily choose to resettle could do so with guaranteed safe passage. Minority populations living in mixed cities and towns would have the right to remain, exercising full citizen rights.

4) Disputes over land, housing and other property claims must be adjudicated in an intergovernmental agency, such as a Property Claims Commission composed of Iraqi representatives from the three states and external experts. It would have the authority to identify legitimate owners whose property was appropriated since the days of Saddam Hussein and provide compensation for validated claims. Other interstate authorities could also be created, as needed, to heal the wounds of war, address lingering grievances and manage a common economic space.

5) The three emerging states must enter into a formal economic union based on the European model in which they would cooperate in running fiscal and monetary institutions for trade and commerce in a co-prosperity sphere that would benefit the region as a whole.

6) There must be buy-in from Iraq's neighbors, with confidence building steps that could include non-aggression pacts between the new states and their contiguous neighbors, particularly between a new Kurdish state and Turkey. The U.S., an ally of both parties, could be an honest broker, facilitating a peace treaty containing reciprocal pledges of non-intervention, an internationally controlled demilitarized zone, surveillance of troop movements, and border protection.

This plan would dramatically shift the role of the coalition forces from occupation to state building, with a timeline for achieving each step in the plan, including gradual disengagement of coalition troops. Security would be maintained by reconstituted state-based security forces and, if necessary, UN peacekeepers. Full public debate within Iraq, culminating in a referendum or constituent assembly to ratify the process, is essential to legitimate the process. The U.N., U.S., European and Arab countries would all play a role.

Sayed Ayyad Jamaluddin, a secular Shiite who serves on the Higher Council for National Reconciliation, stated recently that at this point, "Iraq has only two options, fragmentation or civil war. And civil war will be a catastrophe because it will be fought on the basis of religion."

Managed partition could avoid such a brutal outcome, move the country toward viable peace, and lay the foundation to bring American troops home.

Pauline Baker is president of the Fund for Peace and a Professorial Lecturer at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. The Fund for Peace is a research and educational organization. It has been issuing reports tracking trends in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.


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