The Partitioning of Iraq
Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres.
It took political Washington a good six months to catch up to the fact that something significant was happening in Iraq's Anbar province, where the former-insurgent Sunni tribes switched sides and joined the fight against al-Qaeda. Not surprisingly, Washington has not yet caught up to the next reality: Iraq is being partitioned -- and, like everything else in Iraq today, it is happening from the ground up.
1. The Sunni provinces. The essence of our deal with the Anbar tribes and those in Diyala, Salahuddin and elsewhere is this: You end the insurgency and drive out al-Qaeda, and we assist you in arming and policing yourselves. We'd like you to have an official relationship with the Maliki government, but we're not waiting on Baghdad.
2. The Shiite south. This week the British pulled out of Basra, retired to their air base and essentially left the southern Shiites to their own devices -- meaning domination by the Shiite militias now fighting each other for control.
3. The Kurdish north. Kurdistan has been independent in all but name for a decade and a half.
Baghdad and its immediate surroundings have not yet been defined. Despite some ethnic cleansing, the capital's future is uncertain. It is predominantly Shiite, but with a checkerboard of Sunni neighborhoods. The U.S. troop surge is attempting to stabilize the city with, again, local autonomy and policing.
This radically decentralized rule is partition in embryo. It is by no means final. But the outlines are there.
The critics at home, echoing the Shiite sectarians in Baghdad, complain that an essential part of this strategy -- the "20 percent solution" that allows former-insurgent Sunnis to organize and arm themselves -- is just setting Iraq up for a greater civil war. But this assumes that a Shiite government in Baghdad would march its army into the vast Anbar province, where there are no Shiites and no oil. For what? It seems far more likely that a well-armed and self-governing Anbar would create a balance of power that would encourage hands-off relations with the central government in Baghdad.
As partition proceeds, the central government will necessarily be very weak. Its reach may not extend far beyond Baghdad itself, becoming a kind of de facto fourth region with a mixed Sunni-Shiite population.