Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Bush's Islamic Republic?

Writing in the NYRB, Peter Galbraith recommends a soft break-up of Iraq to deal with the seemingly intractable dilemmas of an out-of-control Sunni insurgency and the creeping political influence of Shia-friendly Iran:

There are two central problems in today's Iraq: the first is the insurgency and the second is an Iranian takeover. The insurgency, for all its violence, is a finite problem. The insurgents may not be defeated but they cannot win. This, of course, raises a question about what a prolonged US military presence in Iraq can accomplish, since there is no military solution to the problem of Sunni Arab rejection of Shiite rule, which is now integral to the insurgency.

Iraq's Shiites endured decades of brutal repression, to which the United States was mostly indifferent. Iran, by contrast, was a good friend and committed supporter of the Shiites. By bringing freedom to Iraq, the Bush administration has allowed Iraq's Shiites to vote for pro-Iranian religious parties that seek to create—and are creating —an Islamic state. This is not ideal but it is the result of a democratic process.

The Bush administration should, however, draw the line at allowing a Shiite theocracy to establish control over all of Iraq. This requires a drastic change of strategy. Building powerful national institutions in Iraq serves the interest of one group—today it is the Shiites—at the expense of the others, and inevitably produces conflict and instability. Instead, the administration should concentrate on political arrangements that match the reality in Iraq. This means a loose confederation in which each of Iraq's communities governs itself, and is capable of defending itself. It may not be possible to accomplish this in a constitution, since the very process of writing a constitution forces these communities to confront issues—religion, women's rights, ownership of oil, regional militaries— that are hard to resolve ideologically.
Galbraith has been calling for/predicting a break-up for some time, and did so in the pages of the NYRB last year. I was skeptical of his claims then, but think he may be right in arguing that there isn't a workable solution right now to mend the fissures between Iraq's three main ethnic groups. The insurgency has exacerbated ethnic tensions to a breaking point, the January elections solidified politics along ethnic lines, and, according to recent reports, the Constitution that is about to be drawn up does not look like it will do much to appease the minority Sunnis and Kurds.

The parties that seem to be the winners in this messed up equation seem to be those Likudites with dreams of reviving the Hashemite Kingdom and the Iranians who see a potential expansion of their dominion. How 'bout that for irony?