Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Decentralized Iraq

Peter Galbraith, former U.S. ambassador to Croatia and senior diplomatic fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, recently sat down with Robert Siegel for an interesting interview with NPR's All Things Considered about the decentralization of Iraq (a concept long-advocated by Joe Biden).

SIEGEL: Well, our guest today has written in support of the partition of Iraq, the idea of splitting the country up into three countries, Sunni, Shia, and Kurd. Peter Galbraith is a former U.S. ambassador to Croatia and now senior diplomatic fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. And Peter Galbraith, partition, still a good idea?

Mr. PETER GALBRAITH: Well, I don't actually advocate partition. My point is that the country has already broken up, and the United States should not be in the business of putting it back together. We have, in the north, Kurdistan, which is, in all regards, an independent country except it doesn't have international recognition with its own army, its own government.

And now between the Shiites and the Sunnis, there are two separate armies. There's a Shiite army. It's the Iraqi army, but it's dominated by the Shiites. And in the Sunni areas, there's now the Awakening, a hundred-thousand-man-strong militia. And it is because of the Awakening, and not so much the surge of U.S. troops, that there's been this enormous decline in attacks by al-Qaeda. But they remain very hostile to the Iraqi government, and the Iraqi government sees them as a bigger threat than al-Qaeda.

SIEGEL: Are you satisfied by the degree to which the incoming Obama administration - what has been the Obama campaign - sees as the reality of Iraqi politics? Is it close enough to what you see as the reality of Iraqi politics?

Mr. GALBRAITH: Yes. Of course, it's very encouraging to me that Joe Biden is the incoming vice president. He has been the prime proponent of a decentralized Iraq. And although in the campaign Senator McCain described his plan as, I think, a cockamamie idea, it is in fact what the Bush administration has done in part. The Bush administration, in 2007, decided to finance a Sunni army, which is the Awakening. And that's why we've had success. Biden would only take this a next step and encourage the Sunnis to form their own region, which would control that army just as the Kurdistan region controls the Peshmerga, which is the Kurdistan army.

SIEGEL: Iraq has prickly relations with - certainly with two of its neighbors. Turkey is distressed at the possibility of a de facto or truly independent Kurdistan on its border. And the Iranians have, it seems, have been intervening in a variety of ways. Is a decentralized, loosely federalized, some would say partitioned, Iraq, is it capable of actually defending its own interests against bigger neighbors?

Mr. GALBRAITH: Well, Iraq is not, today, defending its interests. The Iranians wield enormous influence because the United States actually paved the way for Iran's allies to become the government of Iraq. With regard to the Kurds, actually there's been a change in attitude on the part of Turkey. There was a time when they thought the idea of an independent Kurdistan, or a de facto independent Kurdistan, was an almost existential threat to Turkey. But increasingly Turks recognize, first, that this is an accomplished fact. It's already happened. And second that there are opportunities. After all, they share in common they're secular, they're pro-Western like the Turks, aspire to be democratic, and they're not Arabs.

SIEGEL: Should the Obama administration, once it takes over, should it have a new diplomatic initiative in Iraq? And is there an occasion for some Iraqi version of the Dayton peace conference that addressed the war in the Balkans some years ago?

Mr. GALBRAITH: Yes. There are two things that the United States can do that would enhance stability in Iraq as it leaves. First, to try and solve the territorial dispute over Kirkuk and other disputed areas between the Kurds and the Arabs, and secondly to work out a modus vivendi between the Iraqi government and the Shiite-led army and the Sunni Awakening as to who will control what territory. And a Dayton-style process, with a tough negotiator like Richard Holbrooke, if he doesn't end up being secretary of state, I think that's exactly what the Obama administration should look at doing.

SIEGEL: So, in that argument, it's not, let's try to do away with this conflict between Shia and Sunni and armed groups, but rather, let's try to negotiate a better, more equitable deal and more stable deal between the two groups that will continue to exist for the near future.

Mr. GALBRAITH: Precisely. And if we can minimize the things that Sunnis and Shiites are going to fight over, it may be, over time, that they will find it in their interest to have much greater cooperation and that voluntarily they'll build a stronger Iraqi state. I think it's unlikely the Kurds would ever join that, but I think it's quite possible as between the Sunnis and Shiites.

SIEGEL: Well, Peter Galbraith, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Mr. GALBRAITH: Well, thank you.
[Galbraith is the author of a new book -- "Unintended Consequences: How War In Iraq Strengthened America's Enemies."]

No comments: