Friday, October 05, 2007


Calls grow for partition of Iraq

(The Guardian) - After months of gruelling work, including major counter-insurgency operations in June, US commanders in Iraq have growing reason to believe the controversial "surge" policy is working. But as the military gets a grip, the effectiveness and cohesion of the civilian-led, Shia-dominated government in Baghdad slips by the day. That is renewing talk of partition.
US officials say the number of Iraqi civilians and American soldiers killed in September was lower than at any time since January 2006. The overall trend has been downwards for four months. Lieutenant-general Raymond Odierno, the US deputy commander, said this week that al-Qaida bases and safe havens had been reduced by 60-70% since the surge began. Other contributory factors include increased cooperation from Sunni Arab tribesmen across central Iraq. Up to 30,000 Sunnis have reportedly volunteered to help US and Iraqi-government forces secure their neighbourhoods.
After months of bitter US complaints that Iran's Revolutionary Guard was aiding Shia militias and arming renegade Sunnis linked to al-Qaida, Tehran may be backing off. Gen Odierno said the supply of weapons from Iran grew dramatically from April to July, in support of a summer offensive by insurgents.
But after a deal made with Tehran last month by Iraq's Shia prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, the flow is slowing. Sadly for the overall US strategy, political progress is not keeping pace. Mr Maliki's coalition government looks weaker than ever, unable to command a working parliamentary majority, or to pass key reconciliation measures. Seventeen ministries are without a minister and much central government funding remains frozen in the ruins of a collapsed bureaucracy.
Sensing division among Shias and reduced commitment from the Kurds, Sunni Arab and secular parties are threatening a no-confidence vote. US congressional criticism is mounting too. "There was just no sense of urgency on the part of the prime minister to drive the overarching goal that will help cement and solidify Iraq as a united country," said Republican senator Olympia Snowe after visiting Baghdad.
US officials, including President Bush, are leaning hard on Mr Maliki. But ironically, their success in thwarting Democrat attempts to impose a withdrawal timetable, plus the surge's recent advances, may have eased the immediate pressure on him. And if Mr Maliki were to fall, neither Washington nor Iraq's squabbling factions would easily find a viable alternative.
The impotence of the Baghdad government, and the willingness of tribal chiefs and provincial and municipal-level leaders to take charge of their security, budgets and social programmes, is encouraging talk of partition - or at least devolution of power beyond that envisaged in Iraq's federal constitution.
Independence-minded Kurdistan, in northern Iraq, is already going its own way. The Kurdish regional government recently signed five unilateral oil exploration deals, to fury in both Baghdad and Washington.
In the south, Mr Maliki's key Shia backer, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, wants the nine majority-Shia southern provinces to join what could effectively become a state within a state. Its existential power struggle with Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army, sworn opponent of Mr Maliki and the Americans, is increasingly distracting its attention from "national" priorities.
This has not gone unnoticed among US legislators and policymakers such as Democrat senator Joe Biden, who have long argued for Bosnia style, ethnically based partition. Mr Biden won Senate approval last week for a non-binding measure urging Iraq's division into Sunni, Shia and Kurd regions.
"Attempts to partition or divide Iraq by intimidation, force or other means would produce extraordinary suffering and bloodshed," the US government said. But many reply that, despite the surge's recent successes, extraordinary suffering is what Iraq has already got; and the illusion of central control cannot be sustained much longer.

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