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Thesis & Antithesis

A critical perspective on energy, international politics & current affairs

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Location: Washington, D.C.

greekdefaultwatch@gmail.com Natural gas consultant by day, blogger on the Greek economy by night. Trained as an economist and political scientist. I believe in common sense and in data, and my aim is to offer insight written in language that is clear and convincing.

07 November 2005

Iraq’s unity

Peter Galbraith has a thoughtful piece in today’s Washington Post; he writes, “The United States should focus now not on preserving the unity of Iraq but on avoiding a spreading civil war.” He concludes: “As Yugoslavia broke up in 1991, the first Bush administration put all its diplomatic muscle into a doomed effort to hold the country together, and it did nothing to stop the coming war. We should not repeat that mistake in Iraq.”

Unlike Yugoslavia, the unity of the state and the avoidance of war in Iraq are intimately connected. The Sunnis can be placated largely by being promised oil revenues that lie beneath the Kurdish and Shia controlled areas. Their resolve to fight is very much a function of the unity of the Iraqi state. A Shia Southern Iraq would upset the balance in the region, feeding the anti-Shia feeling that exists in many places, most prominently Saudi Arabia. A Shia state might have fewer reservations about aligning with Iran, further destabilizing a fragile political balance. In the north, an independent Kurdistan would send ripple effects across many borders to their brethren Kurds, in Turkey, in Iran and in Syria.

In other words, a three-state scenario would purchase democracy and self-determination at the expense of stability. This is a gamble and probably a reasonable long-term goal: America should not become enamored with a unified Iraq. But we should at least recognize that the preservation of a unified Iraq and the avoidance of war are very closely connected. It will take plenty diplomatic ingenuity to pursue one without the other.

References:
Peter W. Galbraith, “What are we holding together?” Washington Post, 7 Nov 05 (link)

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