Should Iraq have been partitioned into a federal country with separate, semi-autonomous regions?

PRO (yes)

Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, President of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and a Shi'a, stated in a Dec. 2003 interview on PBS's Frontline:

"Iraq, according to the constitution that the Iraqi people voted on, is a federal Iraq made of regions. There is a Kurdistan region currently, and other regions should be formed in order to create balance. If not, then this would lead to conflict. We insisted that legislation should be introduced to explain how governorates are turned into regions, and that was finally endorsed by parliament a month ago.

We suggested a central and southern region made of nine governorates that would be able to confront internal and external challenges, that would be able to invest the riches it contains for the benefit of Iraq, that would be able to preserve the unity of Iraq, and that would be able to defend itself. We suggested this as political powers, but it is the people who will decide through their votes.

We also suggested the formation of the Baghdad region soon, according to the constitution. We encouraged our Sunni brothers to move and form their own regions in order to create a state of balance in Iraq so that we would all benefit from the formation of regions."

Dec. 2003 - Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim 

Joe Biden, JD, US Senator (D-DE) at the time of the quote, stated in an Oct. 6, 2006 press release:

"There is a...[way to]...achieve the two objectives most Americans share: to bring our troops home without leaving chaos behind. The idea is to maintain a unified Iraq by federalizing it and giving Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis control over their daily lives in their own regions.

There is no purely military solution to the sectarian civil war. The only way to break the vicious cycle of violence - and to create the conditions for our armed forces to responsibly withdraw -- is to give Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds incentives to pursue their interests peacefully. That requires an equitable and viable power sharing arrangement."

Oct. 6, 2006 - Joe Biden, Jr, JD 

Sam Brownback, JD, US Senator (R-KS), stated in a Dec. 12, 2006 interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN's The Situation Room:

"BLITZER: You were quoted in "The Washington Post' the other day as saying this -- and I will read it to you -- 'I think you may end up having a Kurdish, a Sunni, a Shiite area and Baghdad being a federal capital. Hopefully, you can maintain it in one country.'

What do you say?

BROWNBACK: Well, what I say is, let's face reality, Wolf. You look at the former Yugoslavia. When they took the military apparatus off the top of that, it broke into multiple sets of countries.

You look at Sudan today, where you have got southern Sudanese, northern Sudanese that just don't get along -- and likely for that to break apart.

I think, if you just look at what reality is, and if you're not willing to put a military apparatus sitting on top of Iraq -- either we're not willing to do it, or the Iraqis aren't capable of doing it -- you're likely to devolve down to some three types of regions, Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds."

Dec. 12, 2006 - Sam Brownback, JD 

Leslie Gelb, PhD, President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, stated in a Nov. 25, 2003 New York Times article titled "The Three-State Solution":

"President Bush's new strategy of transferring power quickly to Iraqis, and his critics' alternatives, share a fundamental flaw: all commit the United States to a unified Iraq, artificially and fatefully made whole from three distinct ethnic and sectarian communities. That has been possible in the past only by the application of overwhelming and brutal force...

The only viable strategy, then, may be to correct the historical defect and move in stages toward a three-state solution: Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the center and Shiites in the south...

For decades, the United States has worshiped at the altar of a unified yet unnatural Iraqi state. Allowing all three communities within that false state to emerge at least as self-governing regions would be both difficult and dangerous. Washington would have to be very hard-headed, and hard-hearted, to engineer this breakup. But such a course is manageable, even necessary, because it would allow us to find Iraq's future in its denied but natural past."

Nov. 25, 2003 - Leslie H. Gelb, PhD 

Peter W. Galbraith, JD, Senior Diplomatic Fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, stated in a July 16, 2006 Sunday Times article titled "Iraq's Salvation Lies in Letting it Break Apart":

"There is no good solution to the mess in Iraq. The country has broken up. The United States cannot put it back together again and cannot stop the civil war.

The conventional wisdom holds that Iraq’s break-up would be destabilising and should be avoided at all costs. Looking at Iraq’s dismal history since Britain cobbled it together from three Ottoman provinces at the end of the first world war, it should be apparent that it is the effort to hold Iraq together that has been destabilising...

In sum: partition works as a political solution for Kurdistan, the Shi’ite south and the Sunni Arab centre because it formalises what has already taken place. By contrast, the American effort to build a unified state with a non-sectarian, non-ethnic police and army has not produced that result nor made much progress towards it."

July 16, 2006 -  

Adeed Dawisha, PhD, and Karen Dawisha, PhD, Professors of Political Science at Miami University, Ohio, wrote in their May/June 2003 article titled "How to Build a Democratic Iraq" published in Foreign Affairs:

"Iraq's ethnic and sectarian diversity -- the splits between Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen, and between Shi`ites and Sunnis -- is usually seen as an impediment to building a stable democracy there. The fact is, however, that all this antagonism could serve a constructive purpose: having factions zealously check each others' power could actually promote democracy at the expense of rigid communal particularism. The trick is to work out a constitutional arrangement that makes sense of Iraq's social and cultural mosaic, transforming diversity into an agent for positive change.

For that reason, democratic Iraq must have a federal system of government. Already, the Kurds -- who have enjoyed freedom from Baghdad's control since the establishment of the northern no-fly zone -- have been adamant in demanding such a system. But all Iraqis would benefit from federalism, as the example of other current federal states -- the United States, Germany, Russia, and now the United Kingdom -- suggests."

May/June 2003 - Karen L. Dawisha, PhD 
Adeed Dawisha, PhD 

CON (no)

The Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, a Sunni-Arab led Iraqi political coalition, was quoted by Yahya Barzani, Associated Press correspondent, in a Sep. 18, 2006 Desert News article titled "Bombs Strike Oil-rich North in Iraq, Killing 24 People":

"'The National Dialogue Front totally rejects all kinds of partitioning schemes such as the federal regions project and the changing of the Iraqi flag,' the Front said.

'This country, which has been united in its entire history, cannot be divided into regions. It is a step toward dividing Iraq into mini-states,' Mishan al-Saadi, a senior member of the Front, told The Associated Press."

Sep. 18, 2006 - Iraqi Front for National Dialogue (Hewar National Iraqi Front) 
Yahya Barzani 

The Iraq Study Group stated in its Dec. 6, 2006 "Iraq Study Group Report":

"The costs associated with devolving Iraq into three semiautonomous regions with loose central control would be too high. Because Iraq’s population is not neatly separated, regional boundaries cannot be easily drawn. All eighteen Iraqi provinces have mixed populations, as do Baghdad and most other major cities in Iraq. A rapid devolution could result in mass population movements, collapse of the Iraqi security forces, strengthening of militias, ethnic cleansing, destabilization of neighboring states, or attempts by neighboring states to dominate Iraqi regions."

Dec. 6, 2006 - Iraq Study Group Report (1.72 MB)  
Iraq Study Group (ISG) 

Condoleezza Rice, PhD, US Secretary of State at the time of the quote, stated in an Apr. 19, 2007 interview with Tom Bevan of RealClear Politics:

"A few Shia have talked about having some kind of, you know, unification of several provinces into a regional structure of some kind. But I don't think it is practical, particularly along ethno-sectarian lines, to divide Iraq up and give authority based on your sectarian identification, to say there's a Shia part of the country, a Sunni part of the country, a Kurdish part of the country. Baghdad is a completely mixed city. What becomes of Baghdad? You start separating people into different cantonments? What becomes of Mosul, which is a mixed city? What becomes of Kirkuk? If you try to do this, I think you're going to have an explosion.

So I don't see it as practical, really. I do think it is going to be -- I do think its success may depend in part on decentralizing some of the power and authority to provincial and local levels, based not on sectarian identification, but based on geographic location. If you take a place like Mosul, it shouldn't have to do everything through Baghdad. It will get a percentage of the -- under current Iraqi law -- it will get a percentage of the federal budget that becomes its to spend. I think all of those kinds of decentralizing -- this is a big country, it shouldn't be run just from the center. But trying to somehow engineer three parts -- a Shia part, a Sunni part, a Kurdish part -- I think that's not practical."

Apr. 19, 2007 - Condoleezza Rice, PhD 

Scott McClellan, former White House Press Secretary, stated in a May 2, 2006 press briefing:

"Q: Scott, Senator Biden has got an op/ed out and he's going to make some remarks in Philadelphia in a short time from now, advocating the possible partitionment of Iraq -- Sunni, Shia and Kurd. What is the administration's view of that suggestion now in terms of how it impacts the process, and in general?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple things. First of all, it's a question that really ought to be directed to the Iraqi leaders. They are the ones to make the decisions about the future of Iraq. The United States remains firmly committed to the vision for the future of Iraq that was outlined in the United Nations Security Council resolution 1546, which called for a federal, democratic, pluralist and unified Iraq in which there is full respect for political and human rights...

We will continue to work with them as they move forward on that, but a partitioned government with regional security forces and a weak central government is something that no Iraqi leader has proposed, and that the Iraqi people have not supported."

May 2, 2006 - Scott McClellan 

Reidar Visser, DPhil, Research Fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, stated in a May 19, 2005 article titled "Iraq's Partition Fantasy":

"The idea of tripartite break-up...finds little resonance in Iraqi history. In testimony to their sublime artificiality, contemporary partitionist misnomers like 'Shi'istan' and 'Sunnistan' are altogether absent from the historical record; like much of the pro-partition advocacy they exist solely in the minds of outsiders who base their entire argument on far-fetched parallels to European political experiences...

Partitionist quick-fixes designed along unimaginative ethno-religious lines would pull in the opposite direction of coexistence. They would constitute a cowardly cave-in to those foreign terrorists who for three years straight have unsuccessfully tried to blow up the sturdy social fabric of Iraq.

The crude maps that accompany the break-up propaganda are an affront to the complex historical experiences they claim to represent, and encapsulate a continuous and highly disturbing trend towards the complete expropriation of the Iraqi transition process."

May 19, 2005 - Reidar Visser, DPhil 

Anthony H. Cordesman, Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), stated in his May 1, 2006 CSIS article titlted "Dividing Iraq: Think Long and Hard First:

"There are also some lobbyists calling for Kurdish independence or autonomy who see such calls as the road to their success. The US needs to think long and hard before it supports such a policy. Civil war and division may be inevitable, but the results could be anything but pleasant:

  • Sectarian and ethnic cleansing: Iraq does not have a neat set of ethnic dividing lines. There has never been a meaningful census of Iraq that shows exactly how its Arab Sunnis, Arab Shi’ites, Kurds and other factions are divided or where they are located...
  • The Army and security forces: The regular military have held together so far, but they are largely Shi’ite with a large number of Kurds... Dividing the country essentially means dividing the army and security forces, creating local forces on sectarian and ethnic lines, and reinforcing the militias -- all-leading to more violence...
  • Oil and money: ...Once the nation effectively divides, so does its major resource, and in ways that make the territorial losers in non-oil areas effectively dysfunctional...
  • Foreign linkages: ...If Iraq divides, either they will dominate the Iraqi Arab Sunnis, or Arab Sunni states like Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia will be forced to do so -- and they may well end up competing...

The US has made serious mistakes in Iraq, and Iraq may well divide on its own. A strategy of dividing Iraq, however, is virtually certain to make things worse, not better, and confront the US with massive new problems in an area with some 60% of the world’s proven oil reserves and 37% of its gas."

May 1, 2006 - Anthony H. Cordesman