Horowitz on Iraq

Donald Horowitz is one of the leading experts in political science on ethnic conflict. I often disagree with his specific electoral-institutional recommendations, but his views on any conflict he turns his attention to are always worth considering seriously. By way of Kenneth Anderson’s Law of War blog, following are some key excerpts of a recent piece by Horowitz from the Wall Street Journal.

He starts with a premise that I have warned about in this space ever since the constitution was being debated back in the early days of F&V:

Many of Iraq’s current problems stem from the Kurdish-Shiite attempt to carve the country into a confederation of three regions with a very weak central government.

Horowitz continues with a strong warning against any partition plan, and pivots to a pointed skepticism about the idea of “engaging” Iran and Syria, as recommended by the Baker-Hamilton commission:

If the Iraq Study Group thinks the road to peace in Iraq runs through Iran and Syria, it has missed the point. Neither country has had any interest in fostering stability at a price we would or should be willing to pay. The only chance for peace in Iraq lies in changing the Kurdish-Shiite deal so that the Sunnis are incorporated into an undivided federal Iraq with a real central government, limited regional autonomy, and a new agreement on the distribution of oil revenue.

He notes that the odds do not favor this dispensation, but an effort at achieving it offers just about the only hope of averting catastrophe.

Not all Shiite elements in the Iraqi regime are friendly to Iran, and they must understand that foreign Sunni states might just fill a vacuum left by departing Americans. […]

The Maliki government should have a choice: progress on real Sunni incorporation in the regime, or progress on phased American withdrawal. Sunni incorporation would need to begin with a revitalized and serious constitutional amendment process to avert the de facto partition of the country. To convince Sunnis that this was genuine, the government would have to discuss a Sunni agenda, make serious constitutional proposals in the amendment committee, work harder to cool down Shiite militias, reverse the most extreme de-Baathification purges in the civil service, and possibly reshuffle the cabinet.

Key to carrying it out such a plan is another theme I have developed in past discussion here at F&V: cultivate divisions among the Shiites.

Shiites who are not pro-Iranian could find the proposals congenial. These would include some in Mr. Maliki’s own Dawa party; supporters of the Fadhila party, which is strong in some southern provinces and opposed to a single, nine-province region there (in which they would be in the minority); and even followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, whose base is not in the south. All are wary of the largest Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and its leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the main proponent of a strongly autonomous south with close ties to Iran. There is a more complex politics in Iraq than the one that has formed the basis of U.S. policy thus far.

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