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[casi] The New York Times: a proposal for ethnic cleansing in Iraq

The New York Times: a proposal for ethnic cleansing in Iraq
By Bill Vann
26 November 2003

With popular resistance mounting to its military occupation of Iraq, the
Bush administration is casting about in increasing desperation for a new
strategy to salvage the principal aims of its war-the seizure of oil
resources and the establishment of a US client regime in a strategically
vital region.

While plans have been announced for Washington to erect a "sovereign" Iraqi
regime by the middle of next year, this hollow exercise holds little
prospect for ending a bitter conflict that is claiming the lives of American
soldiers daily and creating growing political unrest in the US itself.

Enter the New York Times with a modest proposal for a bloodbath. It advances
what it terms a "three-state solution," based on the partition of Iraq along
ethnic and religious lines.

The proposal appeared in a November 25 column by Leslie Gelb, a former
editor and senior columnist for the Times. Gelb calls for dividing Iraq
between the "Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the center and Shiites in the

He continues: "Almost immediately, this would allow America to put most of
its money and troops where they would do the most good quickly-with the
Kurds and Shiites. The United States could extricate most of its forces from
the so-called Sunni Triangle, north and west of Baghdad, largely freeing
American forces from fighting a costly war they might not win. American
officials could then wait for the troublesome and domineering Sunnis,
without oil or oil revenues, to moderate their ambitions or suffer the

Gelb's proposal is a clear manifestation of another triangle-a reactionary
nexus between the US State Department, Israeli intelligence and the
editorial board of the New York Times.

Until recently, Gelb headed the Council on Foreign Affairs, the influential
Washington think tank that provides a forum for corporate executives, CIA
and State Department officials, and a select group of establishment
journalists and academics with intimate ties to these camps. Gelb himself
followed stints at the Pentagon and the State Department with his position
as columnist and editor at the Times. There is no doubt that his piece on
Iraq gives voice to policies that are under active consideration within the
top levels of the US government.

The obvious attraction for Washington in the partition proposal advanced by
Gelb is that by dismembering Iraq it would allow the deployment of US troops
in the areas that are of the greatest strategic concern: the oilfields in
the predominantly Shiite south and the largely Kurdish north, while the
Sunni population, which has dominated Iraqi political life since the days of
Ottoman rule and has been the most hostile to the US occupation, would be
left stranded in an isolated mini-state stripped of its resources.

Just as Iraq's boundaries were artificially drawn by the British after World
War I to further colonial ambitions and establish control over oil reserves,
so, according to Gelb's thesis, they can be redrawn by the region's new US
imperialist master to further similar aims.

It is not only in Washington, however, that this proposal finds support. The
partition of Iraq has long been a strategic objective of the Israeli regime.
An article that appeared in the World Zionist Organization's publication
Kivunim in 1982, on the eve of Israel's invasion of Lebanon and in the midst
of the Iran-Iraq war, spelled this out. Written by Oded Yinon, an official
in the Israeli foreign ministry, the article was entitled, "A Strategy for
Israel in the 1980s." It stated, in part:

"Iraq, rich in oil on the one hand and internally torn on the other, is
guaranteed as a candidate for Israel's targets. Its dissolution is even more
important for us than that of Syria. Iraq is stronger than Syria. In the
short run it is Iraqi power which constitutes the greatest threat to Israel.
An Iraqi-Iranian war will tear Iraq apart and cause its downfall at home
even before it is able to organize a struggle on a wide front against us.
Every kind of inter-Arab confrontation will assist us in the short run and
will shorten the way to the more important aim of breaking up Iraq into
denominations as in Syria and in Lebanon. In Iraq, a division into provinces
along ethnic/religious lines as in Syria during Ottoman times is possible.
So, three (or more) states will exist around the three major cities: Basra,
Baghdad and Mosul, and Shiite areas in the south will separate from the
Sunni and Kurdish north. It is possible that the present Iranian-Iraqi
confrontation will deepen this polarization."

Israel actively sought to promote this agenda, offering covert support both
to the Khomeini regime in Iran and the Kurdish separatist movements in Iraq

Washington had previously opposed such a partition on the grounds that it
would destabilize the entire region and remove a strategic counterbalance to
Iran, which in the wake of the 1979 revolution was seen as the greater
threat to US interests. Clearly, however, if the US is planning to maintain
permanent military bases on Iraqi soil and preparing further wars in the
region, these calculations have changed.

What is most breathtaking about Gelb's proposal is its utter indifference to
the welfare of the Iraqi population, not to mention international law.

He warns that the Sunni population in central Iraq "might punish the
substantial minorities" left out of the ethnic states to be created in the
north and south. "These minorities must have the time and the wherewithal to
organize and make their deals, or go either north or south," he writes.
"This would be a messy and dangerous enterprise, but the United States would
and should pay for the population movements and protect the process with

What is proposed here is the uprooting of masses of people and the igniting
of an ethnic bloodbath the likes of which has not been seen since the
British partition of India 55 years ago, when a million Hindus, Muslims and
Sikhs were slaughtered and some 14 million people were driven from their

Baghdad's largest neighborhood, Sadr City, a sprawling slum named after a
Shiite leader killed under the Saddam Hussein regime, is home to some 2
million residents, most of them Shiites. These impoverished masses, the vast
majority of whom have never lived anywhere else, are supposed to "make their
deals" or move south. The same presumably holds true for the substantial
Assyrian and Turkoman populations in the north.

It should be recalled that in the mid-1990s Gelb, together with Times
columnist Anthony Lewis, was one of the principal media advocates for US
intervention in the Balkans, demanding that Washington punish the Serbs for
"ethnic cleansing." Now it is precisely such a bloody process that Gelb
advocates for Iraq.

Indeed, Gelb cites the dismemberment of the Yugoslav federation along
ethno-nationalist lines beginning in 1991 as a "hopeful precedent" for what
his plan envisions in Iraq. The column makes clear once again that-the human
rights propaganda used to justify the 1999 US/NATO attack on Serbia
notwithstanding-the attitude of US policy makers towards ethnic cleansing is
quite flexible. It depends upon who is doing it and whether it furthers
Washington's strategic interests.

"Overwhelming force was the best chance for keeping Yugoslavia whole and
even that failed in the end," Gelb writes. "Meantime, the costs of
preventing the natural states from emerging had been terrible."

Here the former official of the Pentagon/State Department and Times editor
offers a false and self-serving explanation for Yugoslavia's disintegration,
while providing a glimpse of the reactionary conceptions underlying what
Washington depicts as a crusade for democracy in Iraq. Yugoslavia's breakup
was not the triumph of "natural states" against "overwhelming force." It was
the byproduct of economic "shock therapy" policies imposed by the
International Monetary Fund and other world financial institutions that led
to the collapse of the country's national economy and the destruction of the
jobs and living standards of masses of working people.

In an attempt to divert the resulting social unrest, Stalinist bureaucrats
and communalist demagogues fomented nationalist sentiments while seeking
patrons among the major powers. The principal aim of Washington and the
other imperialist powers became the transformation of the splintered
territories of the former Yugoslavia into a collection of semi-colonies.

A carve-up of Iraq will similarly be a process imposed by US imperialism
against the interests of all Iraqi people, rather than any realization of
pent-up demands for ethnic "self-determination."

The idea that Iraq is no more than a collection of "natural states" composed
of different ethnic groups yearning to live separately is not only backward
but also, from the standpoint of US policy in the region, wholly

If Washington were truly to embrace this conception of "natural," i.e.,
ethnic states, then it could not but welcome the unification of the Kurdish
people, presently divided by the borders separating Iraq, Turkey, Iran and
Syria. Likewise, it would have to support the unification of the Shiites of
southern Iraq with their coreligionists in neighboring Iran, not to mention
eastern Saudi Arabia, in one contiguous state. But, in fact, the Bush
administration has made it clear it is prepared to use overwhelming military
force against anyone daring to attempt such a "natural" form of statecraft.

The proposal to dismember Iraq along ethnic lines is a stark expression of
the predatory character of the US intervention. Notwithstanding the Bush
administration's rhetoric about "liberating" Iraq and turning it into a
"beacon of democracy" for the Middle East, the conceptions advanced by Gelb
demonstrate that Washington has no answers to the complex historical and
political problems posed in Iraq. Its only aim is to exploit existing
divisions to further the profit interests of the oil conglomerates and other
US-based corporations and banks.

An ethnic carve-up of Iraq would have far-reaching implications throughout
the Middle East, where the boundaries of none of the existing states are a
"natural" reflection of ethnic identity, but rather are the legacy of the
previous division of the region between British and French imperialism. Any
number of these states could also be dismembered, and proposals already
exist to do just that. Within the civilian leadership in the Pentagon, for
example, there has been discussion of the US fostering a breakaway Shiite
"Muslim republic of east Arabia," as a means of prying loose the vast oil
reserves of Saudi Arabia from the crumbling monarchy.

Such policies have an attraction for the Israeli regime that goes well
beyond its security concerns and regional ambitions. The principle that
borders should be drawn according to ethnic and religious identity finds
direct expression in the demand by elements within Israel's right-wing Likud
government for a policy of "transfer," i.e., the forced expulsion of the
Palestinian population from both the occupied territories and Israel's
pre-1967 borders so as to realize the exclusively Jewish character of the
Zionist state. Should the US begin massive population transfers in Iraq, the
Israelis could well be emboldened to follow suit.

For its part, the New York Times' publication of its former editor's
recommendation to the Bush administration for the carve-up of Iraq
represents the continuation of its promotion and justification of the
illegal war, as well as its long-standing defense of Israeli interests. With
the Gelb column, however, the newspaper has abandoned its pretense of
liberal humanitarianism to openly promote a war crime of world-historic

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