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[casi] "Partition" and Iraq: Auden warns Leslie Gelb


In the NY Times, Leslie Gelb has blown the dust off the old three-state
solution, and has proposed to partition Iraq.  But Mr. Gelb should first re-read
W. H. Auden ("Partition", 1966):

"Unbiassed at least he was when he arrived on his mission,
Having never set eyes on the land he was called to partition"

'Partition' concerns Sir Cyril Radcliffe's lone visit to the Indian
sub-continent -- a colonial finale' that defined the border between India and
Pakistan.  It took Sir Cyril less than two months:

"But in seven weeks it was done, the frontiers decided,
A continent for better or worse divided."

Mr. Gelb gives similar inattention to Iraqi's shared history, intermarried
families, intermingled property, varying resources, varying prospects, refugee
populations, and war-stressed infrastructure.  But Mr. Gelb doesn't live in
Iraq, does he?

"The next day he sailed for England, where he could quickly forget
The case, as a good lawyer must. Return he would not,
Afraid, as he told his Club, that he might get shot."

Perhaps one million people died in the turmoil following the sub-continent's
partition, and millions more were uprooted.  Fifty years later, the border
remains the world's most dangerous nuclear flashpoint.  Whatever odds you give
our damnable occupation, it would be a moral disaster to bomb, and then
partition, and then run.

Drew Hamre
Golden Valley, MN USA

On Auden's poem, see:

On the partition, see:

On Leslie Gelb's piece, see:

Following is the piece itself:
November 25, 2003
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.

President Bush wants to hold Iraq together by conducting democratic elections
countrywide. But by his daily reassurances to the contrary, he only fans
devastating rumors of an American pullout. Meanwhile, influential senators have
called for more and better American troops to defeat the insurgency. Yet neither
the White House nor Congress is likely to approve sending more troops.

And then there is the plea, mostly from outside the United States government, to
internationalize the occupation of Iraq. The moment for multilateralism,
however, may already have passed. Even the United Nations shudders at such a
nightmarish responsibility.

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.

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 consequences.

This three-state solution has been unthinkable in Washington for decades. After
the Iranian revolution in 1979, a united Iraq was thought necessary to counter
an anti-American Iran. Since the gulf war in 1991, a whole Iraq was deemed
essential to preventing neighbors like Turkey, Syria and Iran from picking at
the pieces and igniting wider wars.

But times have changed. The Kurds have largely been autonomous for years, and
Ankara has lived with that. So long as the Kurds don't move precipitously toward
statehood or incite insurgencies in Turkey or Iran, these neighbors will accept
their autonomy. It is true that a Shiite self-governing region could become a
theocratic state or fall into an Iranian embrace. But for now, neither
possibility seems likely.

There is a hopeful precedent for a three-state strategy: Yugoslavia after World
War II. In 1946, Marshal Tito pulled together highly disparate ethnic groups
into a united Yugoslavia. A Croat himself, he ruled the country from Belgrade
among the majority and historically dominant Serbs. Through clever politics and
personality, Tito kept the peace peacefully.

When Tito died in 1980, several parts of Yugoslavia quickly declared their
independence. The Serbs, with superior armed forces and the arrogance of
traditional rulers, struck brutally against Bosnian Muslims and Croats.

Europeans and Americans protested but  stunningly and unforgivably  did little
at first to prevent the violence. Eventually they gave the Bosnian Muslims and
Croats the means to fight back, and the Serbs accepted separation. Later, when
Albanians in the Serb province of Kosovo rebelled against their cruel masters,
the United States and Europe had to intervene again. The result there will be
either autonomy or statehood for Kosovo.

The lesson is obvious: overwhelming force was the best chance for keeping
Yugoslavia whole, and even that failed in the end. Meantime, the costs of
preventing the natural states from emerging had been terrible.

The ancestors of today's Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds have been in Mesopotamia
since before modern history. The Shiites there, unlike Shiites elsewhere in the
Arab world, are a majority. The Sunnis of the region gravitate toward
pan-Arabism. The non-Arab Kurds speak their own language and have always fed
their own nationalism.

The Ottomans ruled all the peoples of this land as they were: separately. In
1921, Winston Churchill cobbled the three parts together for oil's sake under a
monarch backed by British armed forces. The Baathist Party took over in the
1960's, with Saddam Hussein consolidating its control in 1979, maintaining unity
through terror and with occasional American help.

Today, the Sunnis have a far greater stake in a united Iraq than either the
Kurds or the Shiites. Central Iraq is largely without oil, and without oil
revenues, the Sunnis would soon become poor cousins.

The Shiites might like a united Iraq if they controlled it  which they could if
those elections Mr. Bush keeps promising ever occur. But the Kurds and Sunnis
are unlikely to accept Shiite control, no matter how democratically achieved.
The Kurds have the least interest in any strong central authority, which has
never been good for them.

A strategy of breaking up Iraq and moving toward a three-state solution would
build on these realities. The general idea is to strengthen the Kurds and
Shiites and weaken the Sunnis, then wait and see whether to stop at autonomy or
encourage statehood.

The first step would be to make the north and south into self-governing regions,
with boundaries drawn as closely as possible along ethnic lines. Give the Kurds
and Shiites the bulk of the billions of dollars voted by Congress for
reconstruction. In return, require democratic elections within each region, and
protections for women, minorities and the news media.

Second and at the same time, draw down American troops in the Sunni Triangle and
ask the United Nations to oversee the transition to self-government there. This
might take six to nine months; without power and money, the Sunnis may cause

For example, they might punish the substantial minorities left in the center,
particularly the large Kurdish and Shiite populations in Baghdad. These
minorities must have the time and the wherewithal to organize and make their
deals, or go either north or south. 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 force.

The Sunnis could also ignite insurgencies in the Kurdish and Shiite regions. To
counter this, the United States would already have redeployed most of its troops
north and south of the Sunni Triangle, where they could help arm and train the
Kurds and Shiites, if asked.

The third part of the strategy would revolve around regional diplomacy. All the
parties will suspect the worst of one another  not without reason. They will
all need assurances about security. And if the three self-governing regions were
to be given statehood, it should be done only with the consent of their
neighbors. The Sunnis might surprise and behave well, thus making possible a
single and loose confederation. Or maybe they would all have to live with simple
autonomy, much as Taiwan does with respect to China.

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.

Leslie H. Gelb, a former editor and columnist for The Times, is president
emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations.

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