Thursday, February 03, 2005

A Yugoslavia in Mesopotamia?

An old friend - former US Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith - belongs to those arguing that it's probably better to break up Iraq in a Kurdistan, a Babylonia and a Sumeria or something along those lines. He believes that the US administration is naive in believing that the Kurdish leaders really believe the diplomatic niceties on the integrity of Iraq, and that sooner or later the day of reckoning will come.

On the later point, I wouldn't disagree. There are some remarkable similarities between the issues of Kurdistan and Kosovo.

But then Peter goes on saying that we should have learnt from the mistake of Yugoslavia, where the US until the very last keept insisting on the integrity of Yugoslavia in spite of the obvious conflict between primarily Croat and Serb ambitions.

The question is what the real lesson of Yugoslavia for the situation in Iraq is.

I would argue that one lesson is that new borders in regions of multi-ethnic mosaic are always borders drawn in blood. We don't know how many tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands lost their lives in the decade-long and still ongoing break-up of the western Balkans, but we know that millions were forced to flee, and that areas that in the past were inhabitated by peoples of different religions and nationalities are now as mono-ethnic as can be, with ethnic cleansing have reduced large areas to little more than wasteland.

Peter might argue, that we should have negotiated a peaceful solution to the conflicts in Yugoslavia, but this neglects the small fact that we tried and failed. When the process was set in motion, the powers of arms was seen as the best to create facts on the ground, and when that had beeon done it could only very, very rarely be reversed.

In many ways, Iraq is more complex and dangerous than Yugoslavia was. None of the neighbours of Yugoslavia had the slightest interest in intervening its its bloody breakup, but virtually all of the neigbours of Iraq are likely to have an interest in intervening in a bloody breakup there.

In Iraq, it's unfortunately easy to see a bloody battle over Kirkuk and its oil that might well draw in others, and that might spill over into ethnic conflict also in a Baghdad were the number of Kurds might well be in hundreds of thousands.

What's then the alternative? Well, a long-term engagement by the international community in the area, safeguarding a federal structure that gives the Kurds substantial autonomy, but which gives more financial and other powers to the central authority than we had to do in the Dayton settlement for Bosnia. In all probability, this will require a long-term presence of international peacekeeping forces in the old Mosul province.

It's like Kosovo. Once you intervene, you own the problems, and walking away is far more difficult than walking in.