Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Soft or Hard Partition?

Although there is official optimism on Iraq after a new Prime Minister has now been designated, the real debate in Washington over Iraq seems to be a very different one.

Broadly speaking, it can be described as a debate between the soft and the hard partition options.

A recent heavy-weight voice was added to the soft partition school in a recent OpEd article in the New York Times by Senator John Biden and Les Gelb.

It's somewhat ironic that at virtually the same time as there is failure in Sarajevo in the efforts to continue to revise the Dayton constitution, Biden and Gelb hails Bosnia as a model for the future of Iraq.

Essentially, they argue for a constitutional deal that divides Iraq up in three semi-autonomous entities with a common Baghdad at its centre. It's a soft partition of the country.

But there are difficulties. One is that they foresee that all oil revenues should be shared so that 20 % of then could be given to the Sunni's to finance their entity.

This sounds good in theory, but the problem is that the hasty semi-deal on the constitution has already given part of these rights away, and it's very difficult to see how them now can be taken back. And without that component the entire thing looks like a non-starter.

A remark that is difficult to avoid is that the alleged soft constitutional division of Bosnia was only achieved after a very hard division during the very brutal Yugoslav civil war. The human cost was truly horribled. Whether it could have been achieved without that civil war is a separate but by no means irrelevant question.

Another part of the debate was referred to in a recent news article in The Washington Post, which gave voice to some of those saying that a hard partition in the form of a civil war in Iraq is now more or less unavoidable. Some are even saying that it might be desirable.

The soft partition advocates speak about the post-war Bosnia as a model.

The hard partition advocates suspect that it is rather the pre-war Yugoslavia that is the best guide to the situation that Iraq is now in.

Neither a particularly attractive option. Mildly speaking.