Peter W. Galbraith

                   The end of Iraq:  How American incompetence created a war without end

Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2006

p. 58

…geopolitics was more important then the human consequences of a failed uprising.  A successful uprising by the Iraq’s Kurds and Shiites—80 percent of Iraq’s people—would upset “the long term balance of power at the head of the Gulf.”  Given the alternative, Bush chose to keep Saddam Hussein in power.  The end of Iraq

…Bush, Scowcroft, Powell, and Cheney all insisted that the uprising could never have succeeded.  However, the uprisings nearly toppled Saddam, and would almost certainly have done so if a part of the military had joined, or the Shiites of Baghdad rebelled.

   There were elements of the Iraq military who contemplated going over to the rebel side.  Some were in direct contact with Kurdish and other resistance forces.  But for any Iraqi military officer, the decision to participate in a rebellion against Saddam Hussein was a matter of life and death, not just for the officer but for his family.  Before taking any overt action, he would want to know that there was a good chance for success.  The attitude of the United States was decisive.  Would it help? By mid-March all the signals were no.  If there had appeared a greater chance of success, it I s likely the Shiites of Saddam city (the large Shiite slum now renamed Sadr city) would have rebelled. 

 p. 60

Ironically, it was Bush’s failure to help the uprising that produced the breakup of Iraq.  The Kurds created their de facto independent state when the president was forced to establish the save haven for them.  America’s indifference to the slaughter of Iraq’s Shiites drove them into the embrace of Iran.  In the final irony, it is George H. W. Bush’s son whose presidency is unraveling because of a civil war that can be traced in part to the failed uprising with American troops bogged down in Iraq, just as Cheney predicted. 

 p. 83

A year after the Axis of Evil speech, President Bush met with three Iraqi Americans:  the author Kanan Makiya; Hatem Mukhlish, a doctor; and Rend Rahim, who later became postwar Iraq’s first representative to the United States.  As the three described what they thought would be the political situation after Saddam’s fall, they talked about Sunnis and Shiites.  It became apparent to them that the president was unfamiliar with these terms.  The three spent part of the meeting explaining that there are two major sects in Islam. 

            So two months before he ordered U.S. troops into the country, the president of the United States did not appear to know about the division among Iraqis that has defined the country’s history and politics.  He would not have understood why non-Arab Iran might gain a foothold in post-Saddam Iraq.  He could not have anticipated U.S. troops being caught in the middle of a civil war between two religious sects that he did not know existed. 

I recount this anecdote not to illustrate the president’s ignorance, but because it underscores how little the American leadership though before the war about the nature of Iraqi society and the problems the United States would face after it overthrew Saddam Hussein.  Even in 2006, with civil war well under way in Iraq, the president and his top advisors speak of in Iraqi people, as if there were a single people akin to the French or even the American people.

For this, I fault a culture of arrogance that pervaded the Bush Administration.  From the president and the vice president down through the war’s neoconservative architect in the Pentagon, there was a belief that Iraq was a blank slate on which the United States could impose its vision of a pluralistic democratic society.  The arrogance came in the form of a belief that this could be accomplished with minimal effort and planning by the United States and that it was not important to know something about Iraq.  Indeed, in the staffing of postwar governance in Iraq, the Administration placed a premium on those who had ideologically correct views of the kind of conservative (in an American sense) democracy that the U.S. wanted for Iraq; they excluded foreign service officers who knew the country and the Arab world. 

 p. 100

Modern Iraq was built on an unpromising foundation.  The Kurds did not want to be part of it all, while Arabs were divided between the minority but dominant Sunnis, and the majority Shiites.  There are, of course, successful multiethnic and multireligious states, including the United States.  They work best when the ethnic communities are all mixed together, as in the United States or, as in India, where no one community dominates the state.  In Iraq, each of the three main constituent communities—Kurds, Sunni Arabs, and Shiites—had a geographic space that was historically associated, more or less, with the three Ottoman valiyets from which Iraq was created. 

            Iraq was one of four multiethnic and/or multireligious states that were assembled at the end of the First World War.  The others tried to resolve the nationality problem by giving each group a territory where its language and culture would be dominant.  They also included some elements of power sharing at the center.  Iraq’s dominant Sunni Arabs neither respected the others’ desire to run their own affairs nor were prepared to share power. 

            At least for a time, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and (less clearly) the Soviet Union were viable multinational states.  Democracy, when it came to eastern Europe in 1989, destroyed Yugoslavia (1991), the Soviet Union (1991), and Czechoslovakia (1993).  In each case, nationalism overcame loyalty to the larger entity. 

            The Bush Administration assumed that Iraq—the least successful of these post-World war I states—was exempt from the forces that in the end destroyed its European counterparts.  It was an absurd proposition.  Perhaps the architects of the Iraq policy believed that if they talked in terms of an Iraqi people they would help create one. 

 p. 148

Thirty million strong, the Kurds describe themselves as the world’s most numerous people without a country of their own.  The Kurds speak an Indo-European language, and are ethnically, culturally, and linguistically closest to the Persian people of Iran.  By far the largest number live in Turkey, where they constitute a quarter of the population, or about 18 million.  There are about 8 million Kurds in Iran, 6 million in Iraq, and smaller populations in Syria, the Caucusus, and Kazakhstan.  While Kurdish culture is associated with the mountains (their favorite saying is “the Kurds have no friends but the mountains”), most Iraqi Kurds live in the cities and towns at the edge of the mountains.  Iraq’s Kurds are mostly Sunni, but generally practice a more liberal version of Islam than the Arabs.  Many of their rituals, including the celebration of Newroz on March 21, hearken back to their pre-Islamic Zoroastrian past. 

            The Kurds have suffered in all the countries where they live, but nowhere as horrifically as in Iraq.  Nor surprisingly, therefore, Iraq is the incubator of Kurdish nationalism, and the place where the Kurds are closest to their dream of independence. 

 p. 154

            Saddam began his negotiations with the Kurds at a time when his hold on power seemed tenuous in the immediate aftermath of the march 1991 uprising.  By summer 1991, he was more confident and less willing to compromise.  As it became clear that U.S. military support would continue, the Kurds also became less flexible.  In September, Saddam decided to call the Kurd’s bluff.  He withdrew the Iraqi military to a line that he deemed to be the boundary of Kurdistan, giving the Kurdish political parties control over the regions’ two major cities, Suleimania and Erbil. [Footnote:  The boundary became known as the Green Line, and is the official boundary of the Kurdistan Region as enshrined in the TAL and Iraq’s permanent constitution.  The Kurds administer areas beyond the Green Line where the population is largely Kurdish and claim the mixed governorate and city of Kirkuk.]  He also stopped paying salaries for Kurdish civil servants, including teachers and police, which meant that the new Kurdish authorities were responsible for a large population but with no means to provide for them. 

            Saddam expected the Kurdish authorities to capitulate.  Instead, teachers continued teaching and police policing, all without pay.  And as the situation normalized, ordinary Kurds reveled in their new freedom, including such simple pleasures as being able to picnic in the countryside. 

 p. 162

The Kurds saw the writing of Iraq’s interim constitution not as an opportunity to build a new Iraq (as Bremer believed) but as a purely defensive exercise.  Their goal was simple:  to have a document that took the least away from them.  The Kurds knew the strength of their hand:  they controlled their own territory, they had their own army, and they were politically united. 

 p. 169 Federal vs Regional powers in Iraqi constitution

The permanent constitution, adopted in the October 2002 referendum, recognized the Kurdistan Region as Iraq’s first federal region.  The constitution allows Kurdistan, and any future Iraqi regions, to have its own military, called Guards of the Region.  Except for the few subjects listed as being within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government, the Kurdistan constitution is superior to the federal constitution within Kurdistan, and Kurdistan law prevails when there is a conflict with federal law.  This means that Kurdistan’s secular legal system and Western-style constitutional human rights protections will continue to apply as other parts of Iraq evolve toward theocracy. 

            Under the permanent constitution, Kurdistan owns and manages its land and water.  As the Kurds proposed in February 2004, the regional governments have exclusive control over future oil fields (those never in commercial production) within their region.  The Kurdistan Regional Government, and not Baghdad, determines the legal regime for the development of new oil fields, decides where drilling will tale place, and makes investment decisions.  The federal government shares control of existing oil fields with the government of the oil-producing region, meaning the Kurds will get a voice in the management of the Kirkuk oil filed should Kirkuk become part of Kurdistan.  This sharing represented a significant advance for the Kurds over their February 2004 proposal, which gave the federal government sole responsibility for existing commercial production. 

            The list of exclusive federal powers is much shorter than in the Transitional Administrative Law. [Footnote:  These are the only matters where federal law is superior to regional law.]  The federal government has exclusive control over foreign affairs, but Regions have offices within Iraqi embassies to handle their affairs.  The federal government is responsible for defense policy, but has no control over regional guards and cannot deploy troops to a region against its will.  The federal government prints money but has no power to impose taxes unless the affected region agrees to be taxed.  The federal government regulates weights and measures, thus ensuring that a meter in Basra is the same length as one in Erbil. 

 p. 173-4

As Iraq’s divisions hardened, Shiites expressed their identity more and more in religious terms. 

            As Shiites increasingly defined themselves politically by religion, they excluded Sunnis. State radio and television became more Shiite in its religious programming, with Shiites clerics dominating and by following rituals for prayer rather than the slightly different Sunni ones.  Shiite religious holidays became national events.  As Iraq moved from civil to Islamic law, Shiite provisions on inheritance, multiple wives, and temporary marriage started to apply, or at least to be considered. 

            Even Sunni Arabs who were reconciled to the loss of their domination position found it impossible to accept that Iraq should become a Shiite state.  Had Iraq’s new political regime been secular or Arab in character, many Sunni Arabs might have accepted being in the religious minority.  For the new order to be defined in a way that relegated Sunni Arabs to a second-class status was unacceptable for almost all. 

            Iran became the critical factor in the estrangement between Iraq’s Shiites and Sunni Arabs.  Iraq’s Shiites viewed the Islamic republic as a friend, the land of coreligionists, and a model of a powerful Shiite state. 

            Iraq’s Sunni Arabs see Iran in a diametrically opposite way than do the Shiites.  Iran is the ancient enemy that now threatens to destroy Iraq’s Arab identity.  Many Sunni Arabs see Iraq’s Shiites as a fifth column that has already given Iran the political victory that Iraq fought a brutal eight-year war to prevent. 

 p. 177

Iraq’s civil war is being fought where Iraq’s three communities mix:  Babil Governorate south of Baghdad, where Sunni Arabs ambush Shiites on the way from Baghdad to the holy cities; Diyala Governorate east of Baghdad, home to Shiites, Sunni Arabs, and Kurds; Ninveh, which has seen clashes between Sunni Arabs and Shiites and also between Kurds and Sunni Arabs in Mosul city; Kirkuk, a volatile mix of Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs, Turcomans, Kurds, and Christians; and Baghdad, a city of five million from all Iraq’s diverse communities that become the central front of the civil war. 

 p. 178-9

Iraq is mixed ethnically and religiously, but it has never been a melting pot:  Kurds live in Kurdistan and Shiites in the south.  Even in mixed cities like Baghdad, Shiites, Sunni Arabs, and Kurds have tended to live in their own neighborhoods.  And because of the civil war, Iraq is less mixed even that it was. 

 The United States has never had good intelligence on the Sunni Arab insurgency…

            The insurgency began to take shape shortly after Saddam’s regime fell. As the leaders of the old regime fled Baghdad—or disappeared into the population—they took with them hundreds of millions in U.S. dollars.  The U.S. Army found $600 million in hundred-dollar bills in a garden shed near Uday Huseein’s house in mid-April 2003.  When he was captured, Saddam had with him $750,000 in cash.  It is reasonable to presume that there was a lot of cash that the U.S. never found, and that some of the old regime’s money was sent out of Iraq before the war. 



Iraq’s Ba’athists and Sunni Arab Islamicists have the same enemies—the Americans and the Shiites—but very different goals.  In other circumstances, they would be bitter enemies.  The Ba’athists would like to restore the old system, or some variant of it.  The Islamicists want a fundamental Islamic state—Taliban Afghanistan is one model—but they also see Iraq as just one part of a larger struggle over the future of the Islamic world.  The Ba’ath Party is an Arab nationalist party and its roots are strongly secular.  The Islamicists consider the Ba’athists to be part of a corrupt Arab elite.  Tribes, such as the Dulaym, may be motivated by revenge in the short term, but over the long term they do not necessarily want the Ba’athists or the Islamicists.  All the Sunni Arabs insurgents want the Americans gone, and for fairly obvious reasons.  They are foreign invaders who overthrew a system that favored the Sunni Arabs and they are Christians and Jews in a Muslim land. 

            Both the Ba’athists and al-Qaeda wings of the insurgency see the Shiites as the most dangerous enemy.  The Ba’athists and al-Qaeda leaders know that, sooner or later, the Americans will be gone.  The Shiites, on the other hand, intend to rule.  Salafis, a school of Sunni fundamentalists prominent in the insurgency, consider Shiites apostates.  They have declared the Shiites takfir, the Islamic equivalent of being excommunicated.  As such, they are not Muslims, and their lives and property may be taken.  [Footnote:  The extremists also assert a right to declare takfir those Muslims who drink alcohol or fail to follow all the religion’s injunctions.  This justifies bombings such as those that killed scores of Sunni Muslims as a wedding party in an Amman, Jordan, hotel on November 9, 2005.  Mainstream Sunni theologians reject the notion that any Muslim can declare another takfir, saying these are judgments left to God.]  The Ba’athists see the Shiites as hostile to their version of Arab nationalism (really Sunni Arab nationalism) and as traitors for their close links to Iran and cooperation with the Americans.  A Sunni-Shiite civil war serves the interests of both wings of the insurgency.  For al-Qaeda, killing apostates approaches religious duty and is a necessary step to establishing a pure and universal Islamic state. 

            Civil war provides a strategy that the Ba’athists may see as a plausible route for a return to power.  By escalating the civil war, they can hope to undermine the Shiite-led Iraqi government and encourage the Americans to withdraw.  If the Iranians intervene more openly on the side of the Shiites, the Ba’atists might hope to secure assistance—most likely covertly at first—from Arab states that would see a Ba’ath restoration as preferable to an Iranian-dominated Shiite republic.  Chaos provides an opportunity to reassemble the old Iraqi military, to state a coup, or to negotiate new political arrangements. 


The Kurds have largely been on the sidelines of Iraq’s Sunni-Shiite civil war. 



Kirkuk HAS LONG BEEN DESCRIBED AS Iraq’s ticking ethnic time bomb, and perhaps the most remarkable feature of Kisrkuk in the three years since Saddam’s fall is not that the city is tense but that it hasn’t exploded.  The Kurds have long claimed Kirkuk as part of the Kusrdistan.  The 1992 Kurdistan constitution makes the city the capital of the Kurdistan Region, although it was under Saddam’s control at the time. 

            Some of Kirkuk’s pollution is attributed to its greatest asset. Kirkuk sits atop one of the world’s largest oil fields, a filed that started producing in the 1930s and still has at least 10 billion barrels in recoverable oil.  While Iraqi regimes, including Saddam’s have been willing to grant the Kurds an autonomous region, no Arab Iraqi government has been willing to give the Kurds Kirkuk for fear its oil would create the economic base for an independent country.  Turkey has adopted the same line, even warning in 2003 that it might intervene militarily to keep Kirkuk out of Kurdistan. 

            In addition to the Kurds, Kirkuk city is home to Turcomans (ethnic Turks left over from Ottoman times), Sunni Arabs, Chaldeans, and Assyrians.  Before 1948, it also had a thriving Jewish population. … Oil brought Arabs to Kirkuk, over time altering its demographics.  In the 1980s and 1990s, Saddam Hussein pursued the vigorous policy of “Arabizing” Kirkuk.  Kurds were expelled, and after 1991 forcibly sent over the Green Line into rebel-held territory.  Turcomans and remaining Kurds were pressured to “correct” their nationality by reregistering as Arabs. 

The Kirkuk issue is volatile, not only because it pits Kurds against Arabs and some Turcomans, but also because it could bring in Turkey.  In 2003, the Turkish intelligence services were actively supporting one of the Turcoman groups, the Iraqi Turcoman Front (ITF), with cash and arms (at least one shipment was intercepted when U.S. forces inspected a Turkish humanitarian convoy).  Since then the ITF has fallen apart and Turkey’s relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government have warmed considerably.  Nonetheless, Turkey opposes Kirkuk’s incorporation into Kurdistan …


p. 185

Kurdistan’s people have no commitment to Iraq, and the Sunni-Shiite civil war reinforces the already strong popular opinion to close cooperation with the rest of Iraq.  Few Kurds want to risk importing the “Iraq deseases,” chaos and sectarian conflict, to Kurdistan.  And many Kurds see the Iraq’s civil war as bringing closer the day when they can declare independence. 


p. 187

The problems with the Iraqi Army go beyond the many opportunities for corruption.  The army reflects the country’s deep divisions.  Of the 115 army battalions, sixty are Shiite, forty-five are Sunni Arabs, and nine are Kurdish peshmerga, although they are officially described as the part of the Iraqi Army stationed in Kurdistan.  There is exactly one mixed battalion (with troops contributed from the armed forces of the main political parties) and it is in Baghdad.  While the officer corps is a little more heterogeneous, very few Kurds and Shiites are willing to serve as officers of Sunni Arab units fighting Sunni Arabs insurgents.  There are no Arab officers in the Kurdish battalions, and Kurdistan law prohibits the deployment of the Iraqi Army within Kurdistan without permission of the Kurdistan National Assembly. 

            Because the Sunni Arab battalions are not reliable, the Iraqi government and coalition have been using Shiite troops, and some Kurdish ones, in the fight against the insurgency.  The Americans think of these troops as Iraqis, but the Sunni Arab population does not see them that way.  To the Sunni Arabs, the Shiite troops are not fighting for Iraq but for a pro-Iranian Shiite-dominated political order.  The Shiite troops have aggravated this feeling by scrawling religious graffiti where they bivouac, and by displaying pictures of their clerics.  A strategy that entails Shiite and Kurdish troops fighting against Sunni Arab insurgents plays into the insurgents’ hands by rallying the population against the new army and the authorities they represent. 


p. 188-9

            Although in coalition, the Kurds and Shiites did not forge a common program.  The two sides are too fat apart with regard to their values and visions for the future.  Instead, they have made a deal:  the Kurds would let the Shiites run Arab Iraq in exchange for Baghdad not interfering in a de facto independent Kurdistan.  For the Shiites, the deal is an acceptable price to be able to get their own way in Arab Iraq.  For the Kurds, Iraq is a secondary consideration to protecting Kurdistan. 

The Shiites and Kurds have never shared common ground as Iraqis.  But they did find a way to accommodate each other’s main interests.  They had in common a shared history of oppression and of struggle against the dictatorship.  In many ways, it was fortunate that Sunni Arabs boycotted the January 2005 election.  The Sunni Arabs had a political agenda opposed on almost every important point to the goals of the Kurds and of the Shiites.  It is hard to see how a three-way coalition could have been formed, especially with the contentious constitutional questions still to be resolved.  But the Kurds and Shiites shared, through bitter experience, a common perspective on Iraq’s dark history.  The Sunni Arabs could not acknowledge there had been a problem. 


p. 196

…After forging a consensus in Kurdistan among all its important political and ethnic groupings, Barzani presented to the Kurdistan National Assembly a nonnegotiable minimal set of demands:  supremacy of Kurdistan law, continuation of the peshmerga, Kurdistan control of its natural resources, a referendum to settle Kirkuk, and a future right to self-determination.  Armed with an endorsement and having committed to bringing any constitutional deal back to the assembly, Barzani went to Baghdad with a mandate and no room to compromise.  When he told the Arabs and the Americans that Kurdistan preferred no constitution to one that did not meet their demands, they had every reason to believe him.


p. 197

            The ruling Shiite parties had a common agenda on issues of religion and state.  They wanted Iraq defined as an Islamic state; Sharia law to replace Iraq’s secular civil code; the marjah (leading Shiite ayatollahs) to be recognized in the constitution; and a constitutional court established to review legislation for its conformity with Islam.  Taken together, these provisions would resemble the main features of Iran’s Islamic republic. 

            The Constitutional Court, as proposed by the Shiites, would include respected clerics who could overrule, for reasons of religious doctrine, decisions of the elected parliaments and government.  The constitutional role of the marjah is reminiscent to the status Iran accorded Khomeini.  Even without giving the marjah specific powers, the constitutional recognition would certainly enhance the role in government of what was already Iraq’s most powerful institution.  While the Kurds and secular Arabs saw these proposals for what they were, the Bush Administration remained in denial over what was happening in Iraq, continuing to insist that Iraq’s Shiites did not want to copy Iran. 

            Om August 11, SCIRI leader Abdul al-Hakim shook up the negotiations by proposing that all nine southern Shiite governorates form a single region exercising the same powers as Kurdistan.  Dubbed “Shiastan” by secular Iraqis and the Western press, the proposed super-region raised immediate concerns that SCIRI was looking to break up Iraq.  In fact, by the time Hakim made his proposal, Iraq’s Shiite south had already broken free from Baghdad’s control.  Hakim’s proposal would give the south a government with recognized competencies and therefore bring structure to what was an informal system of rule by religious parties and their associated militias.  A single Shiastan would be a formidable force in Iraq and in the Persian Gulf region, controlling some 80 percent of Iraq’s oil, 40 percent of its people, and Shia Islam’s two most holy places.  Nether the Sunni Arabs nor the Americans were reassured by the fact that Hakim made his proposal—without any advance notice to those outside his party—at a large rally in Najaf where Khomeini pictures abounded. 

            Hakim’s proposal apparently took some of the other Shiite leaders by surprise.  While the established parties also supported federalism, they had advocated two or more Shiite regions.  Basra’s leaders had reservations about Hakim’s proposal, not the least because they might have to share Basra’s oil more widely. 


p. 198

            Some American diplomats suggested privately that Hakim made his proposal to shock the Kurds out of going too far in their demands for a separate state….if it was intended to intimidate the Kurds, it backfired.  Shiastan strengthened Kurdistan’s own position, and if it led to the breakup of Iraq, so much the better, although few Kurdish leaders would say so openly. 

            In the end Barzani and the Shiite leaders struck a deal.  The Kurds would get what they want on federalism and the Shiites would get some of what they wanted on Islam, women’s issues, and the role of the clergy, provided these provisions did not apply in Kurdistan.  Both sides agreed to limit the exclusive powers of the federal government to a handful of issues:  foreign affairs, defense policy, monetary policy, fiscal policy, assigning broadcast frequencies, postal services, managing water flows on the Tigris and Euphrates, conducting censuses, and regulating weights and measures.  Other powers, including taxation, can be exercised only with the consent of the affected region.


p. 200

Iraq has already divided into three disparate entities.  Kurdistan left Iraq in 1991, and its not coming back.  Iraq’s Shiite revolution and Sunni Arab-initiated civil war have split Arab Iraq along sectarian lines.  Iraq’s constitution has two great virtues:  First, it provides a structure for Iraq’s Shiites and Sunni Arabs to form their own institutions of self-government that may facilitate economic development in the south and help bring an end to the chaos in the Sunni Arab center.  (Kurdistan, of course, already has a functioning Regional Government and security force.)  Second, the constitution provides a formula to resolve the contentious issues that could widen Iraq’s civil war—territory, distribution of oil revenues, and control over the national government in Baghdad. 


p. 201

            It is unclear whether the Shiites will form one super-region, as proposed by Hakim, or several small ones….limiting the size of Shiastan is not likely to make a big difference.  The Shiite regions will cooperate with each other in a Shiite confederacy.  Further, from a strategic perspective, a single powerful; Shiite state may over time be more likely to assert its independence of Iran than several weaker ones. 


p. 202-3

…the constitution’s “old oil, new oil” compromise, in which the federal government collects and distributes revenue from oil fields currently in production while the regions manage and benefit from new fields, ensures quotable distribution of revenues for several decades.  Only over time, as existing fields are exhausted and new fields come into production, will the balance gradually shift in favor of the regions.  …While most of Iraq’s existing oil production is in the north and south, all three Iraq’s communities occupy land that is prospective. 


p. 203

…the constitution helps resolve the struggle for power and influence in Baghdad.  …the constitution strongly promotes sharing in the federal government by all three of Iraq’s major constituencies.  More important, it so diminishes the powers of the center that there is little for Iraq’s Sunni Arabs, Kurds, and Shiites to fight over. 


p. 203

            The constitution provides no solution to the problem of Baghdad city, a city that is 60/40 percent Shiite-Sunni (a rough estimate that excludes significant Kurdish and Christian minorities) and is the front line of Iraq’s civil war.  Under the constitution, Baghdad many not join any other region, but can become a region on its own.  It is hard to see how this resolves the sectarian divide in what is by fat the world’s most dangerous capital city. 


p. 204

…Not only did the Sunni Arabs choose to boycott the elections for the assembly that wrote the constitution, they also had positions that were completely incompatible with those of the Kurds and Shiites.  In short, want the Sunni Arabs most wanted was for the Shiites and Kurds not to have what they wanted.  Under these circumstances, no common ground could be found.  Still, the constitution is an Iraqi solution to an Iraqi problem.  The Kurds and Shiites concluded that Iraq cannot function as a single state, and have worked out arrangements to divide it amicably.  The Sunni Arabs refused to take part in the process—in part because they objected to the premise of division—but the Kurds and Shiites left space for them.  The Sunni Arabs have the same rights as the Kurds and Shiites, and that is a remarkable—and even magnanimous—result considering Iraq’s history. 


p. 205

            The sectarian divisions between Iraq’s Sunni and Shiite Arabs may not be unbridgeable.  Religion has never been as important a part of Iraqi politics as it is now, and its importance may recede over time.  Iraq’s professional, business, and bureaucratic elite has long been secular, and many are bewildered by the emphasis in Iraq today in whether one is Shiite or Sunni.  These have never been important considerations for them, and they have a hard time comprehending its importance to a class of Iraqis that they don’t know.  Democracy has released passions in Iraq, including Shiite enthusiasm, that have yet to run their course (and may not). 


p. 205

            With sectarian civil war under way, Iraq’s Sunni and Shiites are moving further apart.  Iraq’s system of loose federalism allows each community to develop its own political and social institutions in security and without threatening the other.  Thus, the Shiites can have their Iranian-style Islamic republic, but only in the Shiite parts of the country.  With their own ministate, Iraq’s Sunni Arab leaders will be up against the difficult task of governing rather than the easy route of opposition.  A Sunni Arab government—whether neo-Ba’aathist or islamicist—will have strong incentives to crack down on the insurgents. 

            From American perspective, none of this is attractive. …But this result is better than having a national government allied with Tehran trying to impose a Shiite theocracy on all Iraq. 


p. 206

Iraq’s three-state solution could lead to the country’s dissolution.  There will be no reason to mourn Iraq’s passing.  Iraq has brought virtually nonstop misery to the 80 percent of its people who are not Sunni Arabs and could be held together only by force.  Almost certainly, Kurdistan’s full independence is just a matter of time.  As a moral matter, Iraq’s Kurds are no less entitled to independence than are Lithuanians, Croatians, or Palestinians.  And if Iraq’s Shiites want to run their own affairs, or even have their own state, on what democratic principle should they be denied?  If the price of a unified Iraq is another dictatorship, it is too high a price to pay. 

            American policy makers are reflexively committed to the unity of Iraq, as they were to the unity of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.  The conventional response to discussions of Iraq’s breakup is to say it would be destabilizing.  This is a misreading of Iraq’s modern history.  It is the holding of Iraq together by force that has been destabilizing.  This has led to big armies, repressive governments, squandered oil revenues, genocide at home, and aggression abroad.  Today, America’s failed effort to build a unified and democratic Iraq has spawned a ferocious insurgency and a Shiite theocracy. 


p. 213

…Perhaps Administration officials can console themselves with the thought that Iraq’s breakup was probably inevitable once Saddam left the scene, as eventually he would have.  Iraq’s Sunni-imposed forced unity was already coming apart before the invasion (Kurdistan was gone from 1991) and the U.S. merely hastened the end. 


p. 220

The United States and the world’s Shiites (including the Iranians) have a common interest in defeating al-Qaeda and its kindred Sunni fundamentalist movement.  Not sharing the tutored history of mutual grievances that characterize the U.S. relationship with Iran, the United States could have good relations with a southern Iraqi Shiite theocracy that, like it or not, came to power through a democratic process coalition troops made possible.  In the event of confrontation with Iran, however, Iraq’s Shiites would line up against the United States. 



Iraq’s civil war is the messy end of a country that never worked as a voluntary union and that brought misery to most of its people most of the time.  By invading Iraq and mismanaging the aftermath, the United States precipitated Iraq’s collapse as a unified state but did not cause it.  Partition—the Iraqi solution—has produced stability in most of the country and for this reason should be accepted.  In Baghdad and other mixed Sunni-Shiite areas, the United States can not contribute to the solution because there is no solution, at least in the foreseeable future.  It is tragedy, and it is unsatisfying to admit that there is little that can be done about it.  But it is so.  No purpose is served by a prolonged American presence anywhere in Arab Iraq.




Updated: November 27, 2005

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