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Iraqi Federalism Bad: Civil War




Federalism in Iraq spurs ethnic cleansing, civil wars and creates fears of neo-colonialism

Rubin, writer for The Star Ledger, 2007
(Trudy Rubin, “The hard truth on ‘soft partition’: it won’t help Iraq” October 8, Lexis)


More and more congressional Republicans are joining Democrats in a desperate search for an Iraq exit formula.

Everyone recognizes the Iraq mess can be resolved only by a political pact among Sunnis, Shi'as and Kurds - which isn't on the horizon. So the idea gaining traction is "soft partition": pressing Iraqis to form three federal regions - with a weak central government. This would supposedly give each sectarian group control over its own turf and undercut the bloodletting. The idea has enticed both liberal and conservative pundits.Indeed, the Senate just voted 75-23 for the Biden-Brownback amendment to the defense spending bill - the only Iraq amendment that has won major bipartisan backing - which urges our government to push for a "federal" solution to Iraq's conflicts.Unfortunately, the idea that soft partition offers a way out of the Iraq maze is wishful thinking. Any effort by Congress to press this plan on Iraqis will boomerang. The amendment stems from a proposal put forward by Sen. Joe Biden and Leslie Gelb, former head of the Council on Foreign Relations, in 2006. It was based on the Dayton accords that resolved the Bosnian war. In that case, the United States "stepped in decisively," Biden and Gelb wrote in the New York Times, with an accord that "kept the country whole by . . . dividing it into ethnic federations. . . . The idea, as in Bosnia, is to maintain a united Iraq by decentralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group - Kurds, Sunni Arab and Shi'a Arab - room to run its own affairs."So Biden (D-Del.), Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and their co-signers call for the creation of federal regions - as permitted by the Iraqi constitution. They also call for an international conference that would help Iraqis reach a political settlement based on this federalism premise. The problem: Iraq is not Bosnia, and Iraq's problems require a different solution. Let me say that I admire Biden, who has devoted more time and thought to the Iraq issue than anyone in the Senate. He rightly points out that no one else has a viable plan for an Iraqi political solution, including the White House. Yet - although the Biden-Brownback plan includes some useful ideas (more on this later) - a push for soft partition won't get us out of Iraq. Any outside pressure that appears aimed at dividing Iraq will create hostility there and in the region. No matter that Biden insists his plan isn't aimed at a formal division of the country; most Arabs will regard it as a neocolonialist plot. This is why Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki - and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad - were quick to condemn the Senate resolution. As Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told me by phone Monday, the resolution has "led to an uproar," with Arab media claiming it represents a "Zionist plan" to divide the country. Biden stresses that the "federalism" plan is based on Iraqi law and its constitution. But the Iraqi constitution lays out a bottom-up procedure for any provinces that want to join together in formal regions. Voters or provincial council members must instigate the process. Any outside pressure will be resented. Of course, advocates of soft partition say the country already is headed toward partition. "Ethnic cleansing" has driven tens of thousands out of their homes in Baghdad and elsewhere. In the Sunni province of Anbar, tribal sheikhs are famously raising their own police forces; in the Shi'a south, local militias do security duty. So isn't Iraq already headed for an ethic and sectarian split? The answer, like everything about Iraq, is messy. Despite ethnic cleansing, large areas of Iraq, including much of Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk, still retain mixed populations. To divide Iraq into three ethnic regions would require moving hundreds of thousands of people. Most Sunnis and a majority of Shi'as don't want this. The Sunnis of Anbar, who have no oil, would still be dependent on a central government for funds, so they have nothing to gain from a more formal separation. Nor would soft partition stop the fighting, since the most violent sectarian militias want to control all Iraq, not just a piece.

Iraqi Federalism Bad: Civil War




Democratization in Iraq leads to tyranny, ethnic conflict and civil war

Byman Associate Professor and Director of the Security Studies Program and the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University 2003


(Daniel Summer 2003, “Constructing a Democratic Iraq: Challenges and Opportunities, http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/files/byman_summer_2003.pdf)

Although democracy has lots of theoretical advantages, many do not accrue in societies divided along racial, ethnic, or religious lines. The biggest problem is the numerically larger group’s use of elections and other legitimate democratic forms to ensure its dominance—a tyranny of the majority. Liberal democracy relies on the expectation of an ever-changing majority to avoid such tyranny. Different coalitions of individuals, unified temporarily on the basis of shared political goals, economic interest, social concerns, and other factors, unite and divide, ensuring that all voices are eventually heard—or at least have the potential to be heard. Majority rule works when the majority changes from election to election, as it does frequently in the United States and other Western democracies. In divided societies, however, voting blocs are more rigid, and majorities are less likely to change. The largest ethnic group may never lose power, because ethnic group members often vote as a bloc. Liberal democracy, in such circumstances, produces illiberal results. This problem plagued democracy even before its modern commencement. As James Madison famously wrote in 1787, “Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.”22 For Madison, the solution to this problem was to be found in the cross-cutting identities of American citizens and the expansion of the electorate so that it would be harder for a single common interest to unite people to the exclusion of other concerns. Yet in divided societies, such crosscutting identities are, by definition, lacking. In essence, identities are “hardened” by past conºicts and tragedies. Individuals identify primarily along one line such as ethnicity, making it difªcult for other identities such as class or narrow political interests to create political alliances that cross groups.23 Democratic elections can exacerbate this process. As Donald Horowitz notes: “By appealing to electorates in ethnic terms, by making ethnic demands on government, and by bolstering the inºuence of ethnically chauvinist elements within each group, parties that begin by merely mirroring ethnic divisions help to deepen and extend them.”24 Similarly, Jack Snyder contends that a common mistake is for outsiders to back elections before other institutions and norms essential for the functioning of democracy are established.25 Not surprisingly, minorities often ªght democratization because they fear that majority rule would install in power a permanent elected majority that would never allow the minority a voice in decisionmaking. In the former Soviet republic of Georgia, democratization produced war by causing minority fears of majority tyranny. The minority Abkhaz feared that their distinct cultures would be overrun by a power-monopolizing Georgian majority. Hence they opted for violent resistance when Georgian nationalists appeared poised to win elections. The experiences of Sri Lanka and Northern Ireland teach the same lesson. In Sri Lanka the majority Sinhalese long monopolized power at the expense of the minority Tamils, provoking the bloody Tiger rebellion. In Northern Ireland the Protestant majority monopolized power at the expense of the Catholic minority from 1922 to 1969, fostering violent Catholic nationalism. 26 All these countries were “democratic” in that elections were held, but illiberal in that certain groups were effectively shut out of power. Iraq too is at risk for a tyranny of the majority. Iraq’s Shi’a community, which comprises more than 60 percent of the total population, might use free elections to transform its current exclusion from power to one of total dominance. Currently, Shi’a opposition leaders call for democracy, but it is not clear whether they are implicitly demanding Shi’a control over Iraq.27 Sunni Arabs, and perhaps Iraqi Kurds, might oppose a majority rule–based system in fear of this dominance.

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