Iraq is broken.
Iraq's national-unity government is not united and does not govern. Iraqi security forces, the centerpiece of the U.S.'s efforts for stability, are ineffective or, even worse, combatants in the country's escalating civil war. President George W. Bush says the U.S.'s goal is a unified and democratic Iraq, but we have no way to get there. As Americans search for answers, there is one obvious alternative: split Iraq into separate Kurdish, Sunni and Shi'ite states.
The case for the partition of Iraq is straightforward: It has already happened. The Kurds, a non-Arab people who live in the country's north, enjoy the independence they long dreamed about. The Iraqi flag does not fly in Kurdistan, which has a democratically elected government and its own army. In southern Iraq, Shi'ite religious parties have carved out theocratic fiefdoms, using militias that now number in the tens of thousands to enforce an Iranian-style Islamic rule. To the west, Iraq's Sunni provinces have become chaotic no-go zones, with Islamic insurgents controlling Anbar province while Baathists and Islamic radicals operate barely below the surface in Salahaddin and Nineveh. And Baghdad, the heart of Iraq, is now partitioned between the Shi'ite east and the Sunni west. The Mahdi Army, the most radical of the Shi'ite militias, controls almost all the Shi'ite neighborhoods, and al-Qaeda has a large role in Sunni areas. Once a melting pot, Baghdad has become the front line of Iraq's Sunni-Shi'ite war, which is claiming at least 100 lives every day.
Most Iraqis do not want civil war. But they have rejected the idea of a unified Iraq. In the December 2005 national elections, Shi'ites voted overwhelmingly for Shi'ite religious parties, Sunni Arabs for Sunni religious or nationalist parties, and the Kurds for Kurdish nationalist parties. Fewer than 10% of Iraq's Arabs crossed sectarian lines. The Kurds voted 98.7% for independence in a nonbinding referendum.
Iraq's new constitution, approved by 80% of Iraq's voters, is a road map to partition. The constitution allows Iraq's three main groups to establish powerful regions, each with its own government, substantial control over the oil resources in its territory and even its own regional army. Regional law supersedes federal law on almost all matters. The central government is so powerless that, under the constitution, it cannot even impose a tax.
American leaders seem to be in denial about these facts. President Bush continually asserts that the Iraqi people have voted for unity, while Condoleezza Rice once told me how impressed she was by the commitment of the Iraqi Kurds to building a new Iraq. James A. Baker III, co-chairman of a congressionally mandated commission tasked with formulating new policy options, has ruled out the idea of dividing Iraq. The most prominent American politician to endorse anything resembling partition is Senator Joseph Biden, who, along with former Council on Foreign Relations president Leslie Gelb, proposes dividing Iraq into three regions while maintaining a "central government in charge of common interests."