2003 April 1

Plan B

Damn, I like this. Nick Denton has a compelling proposal for an honourable way out of this terrible war: Partition. Admit that the American war plan was counting on Saddam's regime collapsing "at the first whiff of gunpowder", and that since that isn't happening, we have no desire to destroy Baghdad in order to save it. Instead, just finish securing the Shia and Kurdish areas that have suffered worst under Hussein, declare them both independent of the rump Iraq, and claim victory.

Please, go read Denton's version. I'm not going to repeat his basic arguments, though I am going to steal his map:

[ethnic map of iraq]

So, the appeal is obvious. It gets us out of a war that we have no business being in in the first place, in a way that we could plausibly claim to have accomplished our goals: hence, a victory. Hussein is humiliated, and (more to the point), loses the oil fields that supplied the money that made him a danger in the first place. The Kurds and the Shias get independence. Even France could conceivably claim a fig leaf, in that the carnage of a siege of Baghdad will have been avoided.

What's the downside? Well, the Turks will hate it. They are an important ally and one of the more enlightened countries in the Middle East, but I'm not sure I can sympathize with them on this one, considering their human rights record on the subject. It would be pretty bad, though, if a Kurdistan--Turkey border became a running sore, along the lines of Pakistan--India.

Which brings up a more serious worry: that imposed partitions do not have an unreservedly happy history. India and Pakistan were partitioned when the British left, along religious lines that should have avoided conflict -- and perhaps it did, but the price was still ethnic cleansing, four wars between the two countries, and decades of terrorism in the disputed province of Kashmir. Anyone who asserts with any confidence that a similar result wouldn't follow from a Partition of Iraq has a better crystal ball than me.

Another issue is international legal precedent -- I can't think of another war that ended this way. Would doing this encourage or worsen any number of African civil wars? Hell if I know. I guess I'm inclined to say that it's only creating new internal borders in an existing country, and if the 1990s didn't provide enough precedents for that already, nothing ever will.

Finally, this plan does unreservedly fuck over the citizens of Baghdad, who have had their city bombed comprehensively, and who would now be left with no reconstruction aid and Hussein for a mayor. But better that than turning the place into Stalingrad (we find the first glimpse of what that might be like here, from comparatively friendly Nasiriya).

All in all, these costs don't seem anything like as severe as what seems likely to follow a protracted war ending with street fighting in Baghdad. And withdrawing and abandoning the whole country back to the tender mercies of Hussein is unthinkable. Comments welcome, but for now this is my official preferred endgame -- not happy, but the least evil of options.

update (apr 3): It's always good to know no one's listening. Despite best efforts, was too carried away by bad news, even though I know this is all fucking fog of war at the moment. So there's a revision I have to make -- it's only two weeks into the war, and the Americans are only just making it to the suburbs of Baghdad. Which is to say, it's still to early to know that the American drive can't succeed. I'm going to bet that their plan at this point is to continue the spear thrust into Baghdad, not bothering to secure any more of the city than absolutely necessary, and blast their way into the government bunkers. It's still conceivable that this could work, that the Iraqis will be unable to stop it, and that the arrival of the 2-69 will finally shatter the cohesiveness of the Iraqi government.

If it doesn't, though -- if the defence is strong enough to blunt that blow and hold together -- that's when we get into the nightmare Siege of Baghdad scenario.


Please tell me that "Saddistan" is named with the appropriate amount of tongue in cheek....

Posted by: laurens on April 7, 2003 12:15 AM

Seems like about the right amount of tongue in cheek to me.

Posted by: colin roald on April 7, 2003 01:19 PM
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Yes   No   (like the Turing Test, but easier)

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