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Monday, January 05, 2004
 
A Good First Step

This is encouraging:

The Bush administration has decided to let the Kurdish region remain semi-autonomous as part of a newly sovereign Iraq despite warnings from Iraq's neighbors and many Iraqis not to divide the country into ethnic states, American and Iraqi officials say.

The officials said their new position on the Kurdish area was effectively dictated by the Nov. 15 accord with Iraqi leaders that established June 30 as the target date for Iraqi self-rule. Such a rapid timetable, they said, has left no time to change the autonomy and unity of the Kurdish stronghold of the north, as many had originally wanted.

"Once we struck the Nov. 15 agreement, there was a realization that it was best not to touch too heavily on the status quo," said an administration official. "The big issue of federalism in the Kurdish context will have to wait for the Iraqis to resolve. For us to try to resolve it in a month or two is simply too much to attempt."
As indicated, it's more the result of a desire to keep a lid on tensions in the short term, rather than a principled (or pragmatic) move toward federalism.

The idea that the Iraqis will be able to "resolve" the issue in favor of a more, rather than less, unified nation is more hopeful than realistic. After the fall of the Hussein government, the centers of power have arisen from groups with scores to settle and/or threatened interests to protect. Thus we have the Shi'a demanding a full democracy in which they would presumably dominate, Kurds calling for autonomy and recompense for their forced relocation from (coincidentally oil-rich) Kirkuk, and Ba'athists trying to wreck the stability of the whole thing so they can pick up where they left off.

As soon as the hand holding the lid on this kettle is removed, it's all too likely to boil over, and that's the case whether provisions are made for regional/ethnic autonomy or not. If they are made, however, the two major groups comprising the vast majority of the population will be in more secure positions, which should be good for stability. Otherwise, there's the grave prospect of a free-for-all in a centralized model that would make governing all but impossible.