Iraqis will have an opportunity to dodge bullets and bombs to vote for candidates for a constitutional convention on January 30.
The vote and the convention are steps in the process of democratization outlined by President George W. Bush just before the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003. Bush declared, "We're committed to a goal of a united Iraq with democratic institution[s] in which members of all ethnic and religious groups are treated with dignity and respect." But why bother to keep Iraq unified? The region labeled Iraq is nothing more than a bunch of lines drawn as borders by former colonial powers anyway
Many of Iraq's Sunni Muslims seem prepared to sit out the vote. Some because they are afraid for their lives; others because they know they can't win a majority of seats in the constitutional convention and want to make their loss look illegitimate. The Sunnis are hoping for a rigged deal in which seats are allocated to them as a kind of affirmative action. Sunnis fear that the Shi'a majority, which they oppressed under the Ba'athist regime, will take political, economic, and possibly even bloodier forms of revenge when Shi'a political parties win the vote this coming Sunday. In the meantime, Iraq's Kurds have no love for the intra-Arab political fight to the south of their prosperous, fairly well run northern enclave. Many if not most Kurds long for independence from the mess they see to the south.
Elsewhere in the world, partition has worked. Just look at the former Soviet Union, which dissolved into 15 different countries more-or-less peacefully. (Of course, Russia should now let Chechyna go too.) Other countries whose borders were artificially drawn by international "statesmen" have now gone their separate ways. Consider the amicable split between the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993. Both are now members of the European Union. The new peace agreement between the Sudanese government in Khartoum and the Sudanese rebels in the south of that country guarantees that the southerners get to vote on independence six years from now. If the powers-that-be in the world are at all sensible, they will recognize a partition between Somaliland and Somalia.
Partition in Iraq could forestall a bloody civil war like the ones that wracked former Yugoslavia and Ethiopia for years. In both cases, partition occurred only after hundreds of thousands of casualties. Of course, the bloody partition of India and Pakistan shows that things could get messy even if an agreement for partitioning Iraq is somehow reached.
Still, Iraq could be divvied up along ethnic lines. Kurds in the North make up 20 percent of Iraq's population; Sunni Arabs in the Center are another 20 percent; and Shi'a Arabs in the South constitute the remaining 60 percent. The North could become Kurdistan, with its capital at Kirkuk. The Center could be called Babylonia, and the capital could be Baghdad or Tikrit. And the populous South, historically the cradle of the ancient Sumer, could be named Sumeria, with its capital located at Basra. Such a partition would right some historical wrongs, and it also offers a kind of rough justice since the oil fields are located largely in the areas that would become Kurdistan and Sumeria. Democratic institutions can more likely be maintained and strengthened when political conflicts no longer fall along ethnic fault lines.
A true constitutional convention can throw out previous agreements and negotiate entirely new social contracts. If Iraq's constitutional convention chooses to go that way, the U.S.-led coalition should not stand in its way. Perhaps the Iraqis could reach their own separate peace and bid our troops farewell. It could happen.