For the Baker-Hamilton Suggestion Box

Note: This is very dense and wonky, and only marginally informed considering how definite it sounds.
I’m just noodling with limited information, but I have a realpolitik suggestion for the Baker-Hamilton Commission. It can’t be much worse than what has been bruited about so far. It is a variation on the federated partition idea, and involves my old hobby-horse Kirkuk, with its immense gas and oil reserves. I hope the Commission is following this blog.
Every discussion of partition has characterized the central region of Iraq as a) Sunni and b) devoid of oil.
It is not devoid of oil–at least not yet. I guess they consider Kurdish annexation of Kirkuk as a done-deal. It is not a done-deal–yet. Kirkuk is still outside the current three provinces of the autonomous Kurdish region. If it remains that way, the central region would have plenty of oil. Kurdistan is already much better off than the rest of Iraq without Kirkuk, and they would still get a share of its oil revenue.
It is not completely Sunni. Moktada has increasing strength in the south, but his primary base is among the two million people of Sadr City in Bagdad. He is naturally less interested in federation than are rival Shiites; he aligned himself with the Sunni opponents of the recent legislation for federation. He is also very disinclined to let Kirkuk be annexed to Kurdistan, and has vowed to send an army there to prevent it.
So Moktada’s Shiites and the Sunni insurgents could have a common interest in an oil-rich central region, and conceivably could form a united front, possibly a military alliance, against Kurdish expansion. If US occupation were actually winding down, this would give them a reason to come to terms with one another. So if that were the kind of federation the US promoted on its way out, it really might reduce communitarian violence, which none of the other plans shows any promise of achieving.
As a practical matter, Arabs and Kurds can be partitioned; Sunnis and Shiites cannot. And I think once the conflict can be rendered geographical, it stands a chance of being politically resolved.
The Kurds meanwhile have vowed to go to war, if the are not awarded Kirkuk. So this would require the US to completely reverse field and cut loose from its long alliance with the Kurds, including its hope of establishing permanent military bases in Kurdish territory. However, alignment with the Kurds is becoming increasingly problematic in any case, because of…Turkey. Turkey already has more than 100,000 troops on the Iraqi (Kurdish) border, and many more to draw upon in their modern, well equipped NATO army. Turkey has two issues in Iraq over which they are willing to go to war.
Kirkuk. The Turks say they will use force to prevent Kurdish annexation of Kirkuk. An expansive Kurdistan in Iraq would inevitably come to encompass the even larger population of separatist-minded Kurds on the Turkish side of the border. Turkey has waged a bitter and bloody counter-insurgency against them in very recent years.
Cross-border guerillas. Turkey has served notice that they will cross the Iraq border to suppress them, unless the US can somehow accomplish that itself within the next year.
So continued alignment with the Kurds leads to a perilous collision with Turkish military force. Better to slide over to the Turkish side, and at the same time become champions of Arab nationalism. The neocons really want those Kurdistan bases; maybe we could give them Masters of the Universe video games instead.



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