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Spell Out the Goals for Iraq

Author: David L. Phillips, Executive Director, The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity
May 16, 2002
International Herald Tribune


Recent negotiations between the United Nations and Iraq ended inconclusively. In the past three years the Baghdad regime has repeatedly obstructed efforts to resume monitoring of its program to produce weapons of mass destruction. As a result, military action led by the United States seems inevitable.

While U.S. allies, including Turkey, have so far resisted plans to invade Iraq, they would welcome a role in developing political and security arrangements for Iraq after its dictator Saddam Hussein is overthrown. Defining the end-state would encourage potential coalition partners to participate, when called upon. It would also help assuage countries like Turkey, by signaling America's commitment to stability. States bordering Iraq will resist efforts to depose Saddam until their concerns about chaos and fragmentation are addressed.

The Bush administration places special value on relations with Turkey. As a secular, democratic, majority Muslim country, Turkey is a key partner in the global war on terror. It is slated to assume command of the multinational force in Afghanistan. Should military action be required against Saddam, Turkish bases would be an essential staging ground for an air campaign and humanitarian intervention.

But Ankara has stated publicly that it opposes a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. It worries that military action would create a power vacuum, destabilize the region and encourage separatism among Turkish citizens of Kurdish origin. Turkey is also concerned about the economic consequences of conflict with Iraq. As a result of sanctions imposed after the Gulf War, Turkey estimates that it may have lost as much as $40 billion in trade and revenue

The Bush administration's position is clear. By whatever means, it will seek removal of Saddam and establishment of a federal democratic republic in Iraq. But such objectives cannot be achieved without Turkey's participation.

The United States must satisfy Turkey's demand not to undermine the territorial integrity of Iraq. On the other hand, America wants to help Iraqis fulfill their long-suppressed democratic aspirations. Iraqi Kurds and others have suffered terrible abuses under Saddam's tyrannical rule. Kurds will not easily relinquish their dream of independence unless they are assured a secure and prosperous future in a unified Iraq.

Establishing a federal democratic republic represents a structural solution, which can help reconcile Turkish concerns with Kurdish aspirations. To this end, Iraq could be divided into three entities: a Kurdish, Turkmen and Assyrian region in the North, a Shiite Arab area in the South and a Sunni Arab belt in the middle. There would be a clear demarcation of boundaries between the entities. For example, Iraqi Kurdistan would encompass Kirkuk as well as other traditional tribal lands north of the 36th parallel.

While the central government in Baghdad would retain jurisdiction over defense and foreign policy, a highly decentralized system of governance would include a local executive, assembly and a security apparatus controlled by regional authorities. Local government institutions in Iraqi Kurdistan would reflect power-sharing provisions between the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan; Turkmen and other minority groups would also be fairly represented. In addition to local self-rule, Kurds would be allocated key central government ministries and share responsibility for border control and customs collection.

Baghdad would continue to manage the country's energy sector. The Kurdish entity would be allocated a predetermined percentage of the country's overall oil income at least equal to the 13 percent of oil revenues it currently receives via the UN Oil for Food Program. Central government control of the national oil industry would discourage Kurdish nationalism, as well as separatism among the Shiite population of Basra, a rich resource region near Iran.

Such constitutional arrangements would simultaneously meet Kurdish aspirations and address Turkey's primary requirements.

A buffer zone between Turkey and Iraq would help deter incursions by armed groups. A commercial agreement could expedite cross-border transport and trade. And provisions would need to be enacted to protect the rights of ethnic minorities, including 2 million ethnic Turks in Northern Iraq.

There is widespread agreement that the world would be safer without Saddam, but debate persists on how to achieve this goal. Focusing on the end-state would

advance cooperation and help harmonize the ambitions of stakeholders in the region.

The writer, a senior fellow and deputy director of the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.

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