Forget the "Three State Solution"
Jude Wanniski
November 30, 2003


Memo To: Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Shi’ites, Kurds and Sunnis

If you happened to watch Meet the Press this week, you may have noted Tim Russert asking his panel of journalists if they had seen an op-ed in the NYTimes the other day by Leslie Gelb, entitled “The Three State Solution.”. Gelb, a heavyweight in the foreign policy establishment, came up with the bright idea of dividing Iraq into three distinct pieces, one holding the Shi’ite majority, a second the Sunni minority, another the Kurds. Three separate nation states would supposedly make it a lot easier to solve the political mess Uncle Sam now faces in trying to “democratize” Iraq. Robin Wright of the LATimes, who has spent lots of time in Iraq where Gelb has not, instantly dismissed the idea as impractical, on the grounds that Shi’ites and Sunnis each consider themselves Iraqis first and foremost and would not cotton to having their country chopped up.

The reason this exchange is so important is that it reveals how little American know about Iraq when Leslie Gelb, a former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, State Department bigwig in the Carter administration, and Times columnist and editor, doesn’t know what Robin Wright knows. And if Gelb doesn’t know, you can bet President Bush is walking around in ignorance too. The op-ed served a good purpose, then, by prompting Nir Rosen of the Asian Times to write a critique of it: "Iraq: Three from one doesn’t add up.". The Rosen article should be read in full, as it does thoroughly debunk the idea that Iraqi Shi’ites and Sunnis are hostile to one another, but here is a taste:

Gelb believes that chopping Iraq up would "allow America to put most of its money and troops where they would do the most good quickly - with the Kurds and Shi'ites"…[He] views Sunnis as the "bad guys" American foreign policy always seems to need and seeks to punish them further until they behave, a course of action sure to fulfill his prophecy and indeed make all Sunnis the enemy. What "ambitions" is he referring to? Shouldn't Sunnis be encouraged to participate in the new Iraq? Shouldn't they feel it is theirs as well? Most of the resistance in Iraq is spontaneous and a reaction to the occupation, not part of some Sunni conspiracy. Iraq's Shi'ites are as eager to see American troops leave as the Sunnis are. Even moderate Shi'ite clerics have recently called for an immediate American withdrawal.

American troops are not needed in Kurdistan, it is a peaceful region policed by the Kurds themselves, benefiting from 10 years of autonomy, as Gelb himself admits. That's why the American occupation is barely noticed there. While the Kurds of Iraq are indeed a distinct ethnic group, Iraq's Sunnis and Shi'ites are Arab Muslims. The vast majority consider themselves Iraqis first, and only then Sunnis or Shi'ites.

I sent the Gelb and Rosen articles to Stephen Pelletiere, who was the CIA’s senior analyst following the eight-year Iran/Iraq war, and he responded:

What the writer says about the Iraqi Shias seeing themselves as Iraqis first, Shias only secondarily, is true. That was demonstrated throughout the Iran-Iraq War when the Iraqi Shias, composing 65 percent of the line troops, held back their co-religionists from Iran This is another thing the neo-cons refuse to accept, that the Iraqi Ba'thists accommodated the Shias, gave them a best deal they ever got from an Iraqi government, and certainly offered them an alternative far more attractive than being subsumed into the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is what the religious Shias in Iraq are angling for. When al Hakim came back to Iraq and was assassinated, practically the first time he appeared in public, it was because he was despised, as a quisling. Just so the Kurdish leaders, Talabani, and Barzani, are despised by Iraqis, not because they are Kurds but because they sold out during the Iran-Iraq War and sided with Tehran. This unfortunately is the position of almost all the Iraqi "leaders" the United States has chosen to support. Since they were either out of the country during the Iran-Iraq war, or fought on the side of Iran, Iraqis will not accept them.

Interesting, huh? I bet Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz didn't know any of this when they planned the war. It does look like Gelb’s “Three State Solution” is a non-starter.