Is partition an option in Iraq?

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Is partition an option in Iraq? 

Bosnia-type plan could help curb ethnic cleansing

Christian Science Monitor - BY PETER GRIER 

WASHINGTON --As President Bush readies a new strategy for Iraq, some experts in Washington are looking beyond the question of U.S. troop levels to what might happen if worst-case scenarios come true. Call it Plan B: How the United States might handle Iraq's partition.

It may still be possible to hold Iraq together, many of these critics say. 

A surge in American military strength might help. But the hour is late -- and a lack of contingency planning on the part of U.S. officials may be one reason the situation has become so dire.

''If I was working for George Bush, I would want somebody to be thinking hard about this, sort of preparing the groundwork,'' says Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

Bush plan coming this week

The United States might need actively to aid Iraqis in relocating to parts of the country where they feel safer, O'Hanlon says. This sort of resettlement assistance wouldn't be unprecedented, he notes. The United States did it in Bosnia. Such a policy would perhaps preempt the violent Balkans-style ethnic cleansing that is already taking place in Iraq, O'Hanlon says. Sectarian strife is displacing 100,000 Iraqis a month.

''One-third to one-quarter of the ethnic cleansing that might occur in Iraq has occurred,'' says O'Hanlon.

Of course, to many U.S. officials, such a policy would be anathema. Bush has long insisted that a unified, democratic Iraq is one of his goals -- not an Iraq separated into sectarian regions.

It has been widely reported that the new ''way forward'' Bush is expected to announce this week will include a substantial surge in U.S. forces, designed to bring stability to violence-torn parts of the country.

Such an increase might allow reconstruction aid to begin to have a real effect in Baghdad and elsewhere, improving the daily lives of Iraqis and strengthening the shaky central government, according to an influential report on the subject co-authored by Frederick Kagan, a military historian at American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

''Victory in Iraq is still possible at an acceptable level of effort,'' says a summary of the AEI study.

Ethnic relocation

In a recent piece titled ''A Bosnia Option for Iraq,'' published in the journal American Interest and co-authored with Edward Joseph, a visiting scholar at Johns Hopkins University, O'Hanlon proposes a ''soft partition'' of Iraq. The war in Bosnia ended only after 200,000 civilians died and half of the country's population had fled their homes, says the article. It poses a question: Ethnic relocation may be distasteful, but with Sunni insurgents and Shiite death squads now attacking even hospitals and schools, what is the alternative?

''If U.S. and Iraqi forces cannot protect civilians, there is little moral dilemma about facilitating their movement to safer areas,'' says the article.

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