Is 'Soft Partition' a Viable Solution for Iraq?

Correction Oct. 14, 2007

Trans-Jordan was created in 1921 by Britain, not in 1948 by the United Nations, as Daniel Schorr notes in this commentary.

"Soft partition" is one possible solution being offered to resolve the sectarian fighting in Iraq. The Senate has gone on record as favoring a plan to create three autonomous regions with a limited central government.

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JAMES HATTORI, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm James Hattori.

Soft partition has become a popular catch phrase in Washington. The idea is to separate Iraq's feuding sectarian groups until such time as passion school and peaceful coexistence becomes more feasible.

NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr says the idea has a familiar ring to it.

DANIEL SCHORR: Maybe King Solomon should get credit as the author of the first partition plan. He proposed dividing a pre-contested baby as a way of ascertaining who the mother was. Since then, partition has become a last resort solution for ethnic groups that cannot compose their differences. Palestine on the British mandate was partitioned in 1948 to create Israel and trans-Jordan, later Jordan.

U.S. lobbyist Marshall Tito held contending ethnic groups together until they fell apart into six states: Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Bosnia, Herzegovina. Which brings us to Iraq, it's a Sunnis, Shiite and Kurds were woven together by colonial Britain and held together Saddam Hussein's tyranny. Now, the three coups are groping for some form of coexistence. Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki had not yet succeeded in forming a unified government and so inevitably the idea of partition arises.

In a sense, the Iraqis are already portioning themselves. Aside from the two million who have fled their country, 1.7 million have been displaced from areas of mixed ethnicity that may suit divisions among them clearer. But portioning into three states would create a host of new problems. The Shiites in the south might gravitate toward the co-religionist in Iran, the Kurds in the north might gravitate towards the Kurds in Turkey to create an independent Kurdistan. Over our dead bodies says Turkey.

Nevertheless, Senate Foreign Committee Chairman Joseph Barton has a plan to create three autonomous regions in Iraq with a limited central government. The Senate passed a nonbinding resolution last month in support of the proposal. Maliki and many Iraqi politicians have denounced it. They say it would split the country along sectarian and ethnic lines. It maybe that the binding plan is meant to confront the Iraqis with the dim prosperous that lie ahead if they don't get their act together soon.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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