MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. We're talking this week with observers of Iraq about what's next, now that Barack Obama has won the election. While violence in Iraq has fallen off substantially over the past year, in the past couple of weeks, there has been an increase in bombings. Today in eastern Baghdad, a car bomb exploded. And when people gathered in response, a roadside bomb blew up. Twelve people were killed and dozens injured. And in the two days before that, there were dozens of deaths and injuries from bombs. Yesterday we spoke with retired Army General Jack Keane, an advocate of the surge of troops in Iraq. General Keane does not support setting an exact deadline for withdrawal, but he does think the U.S. will be able to reduce its forces in Iraq in the near future.

General JACK KEANE (Former Army Vice Chief of Staff): Iraq 10 years from now could have an occasional car bomb going off. That would not require the presence of U.S. forces because the effort that they have is so fragmented, they don't have the infrastructure - this is the al-Qaeda or the insurgency - to threaten the legitimacy of the regime.

SIEGEL: Well, our guest today has written in support of the partition of Iraq, the idea of splitting the country up into three countries, Sunni, Shia, and Kurd. Peter Galbraith is a former U.S. ambassador to Croatia and now senior diplomatic fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. And Peter Galbraith, partition, still a good idea?

Mr. PETER GALBRAITH (Senior Diplomatic Fellow, Center For Arms Control and Non-Proliferation): Well, I don't actually advocate partition. My point is that the country has already broken up, and the United States should not be in the business of putting it back together. We have, in the north, Kurdistan, which is, in all regards, an independent country except it doesn't have international recognition with its own army, its own government.

And now between the Shiites and the Sunnis, there are two separate armies. There's a Shiite army. It's the Iraqi army, but it's dominated by the Shiites. And in the Sunni areas, there's now the Awakening, a hundred-thousand-man-strong militia. And it is because of the Awakening, and not so much the surge of U.S. troops, that there's been this enormous decline in attacks by al-Qaeda. But they remain very hostile to the Iraqi government, and the Iraqi government sees them as a bigger threat than al-Qaeda.

SIEGEL: Are you satisfied by the degree to which the incoming Obama administration - what has been the Obama campaign - sees as the reality of Iraqi politics? Is it close enough to what you see as the reality of Iraqi politics?

Mr. GALBRAITH: Yes. Of course, it's very encouraging to me that Joe Biden is the incoming vice president. He has been the prime proponent of a decentralized Iraq. And although in the campaign Senator McCain described his plan as, I think, a cockamamie idea, it is in fact what the Bush administration has done in part. The Bush administration, in 2007, decided to finance a Sunni army, which is the Awakening. And that's why we've had success. Biden would only take this a next step and encourage the Sunnis to form their own region, which would control that army just as the Kurdistan region controls the Peshmerga, which is the Kurdistan army.

SIEGEL: Iraq has prickly relations with - certainly with two of its neighbors. Turkey is distressed at the possibility of a de facto or truly independent Kurdistan on its border. And the Iranians have, it seems, have been intervening in a variety of ways. Is a decentralized, loosely federalized, some would say partitioned, Iraq, is it capable of actually defending its own interests against bigger neighbors?

Mr. GALBRAITH: Well, Iraq is not, today, defending its interests. The Iranians wield enormous influence because the United States actually paved the way for Iran's allies to become the government of Iraq. With regard to the Kurds, actually there's been a change in attitude on the part of Turkey. There was a time when they thought the idea of an independent Kurdistan, or a de facto independent Kurdistan, was an almost existential threat to Turkey. But increasingly Turks recognize, first, that this is an accomplished fact. It's already happened. And second that there are opportunities. After all, they share in common they're secular, they're pro-Western like the Turks, aspire to be democratic, and they're not Arabs.

SIEGEL: Should the Obama administration, once it takes over, should it have a new diplomatic initiative in Iraq? And is there an occasion for some Iraqi version of the Dayton peace conference that addressed the war in the Balkans some years ago?

Mr. GALBRAITH: Yes. There are two things that the United States can do that would enhance stability in Iraq as it leaves. First, to try and solve the territorial dispute over Kirkuk and other disputed areas between the Kurds and the Arabs, and secondly to work out a modus vivendi between the Iraqi government and the Shiite-led army and the Sunni Awakening as to who will control what territory. And a Dayton-style process, with a tough negotiator like Richard Holbrooke, if he doesn't end up being secretary of state, I think that's exactly what the Obama administration should look at doing.

SIEGEL: So, in that argument, it's not, let's try to do away with this conflict between Shia and Sunni and armed groups, but rather, let's try to negotiate a better, more equitable deal and more stable deal between the two groups that will continue to exist for the near future.

Mr. GALBRAITH: Precisely. And if we can minimize the things that Sunnis and Shiites are going to fight over, it may be, over time, that they will find it in their interest to have much greater cooperation and that voluntarily they'll build a stronger Iraqi state. I think it's unlikely the Kurds would ever join that, but I think it's quite possible as between the Sunnis and Shiites.

SIEGEL: Well, Peter Galbraith, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Mr. GALBRAITH: Well, thank you.

SIEGEL: That's former U.S. ambassador to Croatia, Peter Galbraith, who is author of a new book called "Unintended Consequences: How War In Iraq Strengthened America's Enemies."

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