Reza Aslan warns that dividing Iraq into three distinct states "could lead to an all-out regional war"

November 15th, 2006

Partitioning Iraq won't work
Marketplace interview of Reza Aslan

Commentator Reza Aslan says proposals to partition Iraq into three distinct states are a recipe for more turmoil.

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: The Democrats are in control of Congress and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has resigned. Both of those factors could create the opening for a new direction in Iraq. Yesterday the President met with a bipartisan panel known as the Iraq Study Group. The panel is led by former Secretary of State James Baker. One idea being considered is partitioning Iraq into three distinct countries. But writer and commentator Reza Aslan says it's a bad idea.

REZA ASLAN: At first glance, it seems like an attractive solution to the problem of Iraq. After all, the country is already bitterly divided along sectarian lines. Partitioning Iraq into three distinct states would only formalize what is already taking place on the ground.

But Iraq is not as cleanly divided into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish factions as it is made out to be. Most Iraqis are linked together across ethnic and sectarian lines through intermarriage and strategic alliances.

Besides, partition would not solve the greatest difficulty faced by Iraq's factions: how to divide oil revenues evenly.

The constitution is deliberately vague about how to distribute Iraq's oil wealth between the country's Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish populations.

That's a problem since the vast majority of Iraq's oil resides in the Shiite south and the Kurdish north. The northern city of Kirkuk alone is home to 40% of Iraq's oil fields.

Any partitioning of the country would inevitably lead to the permanent exclusion of the Sunnis from sharing in Iraq's oil wealth.

And considering that oil makes up 90% of the government's revenue, it is not difficult to imagine how such exclusion would result in an even greater alienation of the Sunnis. And that would no doubt lead to more violence between Iraq's sects.

The truth is partition plans rarely lead to less conflict. In fact, rather than stem the tide of civil war, partitioning Iraq would likely only formalize it. It could even lead to an all-out regional war.

THOMAS: Reza Aslan is the author of the book, “No God But God.”

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