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American Scholars Recommend Soft Partition of Iraq


Amid increasing calls in the U.S. Senate for American troops to withdraw from Iraq, two American scholars are recommending the partition of Iraq into three regions. Their plan includes a substantial reduction of U.S. troops from Iraq, but not a complete withdrawal. The scholars concede their proposal is "difficult and risky." But they argue that it may be the lesser of a range of evils and the only way to avoid all-out civil war in Iraq. VOA's Leta Hong Fincher has more.

Edward Joseph of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution in Washington admit that their plan to divide Iraq along ethnic lines is "unpalatable." "Whether you like the idea of soft partition or not -- and frankly most of us don't and it wouldn't be a first choice for very many people at all -- it's happening in Iraq. Up to a 100,000 people a month are being violently displaced from their homes. It is being ethnically segregated."

O'Hanlon says Iraqis have fled the mounting violence by sheltering with their respective ethnic groups. He says a soft partition would not force people to move, but would divide Iraq into three main areas: Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish. Each region would take primary responsibility for its own security and governance, as Iraqi Kurdistan already does in northern Iraq. The scholars say the United Nations should play a key role in determining the boundaries.

"The idea here is to give people a choice. That if they want to relocate to a safer place, the government will help them, it will protect them while they move, it will help them sell their home that they're leaving, make sure they have access to a new home, and get a job."

The scholars' plan builds on a proposal by U.S. Senator and Democratic Party presidential hopeful Joseph Biden, and Leslie Gelb, a former president of the influential Council on Foreign Relations. That proposal has not won the support of the Bush administration.

Current U.S. policy aims to build a strong central government in Iraq. But Edward Joseph of Johns Hopkins says that strategy may no longer make sense.

"The post-invasion record shows that the more power is concentrated in Baghdad, the more Shi'ites will have to dominate."

The scholars say their plan does not advocate the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops. Rather, they estimate that for at least a year, U.S. forces would remain at their current levels of about 150,000. After the soft partition, O'Hanlon says that about 50,000 U.S. troops might be needed for several years. "This is in a sense a last-gasp effort to try to play a role in helping the Iraqis find a second-best alternative, but still one that's far preferable to genocide, which I think is the likely outcome -- or at least a possible outcome -- of American withdrawal."

Joseph and O'Hanlon are circulating their plan within the Bush administration, which plans to reassess its Iraq war policy in September.