In his column today, Cliff suggests that ”We ought to consider what Brookings scholar Michael O’Hanlon calls the Bosnian model: Each of Iraq’s ethno-religious groups would establish autonomy within a unitary Iraqi state. Oil wealth would be shared by all cooperating and stabilized areas of the country.”
The difference between Iraq and Bosnia is that the Bosnian model was instituted after a terrifying campaign of ethnic cleansing had largely run its course, and after the break-up-in-fact of the state and all its institutions along ethnic lines.
Neither of these have occurred in Iraq yet, and if either ever does, we’re going to remember 2006 fondly indeed. In Iraq you still have a population that is highly mixed and a central government that still represents a broad national coalition.
A “Plan B” now being floated by Iraqis themselves seems to me a better idea, and has the virtue of presuming (unlike most ideas these days) that we can still largely succeed in Iraq. The idea is to form a coalition of national unity that includes the the largest faction from each of Iraq’s three main communities–the Shiite SCIRI (Supreme Council for the Revolution in Iraq), the Sunni Islamic Party, and the two main Kurdish parties–even if the resulting coalition rests on a parliamentary minority. The idea is to “deputize” the strongest player in each community, and make them a primary political vehicle for laying down the central authority of the state within each community. This will immediately pit SCIRI against the Sadr Organization, on the one hand, and the Islamic Party against the Sunni insurgents and Al Qaeda, on the the other.
Timed to coincide with the transfer of administrative control of the Iraqi Army to the central government (set to occur by early summer), this could really change things on the ground in Iraq. The violence might continue, but you would have achieved several vital things: (1) the leading party within each community would have declared its first loyalty to the central government; and (2) the central government will finally have a professional force with which to impose its authority; (3) the logic of sectarian conflict now threatening to tear the country apart would be replaced with the logic of intramural conflict (within the Shiite and Sunni communities) between those who support the state’s authority and those who oppose it.
This idea seems the better one to me because it maintains the goal of a strong central government, while the Bosnian model presumes that the central government has collapsed and cannot be reconstituted except in name.