Yet another Iraq idea

Things just keep getting worse in Iraq; we seem to be in a rut that goes around and around, repeating the same things, never getting any closer to a conclusion. The primary argument for staying in the rut is that if we started to withdraw, things would get much worse and it would be our fault for leaving. (Never mind that most of the blame for the bad situation is already ours: the thinking here goes along the lines of "all's well that ends well".)

In fact, the plans I've seen for withdrawing all seem to be vague. The differences among them have to do with (1) the speed of the withdrawal, (2) the extent of the withdrawal, and (3) the triggers and conditions modulating the withdrawal. If you can point at any distinguishing pattern among the various proposals that have been made, if you are closely identified with the Republican Party and/or the Bush administration, then your withdrawal plan, if you have one, is (1) slow; (2) shallow (i.e., a significant American presence will be maintained indefinitely in Iraq); and (3) conditional on events that are unlikely to take place. On the other hand, if you a strongly against the Republicans and the Bush administration, then your plan for withdrawal is (1) fast (i.e., six months or so); (2) complete (i.e., no American presence will remain unless under UN mandate); (3) unconditional (i.e., seamless hand-over to Iraqi forces is desirable, but not mandatory). Other plans in between these extremes seem to be a function of the political dimension.

I have a somewhat different idea, sort of a blend of the two plus an empirical test of the assumptions of both sides.

What I propose is that a contiguous region of Iraq, preferably one whose populance reflects the ethnic, religious, and economic diversity of the country at large, be designated the "autonomous zone". That is, American-led forces will draw a line around a fairly large region of the country (probably somewhere in the mid-eastern part), and set up control points on the main entrances and exits. Then, they will withdraw from that region, and pledge to stay completely out, not entering even for humanitarian assistance, for a minimum period of time, such as three or six months. The region would be under the control of the national government, Iraqi army forces could pass freely in and out, as well as supplies and so on. The control points would restrict other traffic to people who live in the region and have a legitimate reason to travel in and out.

This region would be presented explicitly to all Iraqis and to the world as a test. If the region dissolves into bloody civil war, then the case of the Republicans and the Bush administration for a slow, shallow, and conditional withdrawal will have been strengthened; if the region is mostly calm and stable, then the case for a rapid, complete, and unconditional withdrawal would have been strengthened, and in my view, should be begun at once.

The worst possible result would be that the autonomous zone becomes a haven for those who are mounting attacks outside of the zone. That is why thorough border checks during the experiment are so important.

Also, this kind of artificial partitioning of a country is unpleasant for the people. However, if the experiment has a known duration, fairly short, and if the benefit is very clear, I believe that people would cooperate with it. In fact, one of the biggest problems would probably be keeping people out of the zone once it starts to develop some degree of stability. Again, if the time period is short, it should be fairly easy to convince people to wait.

There are many technical details that are very important. The zone must have it's own infrastructure, such as sources of water and electricity. If this is vulnerable to being damaged from outside the zone, then it should be protected to the extent possible by the American forces outside.

However, the experiment should be begun without undo delay. The Americans should supply some overall parameters such as the range of sizes of the zone, what resources must be inside the zone, and the rough population size and composition. But the Iraqi government should decide all of the details. This would be the first time that they would be making decisions regarding law and policy that would not have to be backed up by the Americans.

Either way, this would be positive action, a partial withdrawal that was both fast but measured, complete but limited to one zone, and unconditional yet would determine subsequent further withdrawal.

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