Continuing Security Dilemma's coverage of the Manama Dialogue Persian Gulf Security Summit, we have H.E. MR VECDİ GÖNÜL, the Minister of Defense of Turkey, speaking on the situation in Iraq (unfortunately, Mr. Gonil's address in the Iraq plenary session is the only that has, as of yet, been released). Turkey's position on Iraq is colored by its own issues with the Kurds; perhaps Turkey's most important interest is in preventing any kind of autonomous or independent Kurdish state from emerging from Iraq. Thus, much of Mr. Gonul's speech revolves around urging against partition of the country:
Indeed, the key issue to be addressed at this stage in Iraq, is to put an end, to the fragmentation of the country along ethnic and sectarian lines. Due to understandable reasons that have origins in the past, Iraq’s political parties have been pursuing policies that appeal only to their ethnic or sectarian electorates. However, if this trend were to continue, what we have come to regard the future with less hope, as opportunities will turn into irreparable fault lines. Every Iraqi should bear in mind that the idea of splitting the country into sectarian parts is not a viable option. It will be the beginning of a disaster, which will engulf the whole region.While partition may or may not be a possible answer to the ongoing collapse of Iraq, it's hard to see this argument as anything more than serving Turkey's own narrow self-interest. An independent, or even autonomous, Kurdish region on Turkey's southeastern border would be a beacon to Turkey's own Kurdish population that seeks some form of separation from Turkish control (for background on the Turkish-Kurdish issue, please see this or this).
There are largely two schools of thought as to the best solutions to ethnic conflict. If the conflict is largely rooted in historical and immutable ethnicities, then separation or partition may be the best response. This was the impetus behind the creation of Pakistan and the transfer of Muslim populations out of predominately Hindu India. However, if the conflict is more a product of short-term insecurity, then power-sharing or negotiations are a more attractive solution (I'm grossly simplifying here...).
My sense has been and is that the current problems are more the latter than the former. That is, the Sunni insurgency is made up of those who fear that a Shiite-led Iraq will not be able to protect their interests and futures. Witness Roger Cohen's argument in today's New York Times that there is no Iraq, and that the real problem is in building the lines of trust and identity required of any political entity. Also, reports today accuse the Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, of attacking a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad. Clearly, under conditions such as these, no Sunni would trust the government to provide a secure future.
If partition is to be avoided, these militias must be confronted and disarmed or destroyed, a point I made recently and one that was largely ignored by the Iraq Study Group. But, this is, I believe, the only path towards avoiding the fragmentation of the Iraqi state. And whether or not Turkey's warning against partition is self-serving, Turkey's security and stability is of great importance to the region, as well as European and American interests as well.