The Middle East’s Five Crises

The region between Egypt and Pakistan is a cauldron of five discrete, explosive components: Iraq’s civil strife, Afghanistan’s insurgency, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the longstanding Israel-Arab conflict, and the risk of clashes between extremist groups and corrupt, repressive governments. A comprehensive policy is needed, yet the threats are so diverse and complex that separate approaches have to be applied simultaneously.

In Iraq, America’s policy of building a semi-federal state of Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds runs a high risk of failure because of Shiite domination, Sunni and Shiite terrorism, Kurdish separatism, and meddling by Iran. The cost in lives is already unbearably high. The United States cannot sustain the current rate of casualties (either American or Iraqi), or the expense. To create the conditions for long-term stability, a negotiated separation may be needed, comparable to the Dayton Peace Agreement that ended the war in former Yugoslavia.

Separating Iraq’s populations would be painful. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the US-led coalition forces should help people who want to move to other parts of the country. One may object that to facilitate internal relocation is to collaborate with “ethnic or religious cleansing”; but the toll of prolonged war in Iraq, which could lead to its dismemberment anyway, is much worse. The principle of pluralism is valuable, but curbing bloodshed deserves priority.

A Dayton-like agreement can be achieved only if the UN Security Council backs it. It would be in the long-term interest of the permanent members to do so. Russia and China would, however, be helpful only if America changes the current Bush administration’s approach.