The American Interest

A Bosnia Option for Iraq

United States Department of Least Bad Iraq Options Washington, DC 20499

ACTION MEMORANDUM
TO: POTUS
FROM: Michael E. O'Hanlon and Edward P. Joseph
DATE: January 1, 2007
RE: The Bosnia Option for Limiting Civil War in Iraq

In light of the difficult and deteriorating situation in Iraq, we need to consider new options in the event that current efforts cannot soon turn current security, political and economic trends around. A Bosnia Option for Iraq focuses on the controlled realignment of population groups in order to minimize communal violence and set the stage for a stable political settlement--what might be termed a "soft partition" of the country (but with retention of a confederal structure, together with equal sharing of oil revenue on a per capita basis among all groups). This memo briefly reviews current circumstances and then outlines a Bosnia option for Iraq.

The Current Situation

The Iraq mission is failing. The Baghdad security plan of this past summer, which we viewed at the time as a last gasp to rescue the situation, has not reduced the violence. The political process is virtually stagnant, with the al-Maliki government drawing little Sunni Arab support, Shi'a leaders unable or unwilling to control their militias, and no progress on key constitutional disputes over oil resources and other crucial matters that were supposed to have been settled by now. The Iraqi economy shows some bright spots but, on balance, infrastructure performance is no better than under Saddam, unemployment remains high and private sector investment low, and the middle-upper-class brain drain is accelerating as Iraqis with means flee what they see as a failing state.

If the situation does not stabilize soon, the political momentum for throwing in the towel could become irresistible. However, those who urge precipitous withdrawal minimize the risks of a devastating civil war that could roil the broader region, allow al-Qaeda to claim victory and herald a worldwide display of U.S. failure. Whatever our mistakes, we have been right on the core point: We must work with our Iraqi allies to create a stable, cohesive state that does not attack its neighbors, massacre its minorities, collude with al-Qaeda or develop WMD. But at present we have no credible plan for achieving even these relatively modest goals (let alone the ultimate goal of creating a multi-ethnic democracy). Several new tactics, including a countrywide jobs-creation program and a rehabilitation plan for former low- and mid-level Ba'athists, can help. However, new tactics are no longer likely to be enough.

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