The approval of the Iraqi constitution in the October 15 referendum does not put Iraq on the path to stability and democracy but pushes it toward division into largely autonomous regions. And this new momentum is probably irreversible. Whether it will lead to a catastrophic descent into greater violence or even ethnic cleansing, or to a managed transformation into a loose federation of regions enjoying extreme autonomy, depends on whether it becomes possible for Sunni Arabs to form their own region, as Kurds already have and Shias are bound to do once the constitution is in effect. The central thrust of U.S. policy in Iraq must now be to help Sunnis organize an autonomous region and to convince Shias and Kurds that it is in their interest to make this possible. Paradoxically, announcing now a timetable for the inevitable withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq could give Washington additional leverage in influencing all sides to accept the necessary compromises.
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About the Author
Marina Ottaway is a senior associate in the Democracy and Rule of Law Project. She is the author or many Carnegie publications, including Iraq: Without Consensus, Democracy is Not the Answer (Policy Brief # 36) and Evaluating Middle East Reform: How Do We Know When it is Significant? (Carnegie Paper # 56).