Sunday, October 22, 2006

Partition in the Middle East

The whole last century of Middle Eastern history has been influenced by the idea that partitioning it to accommodate the desires of numerous groups for self-determination will improve the messy political situation. A famous attempt was the secret agreement between the British and the French of 1916 (above) to divide the Arabic-speaking provinces of the Ottoman Empire between them. It didn't quite work out the way it was drawn, but the current boundaries of the Middle East are indeed a product of post-World War I agreements. And there have been problems ever since, notably in Palestine/Israel, but by no means only there.

People who don't know what to do about the hopeless situation in Iraq but feel they have to say something have been kicking around the idea of a partitioned Iraq, or at least an Iraq with a weak federal structure. This is filling people who actually live in the Middle East with foreboding. See this unusually good newspaper article from the Chicago Tribune, which Juan Cole alerted me to.

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