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Embracing the Three-State Solution in Iraq

"My purpose is to urge a course of action by which the United States can extricate itself from the mess in Iraq. ... This strategy should be based on U.S. interests and reflect the reality that Iraq has broken up in all but name." So writes Peter Galbraith, a former ambassador to Croatia, in "The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End" (Simon & Schuster, 260 pages, $26).

The goal of Mr. Galbraith's book is to lay out an argument for Iraqi partition and Kurdish independence. After setting the scene by describing the violence in today's Iraq, he reminisces about his own past experiences in the country. Mr. Galbraith first visited Baghdad in 1984 as a congressional staffer on a fact-finding mission and returned four years later to chronicle reports of Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians. He and other human rights activists were appalled by their findings, but Washington realists saw Saddam's Iraq as a buffer against Iranian expansion. Diplomats and officials voiced outrage at the atrocities but did little. Had the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations not appeased Saddam, Mr. Galbraith argues, the Iraqi leader might never have concluded he could invade Kuwait with impunity.

Mr. Galbraith returned to Iraqi Kurdistan after the 1991 uprising. With a bit of exaggeration and a heaping of melodrama, he recounts his role in arranging for Congress to take custody of captured Iraqi documents. Here, he misses an opportunity to broaden his narrative and contribute positively to the contemporary debate by failing to ask why the U.S. government has not made available the millions of documents captured when Saddam fell.

Mr. Galbraith's narrative degenerates into sloppy polemic rather than thoughtful critique as he turns to President Bush. While he lambastes previous administrations - President Clinton's excepted - for doing nothing to constrain Saddam, he takes Mr. Bush to task for liberating the country. He repeats conspiracy theories regarding the role of the Office of Special Plans, a cabal of neoconservatives, and the handling of pre-war intelligence peddled on Web sites such as that of a University of Michigan professor, Juan Cole - whose analysis he credits - but which have no basis in reality; indeed, some originate with Lyndon LaRouche. Elsewhere, he provides unsourced narrative to describe, often inaccurately, decisions and debates relating to the nature of postwar administration and the role of the Shiites and Kurds, in which he played no part. He is unaware of the roles played by key officials in policy debates and makes only passing reference to the State Department North Gulf Affairs chief, Ryan Crocker; he makes no mention of National Security Council official, Elliott Abrams, or the then-deputy national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, who attended or chaired planning sessions.

Like David L. Phillips's "Losing Iraq: Inside the Postwar Reconstruction Fiasco" (Westview Press, 256 Pages, $25), Mr. Galbraith's narrative is laden with private agendas and petty animosities. He laments that the United Nations did not have a larger role in Iraq's reconstruction but ignores the distrust of even his Kurdish interlocutors for Turtle Bay. Like Mr. Phillips, Mr. Galbraith regurgitates narrative from already published accounts and, while he could credit them more generously, he at least does not plagiarize.

Where Mr. Galbraith is accurate, he is uneven. He downplays Kurdish divisions and unpleasant aspects of Kurdish history, such as the Kurdish leader Masud Barzani's collaboration with Saddam, which extended to the days before liberation. While he lionizes Mr. Barzani, his description of Shiite politics is superficial and his dislike of the Shiite community palpable. He relates Kurdish suffering in the 1980s and early 1990s in elaborate detail, implying that it entitle the Kurds to independence, but he only mentions Saddam's comparable atrocities against the Shiite population in passing. Most distressing, Mr. Galbraith never mentions his affiliation with the Kurdistan Regional Government, an affiliation official Kurdistan Regional Government Web sites make clear (see, for example, Kurdish officials confirm his service as a paid adviser.

The core of Mr. Galbraith's argument - enshrined in a short chapter, "The Three State Solution" - is weak. He parrots Kurdish interlocutors and makes little effort to address how Sunni and Shiite Arab rump states might behave and interact. Would division bring stability or simply allow Iran and Saudi Arabia to exert their influence more easily over divided and weaker successors? Iraqi Kurdistan is perhaps the best organized of Iraq's regions, but its unification and stability are more symbolic than actual. A joint parliament is irrelevant if devoid of power. Cabinet unity is cosmetic: Both parties simply duplicated important portfolios. While most unified states might have a single minister of the interior, the new unified Kurdish government boasts both a minister of the interior and a minister of state for interior affairs. Nor is Iraq so easily divided. It may have formed from the combination of three Ottoman provinces, but there has been much intermixing over the past eight decades. Could Iraqis di vide such mixed cities as Baghdad, Mosul, Kirkuk, and Baquba without bringing about the bloodbath Mr. Galbraith says he aims to avoid? His analysis of possible Turkish and Iranian reactions is likewise simplistic. Mr. Galbraith's contacts in Turkey are limited and often self-selected. True, many in Turkey have come to accept Iraqi Kurdish autonomy, but such tolerance may evaporate the longer Mr. Barzani provides a safe-haven and sells supplies to Kurdish Workers Party terrorists attacking Turkey. Iraqi Kurdish academics and officials detect Iranian opposition to broader Kurdish federalism behind the recent wave of anti-Kurdish violence in Kirkuk.

"The End of Iraq" will disappoint and annoy. Melodrama and ego permeate; so too does irony. After visiting Saddam's war memorial, Mr. Galbraith writes, "I wondered about a leader whose idea of a war memorial involved 144 pictures of himself." True, Mr Galbraith includes only seven pictures of himself, but readers may wonder about an author who mentions himself on 88 pages. Mr. Galbraith's book may not achieve what he sets out to do - provide a cogent argument for the division of Iraq - but Mr. Galbraith makes one remarkable accomplishment: He manages to make both the Coalition Provisional Authority administrator, L. Paul Bremer,and a former secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, look modest.

Mr. Rubin, editor of the Middle East Quarterly, is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.