Rethinking the Political Future: An Alternative to the Ethno-Sectarian Division of Iraq

58 Pages Posted: 3 Apr 2012

See all articles by Paul R. Williams

Paul R. Williams

Public International Law & Policy Group; American University

Matt Simpson

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: November 1, 2008


In the coming year, the political leadership in Iraq will need to make a final determination as to whether they are going to structure the state of Iraq as a federal state with ethnically heterogeneous provinces, a loose federal state with ethnically defined provinces or regions, or whether they are going to divide the state into three new states based on ethno-sectarian lines.

A number of prominent American law makers and foreign policy shapers have strongly advocated for the soft, and sometimes hard, partition of Iraq — either through the creation of a loose federal structure based on ethno-sectarian lines, or through its outright partition. These commentators have prophesized that the ethno-sectarian division of Iraq “may soon be all we have left."

In fact, the ethno-sectarian division of Iraq is fraught with logistical infeasibilities and dangers that threaten to compound the issues facing the people of Iraq instead of solving them. The political solution rests not on a return to failed approaches of division and entrenched conflict, but rather on the construction of a viable modern federal state that promotes unity, political compromise, and consensus building.

To address the question of whether the future of Iraq rests with ethno-sectarian division or with multi-ethnic federalism, this Article first addresses the ideas behind ethno-sectarian division and describes the most prominent plans for the division of Iraq along ethno-sectarian lines. This Article then critiques such a division of Iraq by: (1) identifying the overwhelming lack of popular support for such a division; (2) exposing the practical and political difficulties of dividing a state as diverse and heterogeneous as Iraq; (3) discussing the likelihood that ethno-sectarian division will increase violent conflict; (4) highlighting the lessons of prior ethno-sectarian divisionist attempts; (5) noting insurmountable constitutional hurdles; and (6) setting out the significant signs of recent progress and cooperation in the Iraqi political framework.

Keywords: multi-ethnic federalism, Iraq, ethno-sectarian division

JEL Classification: N40

Suggested Citation

Williams, Paul R. and Simpson, Matt, Rethinking the Political Future: An Alternative to the Ethno-Sectarian Division of Iraq (November 1, 2008). American University International Law Review, Vol. 24, No. 2, 2008, Available at SSRN:

Paul R. Williams (Contact Author)

Public International Law & Policy Group ( email )


American University ( email )

4400 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States

Matt Simpson

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics