That's the argument made in a Washington Post op-ed today (registration required, but free) by Peter Galbraith, former U.S. ambassador to Croatia and senior diplomatic fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation who has also advised Kurdish leaders. Writes Galbraith:
Although it was certainly not his intention, George W. Bush broke up Iraq when he ordered the invasion in 2003. The United States not only removed Saddam Hussein, but it also smashed, and later dissolved, the institutions that enabled Iraq's Sunni Arab minority to rule the country: the army, the security services and the Baath Party. Kurdistan, free from Hussein's rule since 1991, moved to consolidate its de facto independence. Iraq's Shiites, suppressed since the founding of the Iraqi state, have created a theocracy in southern Iraq and have no intention of allowing a central government in Baghdad to roll it back. Iraq's new constitution merely ratifies this result.
There is no reason to mourn the passing of the unified Iraqi state. For Iraq's 80-year history, Sunni Arab dictators held the country together -- and kept themselves in power -- with brutal force that culminated in Hussein's genocide against the Kurds and mass killings of Shiites.
Galbraith makes a pretty strong case that our focus should be on preventing civil war, not maintaining Iraq's artificial unity. Many of the Sunni Arabs who say they want to preserve a unified state want, in actuality, to preserve the control they wielded in the 80 years of Iraq's existence as a state. Galbraith also argues that, far from shafting the Sunnis, the newly passed Iraqi constitution does give them protections against the tyranny of the Shi'ite/Kurd majority, and that in time the Sunni Arabs will realize this and cooperate. The article makes a strong case with specific suggestions, and concludes thus:
As Yugoslavia broke up in 1991, the first Bush administration put all its diplomatic muscle into a doomed effort to hold the country together, and it did nothing to stop the coming war. We should not repeat that mistake in Iraq.
Galbraith may well be right. However, the idea of Southern Iraq's transformation into a Islamic theocracy, even if achieved through the democratic process, is depressing to say the least.