A Geopolitical Analysis of a Partitioned Iraq: Political, Economic, and Military Viability

Article excerpt

The George W. Bush administration's definition of political success in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq has changed almost as frequently as its rationale for the initial military invasion. Gone are the heroically optimistic predictions of peace, economic development, religious tolerance, and multicultural civil society in Iraq, which would then serve as the first falling domino in a cascade of democratization throughout the Middle East (Danner 2002; Gaddis 2002; White House 2002). Chastened by rising military, financial, and political costs, the administration now speaks more soberly of a fairly stable, someday reasonably democratic government for the New Iraq (Diamond 2005; Wright and Knickmeyer 2005).

If the definition of success in Iraq has been a moving target, one definition of abject political failure has remained a constant: the fragmentation of the country into separate, possibly warring ethnoreligious enclaves. At least eight Arab countries have echoed the Bush administration's emphatic warnings about Iraqi Balkanization.

Despite the administration's best efforts, recent events indicate that civil war and territorial partition are increasingly likely outcomes (BBC 2006; CBS 2006; CNN 2006). This article offers a heuristic exploration of a fragmented Iraq. Specifically, it employs traditional geopolitical methodologies to assess the political, economic, and military viability of an Iraq divided into Kurdish, Shiite, and Sunni political entities.


Geopolitics has been a mainstay of political analysis and the practice of statecraft since the early Roman Empire. The prestige of geopolitics as an academic discipline reached its zenith during the late nineteenth century, when theorists such as Alfred Thayer Mahan and Sir Halford MacKinder wove grand theories of national behavior based on the geographic characteristics of states. Firmly grounded in the traditional realist school, until the middle of the twentieth century geopolitics was considered necessary for a clear understanding of international relations.

In the aftermath of World War II, however, the Axis Powers' crimes engulfed geopolitics in a wave of intellectual disrespect and moral revulsion. Academic idealists almost universally vilified geopolitics as morally bankrupt and a major cause of war (Parker 1985). For many years thereafter, geopolitics became a taboo subject within the discipline of international relations, either totally ignored or dismissed as "a curious medley of unscientific jargon, irrefutable facts, and plain Hokum" (Beukema 1942).

However, Pentagon planners zealously continued to use geopolitical analysis and strategies in their containment of Communism during the Cold War. Quantitative political science has recently taken an interest in geopolitics, as territory-related issues are the underlying reason for 70 to 90 percent of wars (Vasquez 1993).

Today's geopolitical analysts and political geographers have generally abandoned the deterministic tone of earlier theorists; geographic factors are now seen as influencing rather than determining national behavior. More art than science, geopolitics considers variables such as the shape and nature of a country's borders (Vanzo 1999), the type and distribution of natural resources, the defensibility of terrain, transportation infrastructure and access to the outside world, industrial and agricultural production, and climate and demography (and admittedly unscientific notions such as a population's "character").

Despite its idiosyncratic, archaic, and nonreplicable nature, geopolitics continues to generate findings that command the attention of top military planners and political decision makers.


Although it is beyond the main focus of this article to examine the rationale and conduct of the invasion of Iraq, it does bear mentioning that, from a traditional geopolitical perspective, the Bush administration's military adventure in Iraq was a war that would have been better left unfought. …