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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Partitioning Would Fuel Iraq Conflict

Just when it seems that Iraq's death spiral cannot get worse comes news that it has. The civilization that grew between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers was nourished for centuries by the mingling of cultures and ethnicities. Now a vile "sectarian cleansing" in Baghdad threatens that civilization.

More than 540,000 Iraqis have fled their homes because of sectarian fighting in the last 11 months -- 80 percent of them from Baghdad, according to a carefully documented report from International Medical Corps, a California-based humanitarian group that has teams in 16 of Iraq's 18 provinces. The pace of flight is accelerating: The number of people displaced jumped by 43 percent in November alone.

Most of the displaced are inside Iraq. They've taken refuge in segregated Sunni or Shiite neighborhoods within Baghdad or moved to provinces where people of similar ethnicities predominate. Many are living with impoverished relatives, and some face malnutrition. If the violence continues, estimates are for 1 million more such "internally displaced persons" within Baghdad alone in the next few months.

This disaster has prompted calls for some sort of partitioning of Iraq that might quell the violence.

It is tempting to try to separate Shiite and Sunni combatants before they further shred and bleed their country, Yugoslavia style. But partition is a dangerous idea, the merits of which do not improve even as other options look worse. Most important, the Iraqis do not want it. Second, the biggest prize in the ethnic wars -- Baghdad -- may be ghettoized, but it cannot be easily divided. Third, not all the violence is between Shiites and Sunnis; Shiite sects battle each other for power, and other ethnic strife may yet erupt in the north. Across Iraq, partition would force multiethnic cities and mixed families to choose sides and identities, however artificial. And the agony of Baghdad might simply be repeated in Kirkuk, Basra or Nasiriya.

Advocates of a "soft" partition seek to avoid these awful outcomes by keeping Iraq intact but encouraging Iraqis to use their new constitution (when fully implemented in 18 months) to allow the highly autonomous provinces to confederate as they see fit.

But the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush should stick to its position and refuse to endorse any sort of plan to divide Iraq. Soft or hard, partition would inevitably be seen as another Western plot to weaken Iraq and draw a new Middle East map to U.S. specifications. It would fuel violence by seeming to ratify the end result of the sectarian killing, and do nothing to stop violence against unfortunate Iraqis caught on the wrong side of the tracks in the future.

This comment appeared as an editorial in the Los Angeles Times.