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Former Ambassador Ryan Crocker: Partitioned Iraq Is An Iranian Strategy


We turn now to Ambassador Ryan Crocker. He's a veteran diplomat who's represented the U.S. all over the region, including in Baghdad. Welcome to the program.

RYAN CROCKER: Thank you.

CORNISH: Ambassador Crocker, listening to the strategy people are talking about today, is there any reason to believe that more of the same - meaning a few more trainers and more training - will make a difference?

CROCKER: I think the real significance of the announcement today is not in the number of trainers. It's in the indication that the U.S. is thinking seriously about this, is engaging, perhaps in a way we haven't so far. So I hope there's more to follow. That would be the significance.

CORNISH: As people talk about the problems with the Iraqi army, it often is discussed about the Shia-led government and what ways they've contributed to weaknesses there. And that's led to conversations about the so-called three-state strategy or a partition of Iraq - Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the center and Shiites in the south. Can you talk about when this plan kind of was first aired?

CROCKER: It's been out there as a notion for some time. As a strategy - I think there is a three-state partition strategy, but it's an Iranian strategy. That's what the Iranians would like to see in Iraq for a lot of reasons that would all be bad from an American point of view. I think it is a terrible idea from a United States perspective.

CORNISH: But what's the cost to trying to hold these states together, and can the U.S. bear it? Is there even the political will to do so?

CROCKER: It is a political investment - not an economic one, not a military one. It is an investment of high-level U.S. official time - visits, phone calls. After what the Iraqis have been through under Saddam and after 2003, they simply don't have a political system or background to order affairs in a unitary state without outside help. That was us, and it can only be us as an empowered middleman to help the Iraqis do what I think almost all of them really want to do, which is come together. But making those compromises after what they've been through is very difficult unless you've got a broker in the middle. And that - we're the only ones who can do that.

CORNISH: What's your response to Americans who don't necessarily see the U.S. as being able to do that and not having a good track record of doing that?

CROCKER: When we engage politically and diplomatically, I would say our track record is pretty good. It was pretty good in Iraq - '07, '09. I think it can be again. And we also have to consider the alternatives. What does a tripartite partition mean? A Kurdistan that can be very disabling vis a vis Kurds in Turkey and that would come under, I think, even more Iranian pressure and influence.

Let's look at the other two components. A Shiastan (ph), if you will, where most of Iraq's oil is - that would be Iranian-dominated, not least because of that oil. Then you really would have something like a puppet regime, a buffer state for Iran against the third component. And I would call that Jihadistan (ph). Iranians are not afraid of the Islamic State. It doesn't threaten them. I think they're using it as a tool to warrant the sending in of their radical Shia militias, precisely to foster this permanent rupture of the unitary Iraqi state.

And bear in mind that even with all the sectarian conflict we've seen over the last decade, there are still many mixed areas. And if anyone who is proposing a three-state solution thinks they just draw lines on a map, and everybody who's on the right side of the line is not connected to Iraqi reality - for all the blood that's been shed so far, a lot more would follow should the partition gain momentum.

CORNISH: Ambassador Ryan Crocker. He's the dean of the George Bush School of Government at Texas A and M. He spoke to us from College Station, Texas. Thank you so much for being with us.

CROCKER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.