The Iraq Study Group, led by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, is being portrayed as a magic wand that will conjure up a solution for Iraq the same way rabbits jump out of empty hats.

President George W. Bush seems to be giving the group enough space by making a number of surprisingly open-minded statements about changing the course in Iraq. And by nominating Robert Gates, a member of the group, as the next secretary of defense, he has raised its profile.

Many observers suspect that the latest flexibility in the administration’s discourse is nothing more than a PR job attempting to draw a less stubborn image. Besides, Bush could always blame future failure on the group’s nonpartisan recommendations and plans.

Reminding the Middle East region of a history of other ill-fortuned plans with two names, like the Sykes-Picot agreement in 1916 and San Remo conference in 1920, the Baker-Hamilton group appears to be intent on drawing more borders and partitions that will further fragment the region. It seems that the new group may recommend some kind of “divisions but not partitions” plan to cut Iraq into three regions.

Such partitionist ideas have been floating around lately and repeated by many U.S. lawmakers and analysts. Nevertheless, the majority of Iraqi leaders and analysts believe that any division plans, in addition to keeping foreign military presence in Iraq, are a perfect formula for creating a full-scale, long-lasting war between the different regions and factions fighting over territory and natural resources.

Ironically, the only people who seem to be working to cut Iraq into three states are the U.S, al-Qaida and Iranian politicians. The three enemies seem to have finally found some common ground.

The pro-Iranian parties in the Iraqi government, like SCIRI and Dawa, are working to create a Shi’a state in the south of Iraq. Al-Qaida wants to create a Sunni state in the middle, and the U.S., supported by some allies in the region, wants to cut Iraq apart into small fragments and run away. But the vast majority of Iraqi Sunni and Shi’a groups and leaders are working, without a foreign agenda, to protect their country’s unity.

If the United States were really concerned about peace and stability in Iraq, it would stop interfering in Iraq’s domestic politics and give Iraqi leaders the space to build their national government and armed forces.

It’s shocking that the only times “diplomacy” is mentioned in dealing with Iraq, it’s about negotiating with Iran and Syria instead of negotiating with Iraqis.

We all know there’s a need to change course in Iraq, but the new course will not be any better if it is based on more unilateral decisions. The U.S. should learn from Israel’s failed unilateral approaches to its conflicts with the Lebanese and the Palestinians. The only way out of Iraq will not be through more military and political unilateral solutions; it will be through giving Iraqis the time and space they need to rule their own country by themselves, and to take their own decisions when it comes to keeping their country’s unity and sovereignty.

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