by Matthew Rusling
WASHINGTON, July 9 (Xinhua) -- Speculation is rife over whether Iraq will face partition as Islamic radicals overrun parts of the country, which would spark myriad shifts in how Washington deals with the war-ravaged country, experts said.
Recent weeks have seen the terrorist organization Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) roll through parts of northern Iraq, allegedly beheading victims in an orgy of violence that has put the Middle East country back in the international spotlight after U.S. troops pulled out in 2011.
The radicals' gains have prompted U.S. President Barack Obama to dispatch 300 military advisors to the war-torn nation in a bid to halt further advances by the terrorists, who have vowed to take Baghdad.
U.S. and international media, pundits and observers fret that Iraq's U.S.-backed government may not be able to win back regions taken by the militants, calling into question whether the U.S. may have to gear its policies toward a divided Iraq.
Experts said that if partitioning did occur, it would spell many changes for the way Washington and Arab allies deal with Iraq, and would impact relations with both the United States and Arab allies.
Wayne White, former deputy director of the State Department's Middle East Intelligence Office, told Xinhua that Iraq's Shiite south would be shunned by all U.S. Arab allies in the region and quite possibly become even more aligned with Iran, which could mean a dramatic reduction in the American embassy in Baghdad, previously meant to deal with all of Iraq.
The Sunni Arab zone, with no real economic base, seething with territorial grievances and saddled with a huge refugee population, could become a continuing hotbed of extremist ferment, he said.
A Kurdish state would be easiest for Washington to engage, but the Kurds' likely retention of disputed territory would involve subsequent confrontations with Iraqi Arabs, probably generating Kurdish pleas for U.S. military aid, White said.
White said a partitioned Iraq could have as many nasty ethno-sectarian conflicts, even violence, as found in the current situation. "Iraqi partition would be messy, and leave unhealed wounds," he said.
Still, White emphasized that any talk of a partitioned Iraq is premature.
"Based on the events of the past three weeks or so, it is far too soon to engage in a realistic discussion about partitioning Iraq. The overwhelming majority of regional and global powers see great danger in going that route, and with good reason," he said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is eying the situation closely, with White House spokesman Josh Earnest saying last month that he is "not going to be in a position to offer a proposal for how they should draw up their map."
"The most direct way for - in the view of this administration - for Iraq to confront the threat that they face from is to unite that country around a political agenda that gives every single citizen a stake in that country's future and that country's success," he told reporters then.