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VP Choice Biden Unpopular in Iraq For Autonomy Plan

Peter Graff and Khalid al-Ansary

BAGHDAD - Senator Joe Biden may be one of the only U.S. politiciansthat can get Iraq’s feuding Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurdish politicians toagree. But not in a good way.

Across racial and religious boundaries, Iraqi politicians onSaturday bemoaned Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama’schoice of running mate, known in Iraq as the author of a 2006 plan todivide the country into ethnic and sectarian enclaves.

“This choice of Biden is disappointing, because he is the creator ofthe idea of dividing Iraq,” Salih al-Mutlaq, head of National Dialogue,one of the main Sunni Arab blocs in parliament, told Reuters.

“We rejected his proposal when he announced it, and we still rejectit. Dividing the communities and land in such a way would only lead tonew fighting between people over resources and borders. Iraq cannotsurvive unless it is unified, and dividing it would keep the problemsalive for a long time.”

Delaware senator Biden unveiled his plan to divide Iraq into afederation of autonomous Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurdish zones at a timewhen sectarian killing in Iraq was out of control and getting worse.

“The idea, as in Bosnia, is to maintain a united Iraq bydecentralising it, giving each ethno-religious group — Kurd, Sunni Araband Shiite Arab — room to run its own affairs,” he proposed in a May2006 piece he co-wrote in the New York Times.

“The Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions would each be responsible fortheir own domestic laws, administration and internal security. Thecentral government would control border defence, foreign affairs andoil revenues,” Biden said.


At the time, many Iraqi politicians hinted at a need for communitiesto be divided. Since then, however, violence has ebbed and nearly allmainstream politicians speak out against such ideas.

“The original ‘Biden plan’ seems less relevant in Iraq today than atany point,” said Reidar Visser, a Norwegian academic and editor of theIraq-focused website “The trend in parliament is clearlyin a more national direction, with political parties coming togetheracross sectarian divides.

“In other words, there is a very strong Iraqi mobilisation againstprecisely the core elements of the Biden plan, and it would beextremely unwise of the Democratic Party to make Biden’s ideas thecentrepiece of their Iraq strategy,” he added.

Today, even Kurds who already have their own autonomous enclave in northern Iraq say they oppose the “Biden plan”.

“We don’t support establishing federal regions on a sectarian basis.For example our region is not ethnic, it contains Kurds and non-Kurds.The regions should be established on a geographic basis,” said Kurdishlawmaker Mahmoud Othman.

Ezzet al-Shabender, a member of parliament from the secularist IraqiList of former prime minister Ayad Allawi, actually credited thebroad-based disgust triggered by Biden’s proposal for helping Iraqipoliticians bury their differences.

“His project was the reason behind the unity of many political blocsthat once differed in viewpoints,” he said, comparing it to the BalfourDeclaration, a 1917 British note that backed the creation of Israel andis regarded across the Arab world as the ultimate colonial injustice.

“Such a person, if he would assume the vice-presidency post, would not serve to improve Iraq-USA relations.”

Editing by Robert Hart


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