Three Iraqs worse than one?

With a strong majority of US citizens favouring withdrawal from Iraq within a year and presidential elections set for 2008, Democrats and Republicans continue to face an uphill struggle to force President George W Bush to change course. But as many Washington insiders have publicly declared, any shift in the White House’s Iraq policy cannot create a new reality; it will be bound by the fact that “there are no good options, just bad and worse options”. Enter the Biden-Brownback Iraq Federalism Bipartisan Amendment.

The US Senate last week voted 75-23 to back the non-binding resolution co-sponsored by presidential hopefuls Senators Joe Biden and Sam Brownback to decentralise Iraq in a federal system to presumably stop Iraq from falling deeper into civil war. It proposes to separate Iraq into Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni entities, with a federal government in Baghdad in charge of border security and oil revenues.

“If the US can’t put this federalism idea on track, we will have no chance for a political settlement in Iraq and, without that, no chance for leaving Iraq without leaving chaos behind,” wrote Biden and Leslie Gelb, former head of the Council on Foreign Relations in the Washington Post. “Federalism is the one formula that fits the seemingly contradictory desires of most Iraqis to remain whole and of various groups to govern themselves for the time being.”

Democratic Presidential front-runner Senator Hillary Clinton voted yes for the bill, while her competitor Senator Barack Obama abstained from voting. Critics argue that while the plan suggests a graceful exit strategy for US forces which have been bogged down in an unpopular war in Iraq for more than four years, in reality it aims for the partition and division of Iraq by force. And the actual implementation of such a plan would mean increased US involvement and the possible systematisation of ethnic cleansing.

“The Iraqi and Arab world’s reaction to the Biden Resolution has been overwhelmingly negative,” said Eric Davis, professor of political science at Rutgers University. “Even Iraq’s Kurdish leaders have stated that they support federalism, but not partition. This resolution has reinforced public opinion in Iraq and the larger Middle East that the United States used the invasion of Iraq as a pretext to control Iraq’s vast oil wealth.”

In a statement last Sunday, the US Embassy in Baghdad said that any “attempts to partition or divide Iraq by intimidation, force or other means into three separate states would produce extraordinary suffering and bloodshed.” “Our goal in Iraq remains the same: a united, democratic, federal Iraq that can govern, defend, and sustain itself,” according to the unsigned written statement. The irony is that the Biden Amendment is the first Congressional legislation to offer a political solution to the problems plaguing Iraq where the Bush administration has only offered military stop-gaps, most notably General David Petraeus’s “surge strategy.”

Analysts argue that the plan remains one of the few bad options , but that it does not respond to realities on the ground. In a political climate that has many politicians bracing for the backlash of a vast majority of the US public, it may provide cover for Republicans eager to distance themselves of the perceived intransigence and failures of the Bush administration. — IPS