Iraqi Leaders Opposed Biden's Partition Plan
By DAN SENOR, WSJ, September 9, 2008
On Sunday's "Meet the Press," Sen. Joseph Biden made a series of stunning arguments in defense of his plan for segregation of Iraq along ethnic and sectarian lines. When Mr. Biden first announced his partition plan in May 2006, Iraqi leaders and U.S. officials understood it to mean the establishment of strong Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish regional administrations. The Biden plan would have also begun a phased redeployment of U.S. troops in 2006 and withdrawn most of them by the end of 2007.
Despite deep resistance from the Iraqi government, Mr. Biden tried to turn his plan into U.S. policy, introducing a nonbinding Senate resolution that called for its implementation. But his effort completely backfired in Baghdad. The proposal ended up unifying all the disparate Iraqi factions in opposition.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who called on the Iraqi parliament to meet and formally reject the Biden plan, immediately went on Iraqi television with a blistering statement: "[Biden] should stand by Iraq to solidify its unity and its sovereignty . . . [He] shouldn't be proposing its division. That could be a disaster not just for Iraq but for the region."
On "Meet the Press" Mr. Biden dismissed Mr. Maliki's objections because the Iraqi prime minister's "popularity is very much in question." Based on what? Most independent analysts who have recently traveled to Iraq point to his heightened popularity as a result of the stabilization of Anbar province, the decimation of al Qaeda in Iraq, and his decision to successfully confront Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army in Basra.
The notion that a number of other Iraqi leaders supported the Biden plan is not correct either. Actually, it was just the opposite.
Abdul Mahdi al-Karbala'i, the representative of Iraq's most senior Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, called the Senate resolution "a step toward the breakup of Iraq. It is a mistake to imagine that such a plan will lead to a reduction in chaos in Iraq; rather, on the contrary, it will lead to an increase in the butchery and a deepening of the crisis of this country, and the spreading of increased chaos, even to neighboring states."
The Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars also denounced the plan. "This is a dangerous partitioning based on sectarianism and ethnicity," said Hashim Taie, a member of the Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni party in the parliament.
Qays al-Atwani, the moderator of the popular "Talk of the Hour" television show, interviewed Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis about the Biden resolution. He concluded: "For the first time in Iraq, all political blocs, decision makers and religious authorities agree on rejecting the [Biden] resolution that contradicts the will of the Iraqi people." The Senate resolution even managed to provoke radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's political supporters to momentarily join their rivals -- all in opposition to the Biden plan.
Secular Sunni parliamentarian Mithal al-Alusi held a news conference in Baghdad to call on the Iraqi government to formally declare Mr. Biden "a persona non grata" in Iraq. As for Iraq's neighbors, The Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League both denounced the Biden resolution.
The uproar was unsurprising, as partition would have involved expelling Iraqis from their homes. How would a partition work, for example, in major cities like Kirkuk, which is majority Kurdish but also has a large Sunni population, and substantial Christian and Turkomen populations? The likely outcome would have been forced relocation. This could have sparked a wave of renewed sectarian violence, if not civil war.
On Sunday, when Mr. Biden was asked about the current progress in Iraq, he managed to take the lion's share of the credit: "I'm encouraged because they're doing the things I suggested . . . That's why it is moving toward some mild possibility of a resolution." But we should be grateful that Iraqis did not do as he suggested. Mr. Biden's frustration with the looming Iraqi civil war in 2006 and early 2007 was understandable. The U.S. was on the verge of total defeat and Iraq was at risk of collapse. But Mr. Biden's plan would have inflamed Iraq's already volatile situation.
Mr. Senor is an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a founder of Rosemont Capital. He served as a senior adviser to the Coalition in Iraq and was based in Baghdad in 2003 and 2004.