By a lopsided margin, at that.
In a strong rebuff to the Bush Administration on Iraq, the Senate overwhelming approved a plan by Biden that essentially calls for breaking Iraq into three sections: Kurd, Sunni, and Shia. While the amendment is nonbinding, it’s the first measure to pass, (vote was 75-23,) that goes against the administration’s war strategy.
Biden’s chief co-sponsor was Brownback. Fellow candidates Clinton and Dodd also supported the plan. Obama and McCain did not vote.
In a news conference after the vote, Biden said his plan is consistent with the Iraqi constitution which calls Iraq to be made up of “a decentralized capital, regions, and governorates, and local administrations.” Biden says this plan illustrates how to “end this war in a way that we are able to ultimately to bring our troops home and leave a stable Iraq behind… [that] is consistent with the Iraqi constitution.” He described it as “pushing on an open door.”
The plan also calls for the five members of the UNSC to get together and work out a plan for Iraq, which makes all the sense in the world since everyone knows that the US, UK, France, Russia and China just automagically agree on everything.
If I thought that partition was a workable solution I would be all for it. But based on the history of partitions that involve significant Muslim populations, I don’t think that it is workable. Partitioning Iraq between Shia, Sunni and Kurd is likely to take one of two paths: An all-out civil war by which one faction ends up establishing itself as ruler over the other two, or a partition enforced by military presence that’s not indigenous to Iraq. Us + some number of international partners, in other words. Neither of those outcomes fixes Iraq. One makes our presence there permanent, the other leads to a bloodbath that we would have to sort out, probably making our presence there permanent. And the all out civil war scenario probably draws in combatants and weapons from Iran, Saudi Arabia and several other regional powers that would be on either side of the fight. Partition doesn’t appear to be the magic bullet, and in my estimation holds a strong possibility of making things worse. I’d be happy to be wrong, but that’s how I see it.
The NYT’s John Burns evidently sees things along similar lines. On Hugh Hewitt’s show yesterday, he panned the idea of partitioning Iraq, and based his thinking on the partitioning of India and Pakistan 60 years ago.
HH: John Burns, when we went to break, we were talking about the Sunni-Shia divide in Iraq, and I’m hoping, given how many years you’ve spent there, you can sort of explain to me and to the audience how…you mentioned that Saddam’s weight of terror suppressed this divide. How palpable is that divide, even, say, among the employees of the New York Times? Does it rise up as say racial tension would have in the South in the 50’s and the 60’s? Or is it much deeper and much more concealed than that?
JB: No, you mentioned in the last segment the situation in India, and I think that you could say this in common about the two societies in sectarian friction and violence, which is that it’s a manmade thing. It’s a provoked thing. So let me tell you, for example, about the mood in the New York Times’ compound in Iraq. I think among media organizations, we are the largest employer. We have more Iraqi staff than anybody else. And one of the most pleasing things said to me as I left a few weeks ago by one of the Iraqi staff was that you’ve made it possible for us within these high walls, the high blast walls with which we’ve had to surround our compound in Iraq to protect ourselves, and our Iraqi employees, you’ve made it possible within these four walls for us to be Iraqis, not Sunni and Shia. There’s no sectarianism here. I have to say, I was extremely pleased to hear that. And it wasn’t we who created that. We made it possible for Iraqis, decent, hard-working, conscientious Iraqis, the sorts of people we employed, and who contribute so heavily to our daily report in the New York Times on Iraq, made it possible for them to be themselves. And their natural default position, and I’m speaking now of the great majority of Iraqis, is one of peaceable intent and goodwill across the Sunni-Shiite schism, if you will. This sectarian violence has been provoked in the first place by al Qaeda and the Baathist underground as it became, that is to say the remnants of Saddam’s regime, who for a very long time, in the fact of, I have to say, passive Shiite resistance, were killing Shiites in very large numbers in their Mosques, in their markets, on the streets, in their schools, with the sorts of bombings which Americans became so familiar with. It was really only in 2006 that Shiites began to strike back in a serious way with militia death squads of their own. But on both sides of this, it’s extremists who have prevailed. I don’t think that they represent, they don’t represent the default position on either side. That said, of course, the fundamental question of power, and the division of power, is a thing that divides Sunni and Shia. At the New York Times, it wasn’t an issue that we had to address, but it is an issue that Iraq has to addressed, and that’s going to be an extremely difficult one to resolve, absent active religious friction.