US senator urges decentralised Iraq

A prominent US senator proposed on Monday that Iraq be divided into three regions - Kurdish, Shia and Sunni - with a central government in Baghdad.

    Biden wants more autonomy for Iraq's regions (file)

    In an op-ed essay in Monday's edition of The New York Times, Joseph Biden, the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote that the idea "is to maintain a united Iraq by decentralising it, giving each ethno-religious group ... room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests."

    The new Iraqi constitution allows for establishment of self-governing regions. But that was one of the reasons the Sunnis opposed the constitution and why they demanded and won an agreement to review it this year.

    Biden and co-writer Leslie H. Gelb, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, acknowledged the opposition and said the Sunnis "have to be given money to make their oil-poor region viable. The Constitution must be amended to guarantee Sunni areas 20 percent (approximately their proportion of the population) of all revenues."

    Biden and Gelb also wrote that the president, George Bush, "must direct the military to design a plan for withdrawing and redeploying our troops from Iraq by 2008 (while providing for a small but effective residual force to combat terrorists and keep the neighbors honest)."

    Criticism

    The White House on Sunday defended its prewar planning against criticism from an unlikely source - Colin Powell, a former secretary of state.

    In an interview broadcast on Sunday in London, Powell revisited the question of whether the US had a large enough force to oust Saddam Hussein and then secure the peace.

    Powell said he advised now-retired General Tommy Franks, who developed and executed the 2003 Iraq invasion plan, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld "before the president that I was not sure we had enough troops. The case was made, it was listened to, it was considered. ... A judgment was made by those responsible that the troop strength was adequate."

    Condoleezza Rice, the current secretary of state who was Bush's national security adviser at the time of the invasion, responded, "I don't remember specifically what Secretary Powell may be referring to, but I'm quite certain that there were lots of discussions about how best to fulfill the mission that we went into Iraq.

    "And I have no doubt that all of this was taken into consideration. But that when it came down to it, the president listens to his military advisers who were to execute the plan," she told CNN's "Late Edition."

    Bush strategy

    In their essay on Monday, Biden and Gelb wrote: "It is increasingly clear that President Bush does not have a strategy for victory in Iraq. Rather, he hopes to prevent defeat and pass the problem along to his successor."

    Powell was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the 1991 Gulf War and is known for his belief in deploying decisive force with a clear exit strategy in any conflict.

    "The president's military advisers felt that the size of the force was adequate; they may still feel that years later. Some of us don't. I don't," Powell said. "In my perspective, I would have preferred more troops, but you know, this conflict is not over."

    "At the time, the president was listening to those who were supposed to be providing him with military advice," Powell said. "They were anticipating a different kind of immediate aftermath of the fall of Baghdad; it turned out to be not exactly as they had anticipated."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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