By Reidar Visser.
The following article was published by Reidar Visser, an historian of Iraq educated at the University of Oxford. It is reproduced here with the author’s permission. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
With Iraqi political turmoil once more making headlines in the United States, an article in the National Journal has appeared with the headline, “Turns Out, Joe Biden Was Right about Dividing Iraq”.
The article uses as its point of departure the claim made by former defence secretary Robert Gates that Biden was wrong about every single important issue in US foreign policy. It then goes on to counter this by referring to the various “plans for Iraq” that Biden propagated as an oppositionist during the days of the Bush administration, particularly between 2006 and 2008.
These plans are difficult to characterize because they changed a good deal over time as Biden’s ideas developed, and as a consequence they have also been misrepresented. In their minimum version, the plans involved an internationally sponsored conference that would somehow use the framework of the Iraqi constitution to subdivide the country into federal provinces. Biden claimed he kept an open mind about the eventual number of provinces.
He “guessed” it would be three (a Kurdish, a Shiite Arab and a Sunni Arab one) but he gradually became more open-minded regarding the exact number and has often been misrepresented on this. Rather, the most noteworthy characteristics of the Biden approach to federalism in Iraq was that he expected a settlement that would take place as a one-off conference of political elites, and that it would be “comprehensive”, thus subdividing the entire country in federal entities.
Among the many problems with the Biden plan back then was that it usurped the provisions for federalism outlined in the Iraqi constitution adopted with US support in October 2005. The whole point of the federalism clauses in the Iraqi constitution is that development towards federal entities will be an uneven process, with different timelines for different parts of the country according to their level of economic and institutional development.