The following article was published by Reidar Visser, an historian of Iraq educated at the University of Oxford and currently based at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. 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.
Finally, Some Good Sunni Federalism: Are You Happy Now, Joe?
US Vice President Joe Biden has visited Iraq many times, with many different messages.
Back in 2007, Biden travelled to the Sunni-majority governorate of Anbar in search of federalists. He wanted to fill a glaring lacuna in his wonderful plan for a tripartite Iraq: Real Sunnis that were ready to forget about Baghdad and focus on local provincial politics instead. He was unable to find any takers.
It was not for lack of trying, though. Here is what Biden told Anbar leaders at the time:
“In the early days of America’s republic, the United States were not united. No one wanted a strong central government. We built one country by bringing problems and responsibilities down to the local and regional level, as you are doing here in al Anbar. Like you, we found that by giving people control over the fabric of their daily lives – security, education, jobs – government was more responsive to the needs of the people. And the people began to focus more on what united them than on what divided them. Once people regain control of their lives locally, they are more inclined to think nationally.”
Still in the autumn of 2008, as the US presidential campaign was heating up and Biden emerged as the running mate of Barack Obama, he seemed to favour federalism for Iraq. More than that, in remarks that seemed based on a cosmology in which Sunnis are incurably allergic to Shiites and vice versa, Biden even claimed that his own ideas from 2006-2007 were beginning to find resonance in Iraq:
“No. The surge helped make that–what made is possible in Anbar province is they did what I’d suggested two and a half years ago: gave local control. They turned over and they said to the Sunnis in Anbar province, 'We promise you, don’t worry, you’re not going to have any Shia in here. There’s going to be no national forces in here. We’re going to train your forces to help you fight al-Qaeda.' And that you–what you had was the awakening.”