Wichita Eagle: Brownback, Biden reject Iraq status quo

In Case You Missed It


The Wichita Eagle

Oct. 12, 2007

Brownback, Biden reject Iraq status quo

Most observers agree: Ending the Iraq war and stabilizing the country will require a political -- not military -- solution. That's why the Iraq partition plan being presented today in Iowa by Sens. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Joseph Biden, D-Del., is so significant.

In a presidential campaign largely devoid of new ideas on Iraq, candidates Biden and Brownback have offered a bold, serious proposal for achieving political reconciliation -- not just in Iraq but at home, too.

Under the Biden-Brownback plan, Iraq would be split into three semiautonomous regions -- largely Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite -- with a weak central government to handle the distribution of oil revenue and other national concerns.

The selling point of the plan is the political reality on the ground in Iraq: The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki simply isn't working -- in fact, it's "dysfunctional," according to U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker.

The prospects for progress on this front are dismal.

Against this backdrop, the U.S. Senate two weeks ago endorsed the plan in a nonbinding vote -- a remarkable expression of bipartisan support for a new political strategy in Iraq.

The Bush administration has strongly opposed it, though, saying it could invite more civil chaos and bloodshed as well as the intervention of neighboring states such as Iran.

It's true that the Biden-Brownback plan contains inherent weaknesses and risks. But there will be no perfect, tidy solution for the Iraq mess. And there might need to be political risks taken to move the parties off dead center.

The biggest obstacle to the plan is the widespread opposition of Iraqis themselves. "Dividing Iraq is a problem," al-Maliki said recently, "and a decision like that would be a catastrophe."

Biden says al-Maliki and other Iraqi leaders misunderstand his proposal -- it's not about forcing a hard partition along sectarian lines onto Iraq. Rather, it "calls for keeping Iraq together by bringing to life the federal system enshrined in its constitution."

Brownback echoed that assessment, saying, "Really, it's to keep the country together and away from civil war."

Some Iraqis, citing those goals, have endorsed the idea, most notably President Jalal Talabani.

Of course, if Iraqis don't want federalism, then the plan is moot. But it could at least be a way to get Iraqis back to the table to determine their country's future.

Biden and Brownback deserve credit for rejecting the failed status quo in Iraq and highlighting the need for a political solution. In an Iraq debate bogged down along partisan lines, they are showing that Democrats and Republicans can work together to find common ground.

If that's possible, maybe there's hope for Iraq's squabbling politicians.

For the editorial board, Randy Scholfield

© 2007 Wichita Eagle and wire service sources.