Sen. Biden Offers Plan to Split Iraq into Regions

U.S. Sen. Joseph Biden, (D-DE), calls the Bush policy in Iraq a failure and calls on Iraq to be divided into three separate regions: Kurd, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab. Alex Chadwick talks with the ranking democrat on the Senate's Foreign Affairs Committee about his proposal.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick. In a few minutes the music of Afghanistan. First, this. The ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joe Biden, today is offering a new proposal for Iraq. He's made a speech in Philadelphia and has an opinion piece in today's New York Times, suggesting the country be split into three zones, one for the Shiites, one for the Sunnis, one for the Kurds. And that the three retain a federal government to handle some functions. Senator Biden joins us by phone.

Senator Biden, welcome to the program. How's my summary of your plan? Is it basically...?

Senator JOSEPH BIDEN (Democrat, Delaware): Well, I think it's a little inaccurate. The only -- I call for a strong central government and the Iraqi Constitution already calls for a Federation, that there be a semiautonomous region in the north with the Kurds and that the Shia have a similar option.

My call is to give the Sunnis the opportunity to buy into a federated Iraq by providing them the resources from oil revenues, a percentage of them, in order to be able to do what we did in Dayton in the Balkans. You remember, we set apart those three separate regions in order for them to have breathing room to come together.

CHADWICK: You are suggesting in this piece that indeed the Sunnis be guaranteed within the Constitution 20 percent of oil revenues. You call this a kind of irresistible deal sweetener for them, but nothing so far has been sweet enough to lure them in, although they are guaranteed positions in the government and a great deal of power.

Senator BIDEN: That's the whole notion here. The whole notion is that it's no longer the insurgency our military men will tell you that they're worried about. What they worry about is the sectarian violence moving to a civil war. So what incentive with a powerful South and a powerful North, who are basically independent from the central government, do the Shia have to sign onto this notion and give up the insurgency? This is a way to end the insurgency. And I might point out--

CHADWICK: Do the Sunnis have, yes.

Senator BIDEN: Excuse me, the Sunnis, to buy in. And might point out, there is no plan that exists now for disbanding of the militias. So you have these massive militias in the Shia area and significant militias in the North. So what guarantee do the Sunnis have that it's in their interest to, in fact, sign on even though they may get a couple of ministers?

CHADWICK: Mr. Bush was speaking about this at the White House today with an appearance by Secretary of State Rice and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, both of them just back from Iraq. Here's what Mr. Bush had to say in the Rose Garden with the two Secretaries by his side.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: This nation of ours and our coalition partners are going to work with the new leadership to strengthen our mutual efforts to achieve success, a victory in this war on terror. This is -- we believe this is a turning point for the Iraqi citizens, and it's a new chapter in our partnership.

CHADWICK: Senator Biden, in your New York Times piece with your co-author Leslie Gelb, the President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, you say Mr. Bush's strategy at this point in Iraq is to avoid defeat until 2008 and then hand the problem over to someone else. Is that a little harsh?

Senator BIDEN: No, it's not harsh at all. If you notice, what is the plan for victory? There is no plan, it seems to me, in order to be able to meet our twin goals, which is to bring American forces home and leave behind a relatively stable government. Not trade a dictator for chaos.

CHADWICK: What about American troop levels under your plan, sir?

Senator BIDEN: Troop levels in our plan calls for the withdrawal of American --the redeployment of American troops by 2008, giving our military 18 months to rationally plan and to get support for this alternative that I am putting forward, which does rely upon two things. The Constitution of the Iraqi people, already ratified, called for each of the 18 governing provinces within Iraq to be able to join based on regions. That is already in the Constitution.

Secondly, it also calls for the need for a unity government in order to implement the larger proposals here, which require a regional conference and a buy-in of the parties in the region to not interfere in the internal affairs of the Iraqi people.

CHADWICK: Senator Joe Biden of Delaware. Thank you for speaking with us, sir.

Senator BIDEN: All right, bye bye.

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