Setting the Record Straight on Federalism in Iraq

Last week, the Senate overwhelmingly approved the Biden-Brownback amendment to the Defense Authorization bill, which says it should be U.S. policy to support a political settlement in Iraq based upon the principles of federalism. The 75-23 bi-partisan vote, including 26 Republicans, marked the first time this year that the Senate has passed an Iraq-related policy measure.

Since then, some political leaders in Iraq have misunderstood the amendment. Instead of working to clear up any misunderstandings about the Senate amendment, the U.S. embassy in Baghdad issued a statement that dangerously mischaracterizes it.

Let's set the record straight:

First, the Biden-Brownback amendment does not call for the partition of Iraq. To the contrary, it calls for keeping Iraq together by bringing to life the federal system enshrined in its Constitution. Partition, or the complete break-up of Iraq, is something wholly different than federalism. A federal Iraq is a united Iraq, but one in which power is devolved to regional governments with a limited central government responsible for protecting Iraq's borders and oil distribution. It leaves the door open for stronger unity if and when passions cool, as we're seeing in the Balkans. Nor does the amendment call for dividing Iraq along sectarian lines. Rather, it calls for helping Iraqis implement their own Constitution, which provides for any of Iraq's 18 provinces to form regions and sets out the extensive powers of those regions and the limited powers of the central government. The result could be three regions, or four or five or more. It will be up to the Iraqi people.

Second, the amendment is not a foreign imposition. Iraqis already have made the decision to decentralize in their Constitution and federalism law. My amendment is about what the United States should do to help promote a political settlement consistent with these Iraqi decisions. Again, it will be up to the Iraqis. But the idea that the United States -- with 160,000 troops in Iraq, 3,804 dead and nearly 28,000 wounded -- does not have a right and responsibility to voice its views and to push for a political settlement is absurd.

Third, the amendment will not produce "bloodshed and suffering" in Iraq. It is hard to imagine more bloodshed and suffering than we've already seen, which has been exacerbated by the failure of Iraq's leaders to stop sectarian violence and produce a durable, widely accepted political settlement. More than 4 million Iraqis have already fled their homes for fear of sectarian violence, at a rate now of 100,000 every month. The whole purpose of my amendment is to end that bloodshed and suffering by promoting a power sharing arrangement that meets the interests of all Iraqis and gives them more local control over their daily lives.

The Bush administration is pursuing a fatally flawed policy in trying to create a strong central government in Iraq. There has been no significant reconciliation at the national level and there is no evidence that it will happen any time soon. Insisting on this failed approach will prolong and deepen Iraq's civil war, lead to a wider regional war, and irresponsibly increase the danger to over 160,000 American troops who are caught in the middle.

A few weeks ago I met top officials in Iraq -- Sunni, Shi'a and Kurdish. All of them expressed to me their support for federalism as called for in the Iraqi Constitution and its federalism law.

I believe my plan offers the best chance for the U.S. to leave Iraq without leaving chaos behind. You can read more about my plan at