- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Congressional Democrats yesterday shied away from Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s call to divide Iraq into three regions to make way for a U.S. troop withdrawal by 2008.

“You can’t just do it; you have to arrive at agreements to do it,” said Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat. “That requires diplomacy and symmetry.”

Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, agreed.

“The facts are that Iraq has always been three regions. I’m not certain that we can dictate that to them,” he said. “We always get into trouble when we try to dictate a solution. Perhaps we can work with other countries to set up frameworks, but it’s really going to have to be up to them.”

Mr. Biden of Delaware has called for dividing Iraq into regions of Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds, with a loose central government run out of Baghdad.

This would preserve Iraq as a “unified country” and allow all but a small force of U.S. troops to “responsibly withdraw” by 2008, said Mr. Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.

The senator has said he is interested in running for president in 2008.

The plan was met by skepticism because Sunnis, who ran the country during Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, are against dividing the nation. Iraq analysts said implementing such a plan would be a logistical nightmare, and the Bush administration opposes the idea.

The Democrats carefully avoided criticizing Mr. Biden, but national Republicans did not hold back.

“It’s disappointing that less than two weeks after the formation of Iraq’s new unity government, Joe Biden already is suggesting short-circuiting the Democratic process,” said Tracey Schmitt, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, called Mr. Biden “very wise” but said his idea “sounds like a challenge that could lead to other challenges.”

“We should never have started this war in the first place. If that was a good suggestion, maybe somebody could have made it early on,” she said.

Under the Biden plan, the Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish regions would be independently responsible for their own laws, security and administration. A weaker central government would police the borders and run foreign affairs and oil revenues.

Mr. Biden said a similar division worked in Bosnia when Muslims, Croats and Serbs were allowed to maintain separate armies.

Mr. Kerry, who ran for president in 2004, said he prefers holding a summit to craft the right solution for Iraq.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said members of his party agree on one thing: “This year something significant has to be done.”

Actress and anti-war activist Susan Sarandon, on Capitol Hill for a Christopher Reeve Foundation rally, also was skeptical of Mr. Biden’s proposal.

“We’ve invested in these very serious permanent bases over there. I don’t know that there’s any plan to ever end that war,” she said.

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