- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 8, 2006

Iraq Study Group co-chairman James A. Baker III yesterday denied reports suggesting that his government-advisory group would recommend breaking up Iraq along ethnic lines, saying such a move could “trigger a huge civil war.”

At the same time, Mr. Baker, who was secretary of state during the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War, agreed with assessments that Iraq has about “two or three months” to improve its security situation.

During an appearance yesterday on ABC’s “This Week,” Mr. Baker was asked whether a proposal by Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. for breaking up Iraq into semiautonomous regions is supported by members of the Iraq Study Group.

Mr. Biden, Delaware Democrat, recently told “This Week” moderator George Stephanopoulos that “he saw a lot of heads nodding in agreement” when he presented his plan to the group.

“A lot of the people we’ve talked to, particularly experts on Iraq, have suggested that, if we do that, that in itself will trigger a huge civil war because the major cities in Iraq are mixed,” Mr. Baker said.

A weekend report in the Times of London said the Iraq Study Group was prepared to deliver a recommendation to President Bush and Congress that would call for dividing Iraq into three mostly autonomous regions. The paper quoted a source close to the group as saying, “The Kurds already effectively have their own area. The federalisation of Iraq is going to take place one way or another. The challenge for the Iraqis is how to work that through.”

However, Mr. Baker appeared to reject such a proposal yesterday.

“There’s no way to draw lines between Sunnis, Shia and Kurds in the major cities of Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk. And furthermore, there are no boundaries between the Sunni areas and the Shi’ite areas in Iraq,” Mr. Baker said. “And the minute you say you’re going to do that and make three autonomous regions, you’re likely to kick off a big civil war.”

However, Mr. Baker also said his group has not rejected Mr. Biden’s proposal.

“We haven’t rejected a lot of suggestions. We simply haven’t concluded our report yet.”

During an appearance on CNN’s “Late Edition” yesterday, Mr. Biden said his plan was more reasonable than Mr. Bush’s Iraq strategy.

“I’m not a person calling for cut and run. The president of the United States has not given the military commanders all they’ve needed,” Mr. Biden said.

“The fact of the matter is, everyone from John Warner on,” he said referring to the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, “knows there’s a need for radical change in policy and a political settlement here. There needs to be a political solution.”

After his recent trip to Baghdad, Mr. Warner, Virginia Republican, said, “In two to three months’ time, if this thing hasn’t come to fruition and this government [is not] able to function, I think it’s a responsibility of our government internally to determine: Is there a change of course we should take?”

Although the Iraq Study Group is holding its findings until after the November elections, Mr. Baker has said he does not think an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq should be under consideration.

“I think that if we picked up and left right now that you would see the biggest civil war you’ve ever seen,” Mr. Baker said. “Every neighboring country would be involved in there, doing its own thing, Turkey, Iran, Syria, you name it, and even our friends in the Gulf. So I do not think that that is an option.”

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