Death of the Biden plan for decentralizing Iraq

Wladimir van Wilgenburg – Rudaw   14.4.2013 – Are the United States & Turkey set for a collision course over the future of Iraq?

In 2006, when Joe Biden was still a US senator, he advocated a plan for decentralizing Iraq and granting the Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis their own semi-autonomous regions. But since becoming vice president in 2009, he denies such a plan. The current US administration has been highly supportive of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government, which refuses to countenance decentralization, and chafes at the autonomy granted to the Kurds in northern Iraq following the 2003 US-led invasion.

Turkey, on the other hand, appears to support greater decentralization, along the lines once spelled out by Biden. Ankara is engaged in historic peace talks with its separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), based on an alleged plan by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan for a Turkish-Kurdish federation. That would mean that the Kurds of Iraq, Syria and Turkey would ally with Ankara against Baghdad, Teheran and Damascus. It would also mean that, although the Kurds of Iraq would share the revenues from their vast energy resources with Baghdad, they would be free of Baghdad’s pressures.

But does the US opposition to a federal Iraq threaten the PKK-Turkey peace process?

On a visit to Washington two Iraqi MPs, the Kurdish Khalid Shwani and Sunni-backed Haydar al-Mulla, failed to generate any interest in the Biden plan, which is backed both by the Kurds and parts of the Sunni community, who are close to Turkey.

Sami al-Askari, an MP from Maliki’s State of Law party, declared that Biden is no longer involved in the plan to partition Iraq. In a recent opinion article in the Washington Post, Maliki emphasized that in Iraq, the United States has found a partner for common efforts in energy, economics, peace and democracy. The article was praised by US spokesperson Patrick Ventrell. In his speeches, US Secretary of State John Kerry has opposed any direct oil export deals between Turkey and the KRG. Now, the US continually emphasizes that the unity of Iraq should not be threatened, while Turkey and its prime minister appear to favor that Iraqi Kurds gain greater independence from Baghdad. Ankara is harking back to its Ottoman times, when the Kurds were given more autonomy in exchange for support against the Shiite Safavids in neighboring Iran.

Before the US invasion a decade ago, Turkey worried about the disintegration of Iraq. Now, as it eyes the energy wealth of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region — which it needs to fuel its growing economy — Turkey is more supportive of federalism.

According to newspaper reports, the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq might finish its 300,000-barrel-per-day pipeline to Turkey this summer, allowing companies to entirely bypass Baghdad’s control over exports. With the death of the Biden plan and clear US opposition to the decentralization of Iraq, will the West and the United States also oppose alleged plans by the PKK and Turkey to create a Kurdish-Turkish federation, on grounds that this could push Baghdad even closer to Shiite Iran.  While the US still harbors hope it can maintain its influence in Iraq by keeping it together and centralized in order to combat Iranian influence, Turkey appears to have given up hope on the Iraqi prime minister.