BAGHDAD - The Associated Press
The choice of U.S. Senator Joe Biden as the Democratic vice presidential candidate drew mixed reviews in Iraq because of his call two years ago to divide the country into autonomous regions along sectarian and ethnic lines.
Biden, who was tapped by Senator Barack Obama as his running mate because of his foreign policy experience, proposed in a 2006 op-ed article in The New York Times that Iraq should be divided into separate Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni regions to defuse the wave of sectarian violence sweeping the country then.
The proposal drew sharp criticism at the time, especially from Sunni Arabs who opposed autonomy provisions that were written into the Iraqi constitution in 2005.
"Basically, this is an internal American affair, but it is giving us cause for concern because Biden was clear in his calls to divide Iraq according to sectarian and ethnic lines," Sunni lawmaker Adnan al-Dulaimi told The Associated Press on Saturday.
"We have hoped that Obama would have chosen another politician," al-Dulaimi said. "Obama's policy on Iraq is ambiguous and the choice of this person leads us to be more worried."
A spokesman for anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who controls 30 seats in the 275-member parliament, said he doubted the Biden proposal would become American policy even if the Democrats win the November election.
Anyway, Biden's project is rejected by most of the Iraqi people now and in the future," the spokesman, Liwa Smeism, said.
Kurds have enjoyed widespread autonomy in their three-province northern region since 1991. Some major Shiite parties would like a similar region to be established in the oil-rich, Shiite-dominated south.
Kurdish elder statesman Mahmoud Othman, however, said he was never impressed by the Biden proposal.
"I think that Obama chose him because he has wide knowledge and experience in the foreign issues and politics, but regarding Iraq, Biden has limited knowledge because of his proposal to divide Iraq," Othman said.
"I think that Biden, if he becomes vice president, will not have a big influence regarding the map of Iraq because it is the Iraqi people who will have the last say about their future," he said.
In the 2006 article, Biden and co-author Leslie Gelb said the proposal was aimed at maintaining "a united Iraq by decentralizing it" so that each major sectarian and ethnic group would have "room to run its own affairs."But Iraq has a long history as a centralized state, and concepts such as federalism and regional autonomy have proven a hard sell.