Monday, June 25, 2007

White House Quietly Discussing Iraq "Decentralization" (Partition) With Congress

The Bush administration has begun exploring ways of offering Congress a compromise deal on Iraq policy to avert bruising battles in coming months, U.S. officials said.

With public support of the war dropping, President Bush has authorized an internal policy review to find a plan that could satisfy opponents without sacrificing his top goals, the officials said.

The president and senior officials "realize they can't keep fighting this over and over," said one administration official, who along with others declined to be identified because they weren't authorized to speak publicly or because decisions were pending.

The Republican White House has not opened formal negotiations with the Democratic-controlled Congress. But some senior administration officials — including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and U.N. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad — have been quietly talking with lawmakers about how to adjust policy in the months ahead. Among other ideas, they have discussed whether the United States should advocate a sharply decentralized Iraq, a notion that has seen a resurgence on Capitol Hill. ...

But whatever others in his administration are advocating, Bush has not embraced a drawdown in the absence of greater stability, administration officials emphasized.

The White House has opposed proposals in Congress to partition Iraq, or sharply decentralize its government.

That idea — what proponents of decentralization call a "federal system of government" — is favored by an unusually broad bipartisan group of senators. They were pulled together this month by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), a presidential candidate, to cosponsor a nonbinding resolution supporting the federalism plan.

And the administration stance may be easing. On a trip to Iraq about a week ago, Gates openly reflected that greater emphasis outside Baghdad might prove more effective. "Perhaps we have gotten too focused on the central government, and not enough on the provinces and on the tribes and what is happening in those areas," Gates told reporters.

And U.N. Ambassador Khalilzad, who was the U.S. ambassador to Iraq until April, has discussed the federalism plan with Biden and Biden's fellow sponsor and presidential hopeful Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), lawmakers said.

Khalilzad, in an interview, rejected the idea of imposing decentralization on the Iraqis, saying it could "backfire politically … if it's a 'made-in-Washington' kind of idea."

But Khalilzad said he favored the idea of U.N. officials helping Iraqis decide, in their current deliberations over their constitution, whether to choose a structure that would transfer power to the regions. "If they want to go that route, it's certainly an option," he said.

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