Joe Biden—‘Good Friend’ of Masoud Barzani—becomes America’s 46th President
WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – Joe Biden took the oath of office on Wednesday to become the 46th president of the United States. He now represents the US president most informed about the Kurds, as his term in office begins.
In fact, Biden can claim to know the Kurds fairly well. As he told this reporter in late 2017 in a chance meeting at a local grocery store, “Masoud Barzani is a good friend of mine.”
“And I wished we could have done more for the Kurds,” Biden continued. “Why didn’t you?” I responded. “Turkey,” he replied.
Biden will be the first US president who, as he assumes office, knows the Kurdish leadership having met with them in Washington, as well as Erbil, which he visited in December 2002, when he chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) and as the US prepared for a war with Iraq that would begin a few months later, in March 2003.
In April 2016, when he was Vice-President, and as the Peshmerga, backed by the US-led Coalition, fought the so-called Islamic State, Biden returned to Erbil.
In fact, Biden is the first US president to have visited the Kurdistan Region at any point: before becoming president; during his presidency; or after it ended.
Indeed, “Joe Biden Will Be America’s Most Pro-Kurdish President.” is the title of an article in The National Interest, published in last August by Dr. Aykan Erdemir and Philip Kowalski, of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Thus, on Wednesday, Masrour Barzani, Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), tweeted his “warmest congratulations” to Biden and his new Vice-President, Kamala Harris, upon their assumption of office.
“I look forward to working closely with you to strengthen the KRG-US partnership and restore much-needed certainty to the region,” Barzani’s tweet stated.
Biden-Gelb Proposal on Iraqi Federalism
In 2006, Biden was the top Democratic senator on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC.) The war in Iraq was already faltering. With Leslie Gelb, then Chairman Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations after a distinguished career in government and journalism, Biden published an op-ed in The New York Times.
Biden and Gelb proposed decentralizing Iraq, “giving each ethno-religious group —Kurds, Sunni Arab, and Shia Arab—room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests.”
Each of the three regions would be “responsible for their own domestic laws, administration, and internal security,” they wrote, while “the central government would control border defense, foreign affairs and oil revenues,” and “Baghdad would become a federal zone.”
Iraq’s Arabs – Sunnis, as well as Shia – rejected the proposal as tantamount to the partition of Iraq. Yet today, over a decade later, it is clear that the Sunnis would have been much better off, if they had joined the Kurds in supporting the plan.
In 2007, Biden along with his SFRC colleague, Sen. Sam Brownback (R, Kansas), who chaired the committee’s Middle East subcommittee, sponsored a bipartisan, non-binding resolution advocating a decentralized, federal system for post-Saddam Iraq. It called for establishing three autonomous regions, in accord with Iraq’s 2005 constitution: Kurdish, Sunni Arab, and Shia Arab.
The resolution passed overwhelmingly, by a vote of 75 to 23. It was hailed by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which issued a statement, affirming, “The people of Kurdistan, who have struggled for decades to achieve democracy and freedom, see in federalism the promise of stability and freedom from dictatorial regimes. We welcome this significant resolution in support of federalism, which guarantees the survival of Iraq on the basis of voluntary union.”
Significant uncertainties now hang over Iraq’s future. The war there was never the “cakewalk” that some initially predicted. Depending on the course of events, reviving the notion of federalism might come to be seen as Washington’s best policy option. Certainly, the president will be very familiar with it!
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany