Washington Implicitly criticizing the Bush administration's reliance on the Iraqi central government to unify the country, the U.S. Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly endorsed the decentralization of Iraq into semi-autonomous regions.
The nonbinding measure sponsored by Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del. - which supports a so-called "federal system" that would divide Iraq into sectarian-dominated regions - won unusually broad bipartisan support, passing 75-23.
It attracted 26 Republicans, 47 Democrats and both independents.
"Slowly but surely we're building a consensus in the Congress around a way forward in Iraq," said Biden, who worked with conservatives, such as Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and liberals, such as Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to get the measure through. "That is a very hopeful sign
After the vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., cast it as an indictment of President Bush's war strategy, although the measure will not compel the administration to do anything differently. Reid has failed all year to win substantial GOP support for measures challenging current White House policy in Iraq.
Biden's proposal, which he outlined a year and a half ago, was once dismissed by the Bush administration and many on Capitol Hill as an unworkable and irresponsible prescription for breaking apart Iraq. But as the government of Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki has stumbled in its efforts to unify the country's warring religious and ethnic communities, the idea of a decentralized country divided among Kurds, Sunni and Shiites has taken on new currency.
Kurds already have a largely autonomous entity in northern Iraq with a separate president and parliament. And the Bush administration's new emphasis on "bottom-up" efforts to create a civil society, such as those it has touted among Sunni tribal leaders in al- Anbar province, have been seen as a de facto endorsement of a more decentralized approach in Iraq.
The White House reacted tersely, however, and noted that the measure conditions the policy change on the agreement of Iraqis. "The amendment recognizes that Iraqis will be the ones that make decisions about their political future," National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in a statement. "It also reiterates the importance of bottom-up reconciliation."