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Why I'm Campaigning with a Democrat

By Sam Brownback

As a 13-year veteran of Washington, I understand first-hand the political bickering that constantly consumes any hope of productivity in Congress. Constantly, the fate of policy is dictated not by the best interests of our country but instead by whether the bill is being pushed by a Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal. To find overwhelming bipartisan consensus on any issue, especially a hot-button issue, is truly a rarity. Yet, a divided Congress is simply a reflection of our divided country.

However, the issue of Iraq is much too big for politics and is surely bigger then any party or upcoming election. After all, right or left, we are ALL Americans.

I witnessed this sentiment when my colleagues in the U.S. Senate, in a historic moment, voted 75 to 23 for a plan for Iraq that unites our country and, if implemented, would usher in a long-lasting free, safe, stable government in Iraq.

This plan wasn't pushed by members of one party. Instead, Senator Joe Biden and I, who are consistently on opposite ends politically on economic and social issues, worked together to build consensus to push the legislation forward and on to a resounding victory.

This is crucial: To achieve victory in Iraq we must be united at home not only behind our troops, but behind a durable plan for success that matches the realities on the ground.

And momentum continues to grow. Shortly after the historic vote in the Senate, I met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who indicated he strongly supported a federal Iraq.

Our plan is based on the concept of federalism.

Why federalism? To answer this question, we should look back at the very beginning of Iraq.

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire created a power vacuum in the Middle East. When World War I ended, Allied powers, especially the British, decided to reorganize the region's political geography. In Mesopotamia, the British combined big parts of three old Ottoman provinces to form what we now call Iraq. Those three Ottoman provinces were based on the same three ethno-sectarian groups we find in Iraq today: Kurds, Sunnis and Shi'a.

In other words, these groups have always dominated certain areas. Such history strongly suggests Iraq would be well-served by a federal system.

Three states within a single country, with Baghdad a united federal capital, provides a formula for enduring political stability in Iraq.

Such a political solution would reflect the historical organization of the territory of Mesopotamia, acknowledge the demographic and cultural realities of modern day Iraq and preserve the integrity and sovereignty of Iraq, as well as the nascent democracy that continues to develop and evolve.

The door is open to a federal political solution in Iraq: The Iraqi constitution permits the creation of federal regions.

It also recognizes the Kurdish region, which is already in place in the Iraqi north. I visited this area in January and was impressed, as it is basically stable and has a level of prosperity. The Kurdish regional government handles most of its own affairs, but it is still an important part of Iraq. We should strongly support the creation of Sunni and Shi'a regions to complete a federal system for Iraq.

Iraqis will not agree on federalism without strong and sustained support from the United States. But if we roll up our sleeves, we can demonstrate that federalism provides greater advantages for each Iraqi group than any other plan.

If we do not embrace the goal of federalism, we will end up being held hostage to the kind of endless debates between Iraqi political parties that have occurred over the last two years.

And the longer Iraq goes without political equilibrium, the bigger the risk of a total breakdown.

If Iraq implodes, we may see genocide and a regional conflict. Ironically, an implosion would probably end up creating three states by default. We should push for federalism now instead of waiting for further tragedy to dictate it for us.

We have little time, but given the momentum and bipartisan progress behind this plan, we have great hope.

This Friday, for the first time in the 2008 election cycle and in recent history, Senator Biden and I will remove our "R" and "D" labels and instead come together to further detail our plan for a secure, safe, stable Iraq. We will be campaigning in a place near and dear to the hearts of presidential hopefuls: Des Moines, Iowa. It is my hope that our appearance will resonate with the vast majority of voters in the heartland who don't want any particular party to win on the Iraq issue, but do want America to win.

Forget the politics. Forget the bickering.

Let us come together as a country and get behind a political plan that matches the tremendous military successes that our nation's finest and bravest have so valiantly fought for.

Let us remember that while we should be proud of our various political philosophies and party memberships, we should stand together as Americans first and foremost.

Sam Brownback is a U.S. Senator from Kansas and presidential candidate. He currently serves on the Appropriations, Judiciary, Joint Economic and Helsinki Committees.

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