Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for April, 2007

Towards a Political Earthquake in Basra?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 27 April 2007 15:49

The political situation in Basra has been tumultuous for some time. But for the first time since January 2005, serious questions have emerged about the internal stability of the governing coalition in Iraq’s most important oil city.

In January 2005, the Fadila party won control of the provincial council in Basra, by establishing an alliance with three other parties and thereby sidelining the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Until now, the junior coalition partners have stood shoulder to shoulder with Fadila during its various challenges – whether from SCIRI, the central government, or, more recently, from Basra supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr. The Harakat al-Daawa (a breakaway faction of the Daawa movement) has been particularly supportive of Fadila’s campaign to establish Basra as a small-scale federal region, either on its own, or along with its two neighbouring governorates.

This week, there have been claims that Fadila’s three coalition partners (the secular Wifaq, Harakat al-Daawa and another “independent” Islamist party) have entered into a new “moderate” alliance (Al-Wasat), separate from both Fadila and SCIRI. This coincided with renewed calls by SCIRI for the Fadila governor of Basra to resign. Importantly, today, sources supposedly speaking for the newly formed Wasat have told reporters that they too demand the governor’s resignation.

If confirmed, this could mean the end of Fadila rule in Basra. However, according to Iraqi law (which in this case means CPA order no. 71 on local government), dismissing the governor would require a two-thirds majority, or 28 out of 41 assembly seats. Currently, SCIRI with its coalition partners control around 20 seats, and the newly formed Wasat bloc holds 9 seats – if the bloc exists, that is. In other words, the entire Wasat coalition would have to abandon Fadila if any change were to be brought about.

There is much to suggest that there is not yet any consensus on this: the “sources” from al-Wasat were unnamed, and Fadila sources deny that any move to unseat the governor is underway. In fact, one of the putative Wasat members (the Tajammu‘ ‘Iraq al-Mustaqbal, which holds two seats on the local council) denied having any connection whatsoever with the new “bloc”. SCIRI will probably try to play up the confused situation as much as possible, but until there is a clear two-thirds majority opposed to Fadila, the current governor may well survive in his somewhat precarious position.

Posted in Basra and southern regionalism, UIA dynamics | Comments Off on Towards a Political Earthquake in Basra?

Baghdad Zoo: Why “Gated Communities” Will Face Opposition in the Iraqi Capital

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 23 April 2007 18:59

More than four years after the start of the Iraq War, the US military’s latest attempt to improve security in Baghdad by way of constructing concrete walls around sectarian enclaves in the Iraqi capital raises serious questions about Washington’s priorities in its Iraq policy… Full story here.

Posted in Iraq and soft partition, Sectarian master narrative, US policy in Iraq: Leverage issues | Comments Off on Baghdad Zoo: Why “Gated Communities” Will Face Opposition in the Iraqi Capital

Mysterious Southern Regionalists Cause a Stir in Baghdad

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 15 April 2007 15:40

A conference held in Baghdad on 14 April by members of the Council for the Region of the South (Majlis Iqlim al-Janub) has attracted some interest in the pan-Arab press. The council works for the establishment of a southern region limited to Basra, Maysan and Dhi Qar that would create a wedge internally among the Shiites by concentrating all the oil wealth in a single region and leaving six Shiite governorates without any oil.

The pan-Arab press has focused on negative reactions to the project among Iraqi parliamentarians, as could perhaps be predicted. Historically, even Shiite politicians from Baghdad and Najaf have been uneasy about the zest for autonomy among the population of the far south. Thus it is unsurprising that Ali al-Adib of the Daawa party should criticise the movement and its timing, although the manner in which he did so is quite remarkable: he said that such conferences should not come about without prior agreement with governmental and parliamentarian forces. That sort of comment is of course antithetical to the “federalism from below” spirit of the Iraqi constitution (where regions are to be created by popular initiatives rather than by national politicians), but is perhaps another sign that parliamentarians are ambivalent about the powers they theoretically have ceded in this manner – the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution of Iraq (SCIRI) has so far been prominent in trying to impose a federal vision “from above”, namely, that of all the nine Shiite-majority regions south of Baghdad. Negative reactions from Sunni Islamists (who refer to the ongoing process of revising the Iraqi constitution) and “Sadrists” (who on this occasion continue to construe federalism as a plot to partition Iraq) are more in line with expectations, although it is noteworthy that the “Sadrist” press comment was delivered by a Fadila MP from Basra – which could be indicative of the ongoing tension between centralist and regionalist wings inside the Fadila, or a case of a defection from Fadila to the supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr. (The media tend to use the term “Sadrists” for the latter only. Conflict between the two groups have surged in Basra lately.)

The goals of the southern regionalists are well known. They have been pursued for more than two years, primarily by the Fadila party, but also by some secularists in Basra and by tribal leaders in Maysan and Dhi Qar (for background, see for instance ) The interesting aspect about this story is the identity of the regionalists in question. No names are given in the most recent press report, but an organisation with an identical name was founded in Nasiriyya in May last year – so far without attracting much attention from outsiders. Intriguingly, the leading figures behind that move were from SCIRI, Daawa and various smaller political groups in Nasiriyya. The Sadrists and Fadila were not represented. Of course, the central leadership of SCIRI favours a project which competes with the Region of the South (three governorates) – the far bigger Region of the Centre and the South (nine governorates), and as such the SCIRI-led organisation in favour of a small-scale south at first comes across as an astonishing contradiction.

There are at least two possible explanations. Firstly, regional sentiment in the far south of Iraq is very pronounced and often overrides the ideology of the central leadership of the national parties. This has been seen in Fadila (which has always been more localist in Basra), Daawa, among the Sadrists of Maysan (who sometimes employ regionalist rhetoric in the context of oil), and even among SCIRI members in Basra (some of whom continued to focus on Basra and the far south even after the central leadership had declared a single Shiite region as their goal.) The Nasiriyya-based Council for the Region of the South could be yet another example of regionalist sentiment cutting across ideological affiliations. Alternatively, this may be another instance of a phenomenon seen elsewhere in the south, where SCIRI have created “copycat” organisations in order to gain a foothold in a region where they traditionally have had problems. In Maysan, for instance, there are two Hizbollahs, one tribal and quite secularist, another pro-SCIRI and more Islamist. SCIRI are clearly trying to capitalise on the ongoing tension in the Sadrist camp in Basra between Fadila and followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, and theoretically this latest move by the Council for the Region of the South could have to do with another attempt at breaking down resistance to SCIRI in the far south, by co-opting and diluting it. The fact that the foundation of Majlis Iqlim al-Janub back in 2006 was widely reported in SCIRI and Badr media might suggest that the latter interpretation is the more plausible one.

Posted in Basra and southern regionalism, Shiite sectarian federalism | Comments Off on Mysterious Southern Regionalists Cause a Stir in Baghdad

Unitary State, Federalism or Partition: Poll Data Give Mixed Picture of Iraq South of Baghdad

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 10 April 2007 15:57

A recent poll commissioned by the BBC, ABC News, and other leading news organisations has produced a wealth of interesting data on Iraqi public opinion as of early 2007, including views on the ideal state structure for Iraq in the future… Full story here.

Posted in Shiite sectarian federalism, US policy in Iraq: Leverage issues | Comments Off on Unitary State, Federalism or Partition: Poll Data Give Mixed Picture of Iraq South of Baghdad