Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Two Very Different Takes on Centralism

Posted by Reidar Visser on Saturday, 20 September 2008 16:41

Diverging opinions on the virtues of centralism as a principle of government have created tensions between the Daawa party and ISCI for some time, yet without escalating to the point where their alliance appears to have been under serious threat as such.

It is nevertheless interesting that over the past two days, the two opposing poles have expressed their conflicting views on the issue with almost perfect synchronisation. In an interview in al-Hayat, Nuri al-Maliki largely reiterated his position on federalism along the lines he described it an earlier interview back in November 2007: federalism is a constitutional option, but not something that should threaten the potency of the centralised state. Conversely, ISCI’s Jalal al-Din al-Saghir expressed the exact opposite attitude in Friday prayers yesterday, describing “centralism” as a distinguishing feature of the old Baathist regime.

There can be little doubt that to Daawa, centralism remains a positive concept while to ISCI, it has negative connotations. This is interesting, because at least since the release of the main draft of the oil law in early 2007 it has been plausible to ask whether ISCI pursues a centralist plan B as an alternative to its severely criticised scheme for a large federal Shiite region south of Baghdad. As of today, it seems as if ISCI still has some internal debating to do before the party can be at ease with the idea of centralism in the same way as the Iraqi premier and some of the circles around him. Oil minister Husayn al-Shahristani, for example, seems to belong to the latter camp in this question: In an interview in today’s Al-Sharq al-Awsat he criticises the Kurds for obstinacy with regard to the oil law and contends that the only option left to “the Baghdad government” would be to revert to Saddam-time legislation. The symbolic significance of this kind of adoption of Baathist centralism by the new Shiite-dominated regime would be quite considerable.

Importantly, though, others see it in a different ways: in the context of the stalled debate over the provincial elections law and military operations by the central government in Diyala, Kurdish politician Qadir Aziz today speaks about a conspiracy against the Kurdish cause and he mentions both ISCI and Daawa as part of that conspiracy.

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