Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Baghdad, District of the Green Zone??

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 8 January 2009 23:59

The debate about Iraq’s state structure rarely fails to make perplexing twists and turns, and the latest discussion concerning the status of Baghdad as Iraq’s capital city is no exception. In a scheme reported by several Arabic news media, local politicians in the Baghdad governorate council have presented the vision of the Green Zone as the future federal capital of Iraq – on pattern of the special status that Washington, D.C. has in the US system of government, with the rest of the governorate presumably acquiring a “normal” status (and with small chunks of neighbouring city quarters being annexed).

One would perhaps have thought that this kind of scheme could have originated with ISCI, the only party among the Shiites that has spoken out in defence of sectarian models of federalism, because theoretically it might then become easier for any future Shiite federal region to eat into parts of Baghdad. ISCI members have distinguished themselves in the Iraqi federalism debate earlier also by highlighting the option of federalising Baghdad as a standalone unit (it is constitutionally barred from becoming part of any other region under the current system). And, indeed, ISCI’s provincial council head in Baghdad, Mu‘in al-Kazimi, has been among the foremost promoters of these new ideas.

More surprising, however, is it to find Daawa member Salah Abd al-Razzaq speaking positively about this kind of project. Only months ago, he was in the media spotlight as the Daawa decided to contest the forthcoming 31 January local elections on a separate list from ISCI, not least because of disagreement between the now more centralist Daawa and the strongly pro-federal ISCI. Back then, many “centralist” independents in the United Iraqi Alliance camp that are believed to be in regular touch with Sistani, such as Husayn al-Shahristani and Safa al-Din al-Safi, chose Maliki’s side rather than Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim’s. But now also Abd al-Razzaq from Maliki’s group has signalled interest in the “federal district” plan.

It is hard to see how the scheme fits with the 2005 constitution, where even in a general tendency of extreme concessions to the centrifugal forces in Iraq at least the concept of an undivided capital seems to survive. Baghdad “with its municipal borders” is the capital of the Republic of Iraq “and shall make up the governorate of Baghdad”. One can understand the dilemma of local councillors who feel that urban development may not receive the attention it requires when the governorate of Baghdad is also tasked with matters relating to the infrastructure of the federal government, but Baghdad has such a symbolic position as the nation’s capital that any tinkering with its status is likely to meet with considerable scepticism among the Iraqi public at large. An initial challenge would be to find a reasonable name for the new creation.

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