Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Maliki Makes a Concession to Basra Regionalism?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 10 May 2009 23:59

News reports from Basra suggest that Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has made an interesting concession to regionalist sentiment in the southern oil-export city of Basra. According to a statement by the spokesman of the new governor in Basra (who is also a Maliki ally), one half US dollar will henceforth be deducted from every barrel of oil exported from Basra and placed in a special development fund for Basra.

In some ways, the move could be seen as compatible with – and indeed inspired by – the 2005 constitution, where a general provision for a temporary positive discrimination of particularly deprived governorates through the use of oil revenue is found. Most statistical surveys single out Basra as the area of Iraq where living standards remain at the lowest level, in glaring contrast to the governorate’s position as the major oil producer and exporter in Iraq.

However, while the relevant constitutional clauses focus on deprivation, the link to Basra’s role as producer has other roots. The half-dollar deduction will meet a long-standing demand by Basra politicians that their area’s role as the kingpin of Iraq’s economy be reflected in some kind of special political privilege. Actually, back in December 2007, Basra politicians of the Fadila party proposed an arrangement which is remarkably similar to what is now being talked about as a governmental “decision”: Basra should receive one dollar per barrel of oil exported from the south. The difference between Fadila in 2007 and Maliki in 2009 of half a dollar can reasonably be attributed to the general decline in oil prices and a bit of bazaar-style haggling between centre and periphery.

While one incarnation of Basra regionalism was roundly rejected by the local citizens as they chose to ignore the federalism initiative headed by Wail Abd al-Latif in the winter of 2008/2009, the apparent decision of a centralist like Nuri al-Maliki to make concessions to local sentiment even after his particularly strong result in Basra in the January provincial elections testifies to its survival in other forms. One cannot help wondering, though, whether this is really a decision that the prime minister is in a position to make without at least a little consultation with the Iraqi parliament?

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