Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for June 28th, 2011

Nujayfi’s Separatist Threat and the Reactions

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 28 June 2011 18:50

One sentence in an interview with Al-Hurra by parliament speaker Usama al-Nujayfi – a leading member of the Iraqiyya coalition – has created a wave of reactions in Iraq. In the interview given at the conclusion of his visit to the United States, Nujayfi alluded to the possibility of a “Sunni separation” from Iraq  unless there was improvement in the political situation.

Although there have been growing calls in the Sunni-majority areas for territorially based concessions  over the past year or so – many demand more rights for the governorates and some call for the establishment of federal regions – Nujayfi’s hint about a possible fully-fledged separation “of the Sunnis” is unprecedented. Firstly because separation in itself is rarely alluded to by others than the Kurds, and even they like to be a little circumspect when it comes to using that term. Secondly, the idea of combining the Sunni-majority governorates to a single “Sunni region” is not consonant with the limited pro-federal activity that has taken place over the past year, which has been mostly governorate-focused (as in the cases of Anbar and Salahhaddin). Indeed, any would-be Sunni separatists would face exactly the same problem as ISCI did in 2005 (and as Amin al-Charchafchi in 1927) when they tried to conjure up images of some kind of Shiite region: What should they call the new entity? Because exactly like ISCI’s “Region of the Centre and the South”, the Sunni region enjoys no historical precedent. Probably the only historical competitor to the concept of Iraq in this area would be the “Jazira region” – in which case Mosul (but not necessarily all parts of Anbar) might try to absorb parts of northeastern Syria like Dayr al-Zur and even Raqqa to carve out a new state. Good luck.

Perhaps more significant than Nujayfi’s separatist threat itself are the reactions that materialised today. Nujayfi allies in Mosul like Abdallah al-Yawer criticise the statement and say it is “against the constitution”. Shakir al-Kuttab says that Nujayfi’s statement should not be used to construe a desire on the part of Iraqiyya to work for any kind of “Sunni region”. Muhammad al-Khalidi denies that Nujayfi called for the creation of a Sunni region and “the partition of Iraq”, adding that the parliamentary speaker said what he said simply to illustrate the seriousness of the current situation. Safiya al-Suhayl, formerly with Iraqiyya, then State of Law and now an independent, detects a “regional dimension” in Nujayfi’s threat. Obviously, members of Nuri al-Maliki’s State of Law alliance are beyond themselves in happiness over this latest propaganda coup: They spin it as if Nujayfi has finally been exposed as a separatist, as do members of the Iraqi Islamic Party (a Sunni Islamist party frequently accused of being the party that has spearheaded the drive for decentralisation among some local Sunni politicians.)

It is obvious that many in Iraqiyya are unhappy about the way things are unfolding in Iraq right now, but there must be better ways of addressing this than dreaming up unlikely alliances with ISCI and the Sadrists, demanding a strategic policy council that the Iraqi parliament is unlikely to ever grant them, or threatening with the creation of new states that would barely know what to call themselves.

Posted in Federalism in Sunni-Majority Areas of Iraq, Iraq - regionalism - general, Iraqi constitutional issues, Iraqi nationalism | 26 Comments »