Iraq and Gulf Analysis

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.

26 Responses to “Nujayfi’s Separatist Threat and the Reactions”

  1. Santana said

    For what it’s worth- I met with Nujaifi in Washington and the whole thing is blown out of context.I admit – and he does too- that he did not choose his words carefully and it was more of a statement out of frustration. Nejaifi does not endorse a seperate Sunni region at all. It will blow over soon- the Daawa party is fishing for anything to take focus away from Maliki and his drive towards a pure dictatorship backed by Iran.

  2. Salah said

    The separation or division of Iraq to more small states was on the table when US invaded Iraq in 2003. we hear this form time to time then faded down.

    The loudest one wasTJoe Biden the Senate Foreign Relations Committee proposal that Iraq be divided into three separate regions – Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni – with a central government in Baghdad.

    But these voices faded not because they did like so, this to test the reactions from Iraqis about this matter to see if the time right to set things in this way.

    Whoever thinks Iraqi in fever of division of their country to more small states, he wrong but all those who try to play this game and enforce it in such away or encouraging some of those who may have personal or regional befits get their support for calling for the divided iraq still hard to convince the majority of Iraqi to accepted.

    Time will till what behind Usama al-Nujayfi why he jumped to wagon of divided Iraq.

  3. Reidar Visser said

    Santana, I think what Nujayfi needs to make clear is his real plan for doing something about the current situation. More talk about the Arbil agreement? Dreams about new elections?? I think the situation is looking pretty similar to the summer of 2010 when Iraqiyya also engaged in all sort of impossible scenarios simply to avoid having to think about Maliki… What advice was Nujayfi given in DC? Last thing I heard officially was the call from the Amb for respecting the Arbil agreement…

  4. Santana said

    Nujaifi’s comments to me at the end of his visit was that he was amazed how little U.S lawmakers know about Iraq and about the depth of the problems Iraq is facing- and as a consequence- they have no idea how to handle things.

    As far as all the different things Iraqiya is trying- I have spoken to many Iraqiya leaders and believe me they themselves are not crazy about the solutions they are pursuing but there really isn’t a whole lot of options on the table after the U.S threw their weight behind “the default candidate” and put Iraqiya into a corner so to speak.

  5. Reidar Visser said

    Thanks. Right now I must confess I am not convinced that Nujayfi himself knows how to handle things! By the way, the strictures on his remarks in State of Law circles are quite severe, as could be expected. For example here:

  6. Kermanshahi said

    The Shi’as rejected autonomy because they do not need it anymore. ISCI’s idea of a Shi’a state in Iraq was good during the days of Sunni-led Ba’athist opression, but now Shi’as are in controll of Iraq it is outdated and unneeded. But for Sunnis, as long as they chose to be under direct controll of the national government, in which Shi’as will always have a majority, they will always remain under Shi’a rule and they do not have the voting power to change this. It is beneficial for them to create a federal region like the Kurds have, it’s taken a while for them to realise it but the Sunni population is starting to realise more that the creation of a federal region is in tehir interests. The fact that a Sunni Iraqi state has never existed historically is irrelevant, what matters is that they live there now.

  7. Reidar Visser said

    “ISCI’s idea of a Shi’a state in Iraq was good during the days of Sunni-led Ba’athist opression…”

    Kermanshahi, to the best of my knowledge, that idea didn’t exist back then (unless you count the first half year of Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s government as Sunni-led Baathist oppression, which I doubt that you do.)

    Indeed, a book by Hamid al-Bayati (also of ISCI) published in 1997 quotes authorities in the Hakim family, no less, to the effect that the Shiites never have asked for territorial autonomy south of Baghdad.

  8. Salah said

    Looks things start rolling after Usama al-Nujayfi comments

    Damlouji: Iraqiya stands firmly against attempts to strip down Iraq

    Iraq’s Sunnis reject secession, religious authority says

    Hussein al-Moayad is an Iraqi religious authority, representing Shiite reformists, who is well known to be an activist in the field of creating closeness among religious sects, thing that stands counter to the Iranian political positions inside Iraq

    Here we go still strong opposition to this testing balloons….

    Reidar what you think with very recent developments between Maliki and Syrian regime

    What you make of it two events are:

    – Iraq: Regional stability depends on stable Syria
    ذكرت مصادر مطلعة أن الحكومة العراقية تعتزم الاعلان اليوم الاربعاء عن تزويد سوريا بكميات من النفط، لمساعدة دمشق في الأزمة الاقتصادية الراهنة التي تمر بها، نتيجة استمرار الاضطرابات السياسية، فيما لم تفصح المصادر عن كمية النفط المصدرة، الا انها قالت “إنها كميات كبيرة”.

  9. Reidar Visser said

    And the reactions against Nujayfi from Iraqiyya and Sunni circles continue to be strong as well, for example:

    جمال البطيخ يحث قادة وأعضاء الكتل السياسية على الابتعاد عن التوجهات التي قد تتسبب في تقسيم العراق الى أقاليم

    حركة الوفاق في كركوك ترفض دعوات تقسيم العراق والعودة إلى الخطاب الطائفي

    عمر الجبوري يدعو النجيفي إلى توضيح تصريحاته أمام البرلمان

    عبد الرحمن الويزي ينسحب من تجمع النجيفي بسبب تصريحات الأخير عن انفصال السنة

    نائب محافظ الانبار يتهم السياسيين الذين يدعون الى تشكيل اقليم للسُنة او للانبار بتنفيذ ” اجندات اجنبية ”

    Regarding Iraq and Syria, I think it is hardly surprising that Maliki is making reconciliatory gestures towards Assad. In the first place, any Iraqi government might be forgiven for not wanting another revolution on its doorstep after all the chaos they have seen themselves since 2003. Also, some will no doubt read this in some kind of regional/sectarian perspective in which there is an Iranian hand at work to maintain their regional axis. But this all begs the question of whether a truly democratic Iraqi government, i.e. one elected on a more majoritarian basis with less attention to ethno-sectarian quotas, would have acted differently in the context of democratic reform in Syria.

  10. Salah said

    Reading some bits and pieces of news some source bringing that the visit of Usama al-Nujayfi to inform US that Aqanon accepting US SOFA extension as he represent Iraqis a he is the speaker of the house although there is not full support for Maliki position.

    Another aspect look his comment may be attentional to cover what said or leaked from some news sources.

  11. Reidar Visser said

    Salah, given the strong reactions against Nujayfi’s statement from State of Law it seems somewhat hard to believe that there was any coordination between Maliki and Nujayfi on this???

  12. I don’t understand what the fuss is about, Nujaifi didn’t defend the separation of Sunnis and didn’t state his position, he anticipated their anger and predicted their despair and attitude. His statement is clear, I am surprised at your reaction, Reidar.

  13. Reidar Visser said

    Faisal, thankfully most Sunnis seem eager to condemn Nujayfi’s “anticipations”! But seriously, I have always considered Nujayfi to be a popular figure and if he truly thinks there is a Sunni separatist current then I consider it my duty to report on his thoughts about it. I did the same regarding Shiite separatism and separatism threats a long time ago, back in 2005:

  14. Santana said


    Maliki’s support for Syria is purely Sectarian and per instructions from Tehran- don’t you think it is Ironic that he supports any Bahraini Opposition, Egyptian, Tunisian, Yemeni…..but nooooo not Syrian opposition ! cuz if Syria goes then Hezbollah is in deep you know what and Iran suffers a setback to their Strategic goal of creating a Northern Shiite coalition of Iran-Iraq-Syria-Lebanon….a coalition badly needed to split the Middle East into two camps and face off against the GCC and the U.S. – The U.S State dept is NOT happy with his support of Assad….and I told all the idiots in DC that their darling Maliki does not care what the U.S thinks anymore !!…the Sadrists and Iran are the only ones that matter to him if he is to stay in power and inorder for Hezb Al-Daawa can continue stealing and raping Iraq..

  15. Reidar Visser said

    Santana, the regional dimensions are clear, for sure. But there is the stability argument: Does Iraq today enjoy the same kind of domestic stability that enables for example Turkey to take a pro-opposition stance in Syria? If Allawi had been PM, would he have openly supported the Syrian opposition??

  16. Santana said

    Reidar- I like your question “if Allawi was PM would he have openly supported the Syrian opposition”….I guess we will never know for sure since he will never get that opportunity… ……but for whatever it’s worth if he was PM then my opinion is YES, absolutely and without a doubt!…..especially since Allawi knows how vital the Syrian regime is for Iran and for Hezbollah.

  17. Mohammed said

    Hi Reidar and Santana:

    The question here is what are al-Maliki’s end objectives? I really don’t think what drives al-Maliki is his love for Iran. I am sure the end goal for al-Maliki is to make sure that shiites are firmly in control of Iraq and make up for the lost decades of tyranny under the hands of the baathists. He will be buddies with whoever helps him attain that goal, and he will be the enemy of whoever he perceives to be a threat to that goal.

    Santana, I think you make a huge mistake in thinking that all Maliki wants to do is serve iran. I know you believe in what Saudi intelligence tells you, but, let’s establish strategies based on less biased sources.

    Whether you or I like it or not, there is a good chunk of the iraqi population that is shiite and leans to one of the religious shiite parties. In the end, if you combine state of law, sadrists, and ISCI, fadhila (you have a majority or close to a majority of the country based on the last vote). I know you may think that they are a bunch of uneducated high school drop outs unfit to run a country, but that is the reality. They know how to play the political game.

    Iraq does not live in the vacuum of space or time. In terms of time, that group above (let’s just call them religious shiites, or laymen shiites) is scared to allow the sunni elite to dominate them as they once did. With regards to their neighbors, they just saw what happened to Bahrain when the majority shiites demanded their rights not to be second class citizens—the saudis came in and crushed them. Did Iran foment those protests, maybe they did, but to any lay shiite, that is wholly irrelevent. What they see and perceive is that shiites in every sunni country around them are opressed. Now with respect to Syria, there is a brutal dictatorship there of allawite baathists. Even though I am believer in personal liberty and would like to see the Assad regime fall, I worry about what comes afterwards. My fear is that the shiite/allawite minority there will be massacred for revenge just like many sunnis in iraq were massacred after Saddam. It is a natural human response to seek retribution. Syrian sunnis are not going to differentiate between who committed crimes on behalf of Assad, they may go in and raze entire areas of allawites. Thus, do I support Assad? Nope, he needs to go. But I am just telling you what my gut fear is (I am an educated Iraqi american, and I hope I am wrong). But when I sit around with a bunch of shiite Iraqis here in the USA, they all tell me that they hate Assad, but have fear that what would come after him is much worse. Is it selfish and sectarian of them? Sure.. But it is a natural human response. I assure that these people are not on Iran’s payroll for not wanting to see Assad fall this way, but they dont want another country to surround them where shiites are persecuted.

    Now let’s get back to Iraq. Just think about what I have said up there. You need to think about the emotions and fears that are driving people. ISCI, Dawa, Sadr are all using these fears to their own gain. I dont give a damn about Iran. Iran’s mullahs persecute their own people, so they won’t have any qualms about persecuting Iraqis for their own benefit. But, I am a fair man, and anybody who is fair will acknowledge that there are nutcase wahabis with way too much influence in Saudi Arabia shouting their hatred against Shiites. So basically the shiites in iraq hear all this garbage coming from Saudi and gulf satelites, and they will run to Iran not out of love, but out of fear. Now in this atmosphere of fear, Sadr, Dawa, and ISCI have thrived. Are they corrupt and raping Iraq’s resources? Sure. They are all a bunch of high school drop outs, no technical or leadership skills, and are only good in reciting a lutmiya here or there. As a “religious” shiite myself, I have doctoral degrees from the most presitigious american universities, but would never prosper under a bunch of corrupt goofballs like them. In this atmosphere of fear, party loyalty is what helps people thrive, not a person’s brainwpower and workskills. So the high school drop out sadrist can be a millionaire stealing from people, while the guy with the PhD from Harvard is worthless. What is allowing this environment ot persist is fear and lack of security. I dont want iraq to turn into a country where every woman is forced to wear a chador, I would rather that women are free to wear chadors or bikinis. But that is not going to happen overnight.

    Now, Dawa and Sadr talk up this fear to make people scared, but the Saudis and Bahrainis make that job way easier. The situation in Iraq is horrible, but it will not change over night. The faster you want to change it, the more resistance and fear there will be. My suggestion, just let people breathe for a bit. So, going back to Reidar’s suggestion, let Iraqiya work with maliki to make a political majority so he doesnt have to rely on the sadrists, and just focus on domestic issues, electricity, water, education, oil. For now, cede the security issue to maliki. Forget about the security council for Allawi. Let’s just get some basic non-poliitcal things agreed upon. Can we all agree that every Iraqi needs more electricity, so let’s build up our grid and generators, let’s build up agriculture in Anbar and Basra, build up gas fields in anbar, let them develop the oil fields in the south, dont hold up these things. Fix our schools, send grad students to study abroad and lure them back with fat paychecks. Get Iraq to 4 million barrels a day. I know Maliki wants to stack interior and defense with his people. My suggestion is let him. Dont waste time fighting these things that wont make a difference in the life of the average Iraqi. Even with corruption, with 4 million barrels of oil coming in a day, it will trickle down to the poorest iraqis. As people prosper and become more educated, new alliances will start to take shape. As people prosper, and there is more security, they will not tolerate the corruptions.

    Just look at Iran. Most people there hate the right wingers now (situation was different when fighting the iran-iraq war when people perceived their country’s survivial is at stake.). Iraqi shiiites are arabs, and will never in the end be happy taking orders from persians.

    You want to stop Iran’s fiery march through Iraq? Take away the fear (this is the Oxygen for Iran’s fire). Frankly, your comments about shiites don’t help. First of all, understand the fear, and appreciate it (even if you don’t agree with it)..I assure you that is what drives many shiites to back the parties you despise.


  18. Reidar Visser said

    Nujayfi says he is doing a press conference tomorrow at which there may perhaps be some more explanations….

    اسامة النجيفي يعقد مؤتمرا صحفيا يوم غد حول التطورات السياسية الاخيرة

    There is an attempt by his party (Iraqiyun) to clear the air here:

    But it makes absolutely no sense. It says Nujayfi was simply mentioning the existence of pro-federal initiatives that would follow administrative borders, as per the Iraqi constitution. The problem is that Nujayfi used the words “infisal” and “sunna”, both of which are pretty unequivocal and refer to a sectarian separation threat.

  19. Santana said

    Thanks Mohamed- I am sure you mean and believe all that you said- but unfortunatly- I think you are so out of touch with reality….first off- who will guarantee that handing everything to Maliki will make him a better person? or that it will be good for Iraq- you are making some wild assumptions and you are 100% correct if it was someone like you at the helm….but that’s not what’s there in the ivory towers…plus- it is not the fear of Saudis or wahabis or hardcore Sunnis driving ISCI, Sadrists and others to flock to Iran- it is fear from Iran itself and also a deep religous belief that going against the sect will bring all sorts of bad karma to them and their families and this ties into the fact that they are mostly uneducated and don’t know any better. These parties would not shun Iran no matter what- Allawi knows this -being a Shiite himself-

    I don’t mind it if 100% of the Iraqi government is shiite ! I swear on my kids heads- but I want them to be a- Loyal to Iraq B- Fair to all the other groups C- Educated and qualified D- Secular …….I love all the plans you stated for Iraq and Anbar and all that but Iran wants no stability nor prosperity to any Arabs -Mohamed this is the Arab- Furs struggle…. and they are stronger than we at the moment.

    I seriously doubt any true Iraqi would want Iraqiya to just hand everything over to Maliki and Daawa- hoping they do the right thing- it is out of the question.

  20. Reidar Visser said

    But Santana, Maliki also fears competition from the Sadrists and ISCI, which is why he tried for so long to avoid the National Alliance. Today he no longer needs that alliance (since he is PM), so to some extent it is up to Iraqiyya (and the Kurds) to envisage an alternative scenario in which the two (three) could form some kind of majority that would give Iraq more effective government and make Maliki less reliant on Iran.

  21. Santana said

    Thanks Reidar- I feel bad that I have so many posts on this thread- please excuse me.

    Your alternative scenario of a majority government with Sol-Iraqiya and the Kurds is fine and dandy but again- same thing I said to Mohamed and I will keep saying it…cuz Allawi shouted this in my ear two months ago when I suggested the same scenario…(and he is right) ! He shouted ” Baba- hadha mayreed ay sharaka !!” in other words ” My dear- Maliki does NOT want to share !!”…..and I believe it…the only thing I could say back to Allawi was “Zain- laad shensowee “??? (Ok-so, what do we do?????”

  22. Salah said

    Maliki and others who came to Iraq were lived and supported by Iran, Maliki rule leaded group of Daawa fighters/ militia and fights his own (if he is real Iraqi) country and military men with Iran put him in no doubt this man have no love for his country and countrymen. Moreover when it comes you have the power in place were Iranian thinks in past of their Old Persian empire and have much interest he should give them what they gave him in the past for many years.

    It is not rock since here to see people in power but their hearts and mind far from the land they rule, if you look around the world and politics and inter you find this fact from history to recent days we live.

  23. Mohammed said


    Please define “power sharing”. Based on everything I see in the news Allawi and iraqiya are obsessed with the security portfollio. Maliki is NOT going to share that with Allawi or anybody else. My point is forget about the security ministries. Instead of fighting for those just concede them. Focus on industry oil electricity health agriculture education. Make people’s lives better. So far all that stuff has been put on hold because Allawi and Maliki can’t agree on security.

    As for Shiite fears. You have not hung around enough “religious” shiites here in the USA. Frankly all they talk about is Bahrain and Saudis and the threat to Iraqi Shiites. To fail to a knowledge this is a huge mistake. They also blast away with this on Iraqi Shia satellite channels.

    Finally I have no hopes of making iraqs current leaders into better people. They are what they are. My point is focus on the domestic stuff and make iraqs people better. Once that happens they will elect better people.

    Finally. I really have no idea what you mean about this karma stuff. Can you clarify?

  24. Mohammad,

    Let me jump in for a sec.
    You wrote about how fear is oxygen for Iran’s fire but as a Shia you refused to stand up to Iran. This is “karma stuff” and you’re doing it.

  25. Santana said

    Thanks Mohamed- the Karma reference I made (for lack of a better term) is – as shiite friends explained it to me- is like a jinx or a curse (Al-Abbas yeshower beehum) if they reject the marjaiyia in Qum (or wherever it resides in Iran) and work or interact with Sunnis against Iran and this will affect their health, fortune even cause petty annoyances like erectile dysfunction, dead car batteries, hair loss,….. etc.. … lol………sorry- I am a true secular so this is the best I can do.

  26. iraqiobserver said

    Sorry guys but I have been so busy with work I hardly have time to come visit. I have just read this entire thread and find myself fascinated by the debate of Iraqi expats.

    Santana and Muhammad you guys sound like people I would love to have dinner with and debate till the cows come home as to “how to build a better Iraq”.

    It has been 8 years for me here in Iraq and I am running out of hope that there will ever be a healthy Iraq in the way that you two (and I) would define it.

    Sectarianism is getting entrenched (for each of the communities) and worse still cynicism and the “uselessness” of the political process is getting to the point where I would doubt that the “educated” class will even bother to participate in the next election. Only those who are rooting very hard for their sextarian leaders will come out and vote leaving the silent majority —- well unrepresented. This is my real fear for this country. That people will loose faith in the power of the ballot to change the direction of the country. It is not about Maliki vs Allawi any more!. It is about ending with a theocracy instead of a democracy. Ironic really when you compare that to the hope of the Arab Spring. Even more hurtful is to think of the lives wasted (coalition as well as Iraqis), not to mention the treasure spent trying to start demcoratically elected governments to take root in this hsitoric land of “famiy and khlilafa”.

    Muahmmad. I think you are right in evaluating the “reasons why” – Indeed fear of Wahabi/Takfeeri is a good description of the attitude of “average” lay shiate. Santana – you are right (in my opinion) to tell Muhammad that letting Maliki have it all is non starter. Yet – what is the solution? I am plum fresh out of ideas on how to bridge the divide.

    This is going to be an interesting summer. I am waiting to see if Maliki is going to continue to come up with stuff like Dujail to divert attention from lack of services and the on going raping of Iraq’s resources by his party operatives. Are Iraqis going to continue to buy into this and is he foolish enough to keep on fanning the flames of sectarianism to stay in power regardless of how it destroys Iraq in the long term?

    I’ve said this before. We have politicians in charge of Iraq not Statesmen. How I wish we have a Jefferson, a Washington and an Adams in the three drivers seat of the three power positions in Iraq!!!

    But then again, maybe US/UK, Iran, Saudia and Kuwait and maybe even Turkey would like to keep Iraq weak and therefore under control and thus would hate to see real statemen in control of the country and would rather like seeing small men (ala Maliki, Abadi, and their respective sons) in charge. I seem to have drank enough of the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates to be infected with the conspiracy virus.

    Cheers and happy fourth July to all.
    All I can say, I am lucky to be an American.

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