Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for September 17th, 2011

The Territorial Dimension of the Nukhayb Tragedy

Posted by Reidar Visser on Saturday, 17 September 2011 15:52

The recent terror attack at Nukhayb in Anbar province killing several Shiite pilgrims en route to Syria has deeper political dimensions.

First there is the jurisdictional issue. Shortly after the incident, a security force from the neighbouring governorate of Karbala crossed the provincial border and detained a number of alleged suspects who were then taken back to Karbala for questioning. This prompted loud protests from politicians in Anbar who complained there had been a breach of jurisdiction since Nukhayb lies within the border of Anbar governorate.

Second, there are some more fundamental territorial questions related to the recent altercations between these two Iraqi governorates. Since at least 2005, various Shiite politicians – in particular the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and Ahmed Chalabi but also local politicians in Karbala close to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki – have claimed that the territory of Nukhayb should be “returned to the governorate of Karbala”. Subsequent to the recent attacks, those claims have been reawakened. By way of example, Abd al-Hadi al-Hakim recently called for the “return of Nukhayb to Karbala as it was before the former regime transferred it to Anbar”.

The Karbala claims to Nukhayb rest on shaky historical foundations. It is true that for a short period in the 1970s, Nukhayb was transferred to Karbala by the former regime (it can be documented that it was part of Ramadi in the 1960s) and then transferred back again in 1979. But for the overwhelming part of the twentieth century, Nukhayb has been administratively affiliated with Ramadi (or, before that, with the special desert police force) rather than with Karbala.

Map of Iraq in 1966 showing Nukhayb as part of Ramadi province

More fundamentally, the Nukhayb claim relates to the much bigger issue of “disputed territories” that threatens to polarise Iraqi politics along ethno-sectarian lines in years to come. This vexed idea of collective ethno-sectarian entitlement to land (as distinct from the right of individuals to seek redress for misdeeds and confiscations of land by the former regime) was unfortunately included in the US-sponsored Transitional Administrative Law in 2004, from where it made its way into the current Iraqi constitution. Exactly like the Karbala claim to Nukhayb, many of the claims under the “disputed territory ” heading have scant historical basis, but if granted, they could set the stage for a perpetual debate about real and imagined “disputed territories” across Iraq in the next years.

So far there are some positive signs that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is trying to rise above the claims of his partisans in Karbala in the Nukhayb case and will work for the transfer of those arrested to Baghdad and indeed for the release of some of them. The more important question is however this: Will he have the guts to come out loud and clear against the murky attempts by other Shiite Islamists to play the opportunistic territorial card in Nukhayb?

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Posted in Iraqi constitutional issues, Iraqi nationalism, Kirkuk and Disputed Territories | 33 Comments »