There is so much fuss surrounding the renewed federalism debate in Iraq that it is really hard to know where to start.
Maybe a suitable vantage point is nomenclature: Can the Iraqi press please understand that no one can “declare” themselves a federal region in the way Salahaddin tried to do? Iraqi media keep talking about the “declaration” of federal regions, ignoring the fact that the most the governorate council can do is to ask the government to conduct a referendum.
Other oddities can be found in the arguments for and against the emerging federalism bid. One Iraqiyya figure claims that “everyone” supports the Salahaddin bid, including all the districts.
أأكّدَ فرحانُ العوض المرشح للبرلمان العراقي عن محافظة صلاح الدين ان قرار مجلس المحافظة إقامة اقليم فدرالي، تم بموافقة جميع ابناء المحافظة بجميع أقضيتها وشتى أطيافها وألوانها
Again, this is irrelevant. Sub-entities may count in Spanish federalism but they don’t count in Iraqi federalism. The referendum will be a straightforward majority vote counted at the governorate level.
As for the opponents of the Salahaddin federalism bid, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki still continues to produce statements that are legally and constitutionally flawed. He labels the Salahaddin bid as neo-Baathism in disguise, ignoring the fact that the law does not specify ideological preconditions for launching a federal region. In other words, it is the prerogative of the people of Salahaddin to go federal and try to grow bananas if they so desire. Similarly, Maliki continues to talk about “conditions” for federal regions to emerge in concert with the government, and even alludes to the “pre-occupation” of the central government to build security at the moment!
إقامة الأقاليم حق دستوري لكن الدولة مشغولة حاليا ببناء البلد وتحقيق الاستقرار الأمني
Again, these are not valid arguments against implementing the law on forming regions, which Maliki has previously refused to do with respect to bids from Basra and Wasit.
Additional confusion has been thrown into the mix because of unprecedented talk in some circles of Sunni regions joining the Kurdish areas. For their part, some Kurds have said they would like to see the implementation of article 140 of the constitution on the disputed territories before any region-formation, which again is an idea that enjoys no legal basis.
What seems certain is that Maliki is now coming under pressure on federalism issues from fellow Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis alike. That is an unprecedented situation which will add further pressure on his minority-government survival strategy unless he either manages to win over some substantial Sunni and secular allies or gives the Kurds some more of what they want.