Iraq and Gulf Analysis

More Federalism Chaos

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 4 November 2011 18:56

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.

24 Responses to “More Federalism Chaos”

  1. Samir Abdallah said

    Agreed, most of what appears on the media and Iraqi politicians has no sound basis in the law or constitution.

    However, I want to discuss the basic principle of federalism in Iraqi constitution of 2005. Federalism guarantees some degree of independence from the central government in Federal regions. It was considered important to Iraq after 2003 as it gives regions, where minorities at the national level can become majority at the regional level, have the opportunity to rule themselves. This is in contrast to previous regimes with highly a central government.

    That is all obvious, and Kurdistan is ruled by Kurds.

    However, it was counter to all logic, that ISCI would try to form a Federal region comprising all governorates with shiite majority. Why they want a Federal region when they form a majority in the Federal parliament and government??

    If the central government continues with its central policies that goes beyond law and Constitution, and is controlled practically by one party, then it is obvious that others will revert to forming their own Federal regions. Although sunnis where in opposition to creating Federal regions during writing the new constitution, they will do that sooner or later with a government that promotes highly central policies with governorates, and at the same time, gives concessions to Federal regions.

    It should become clear, that any any government with strong centralized policies that goes beyond the constitution and interferes with independent commissions is the one promoting the creation of new Federal regions.

  2. Reidar Visser said

    Samir, I think we can safely see the Salahaddin federalism bid as a symptom of Maliki’s continued failure to reach out to potential Sunni allies. In spring 2009, during the provincial council formation, Maliki did manage to win over some Sunnis who joined him against the Tawafuq minority on the council. But this time, the State of Law representatives were alone in boycotting the federalism initiative.

    I still have some doubts whether the general Sunni population is ready to endorse a federalism bid in a referendum. Some of this smacks of opportunism by governorate council politicians. Tinkering with the unity of the Iraqi state may still have some to way to go before it is accepted thinking more broadly, confer for example what happened in Basra in early 2009.

  3. Reidar – I take your point about the formal illegality of Salahuddin’s attempt to establish itself as a federal region a la the KRG, given that the 2005 constitution doesn’t allow it. But doesn’t all of this beg the question of the long-term viability of that constitution? Maliki seems to adhere to it only as it suits his needs. And am I mistaken in understanding that a substantial number of Iraqis see the constitution as (a) hugely flawed, (b) imposed by the Americans to suit their own needs, and (c) drawn up by the likes of Noah Feldman to serve an image of Iraqi democracy that may not be sustainable in the long run?

  4. Reidar Visser said

    John, I think Iraqis generally acknowledge the need for constitutional reform, but that they also see it as distinctly unrealistic. The notion that the constitution was written by the Kurds and ISCI (more than the Americans) is widespread in some circles.

    The great irony today is that people who wanted a single Shiite region in 2005 like Jalal al-Din al-Saghir of ISCI are now outspoken in their criticism of a Sunni-led federal initiative, even though the Salahaddin bid is in fact geography-based and not explicitly sectarian.

  5. Zaid said

    Note the way in which Maliki reacted to Thi Qar’s federalism bid: with a promise to hire thousands of additional security officials in the province. If I were cynical, I would argue that the province is using the threat of federalism to shake the central government down, and that the central government is essentially bribing the province not to pursue the federalism option.

  6. Reidar Visser said

    Well, let’s see what Maliki offers for Salahaddin. I guess the promise to review the de-Baathifications could be part of the package.

    It is still disconcerting to see how much energy State of Law deputies are spending on wild strictures on the Salahaddin bid as a neo-Baathist conspiracy. They are trying to marginalise the whole project essentially because it is led by Sunnis – many Tawafuq members have actually been quite anti-Baathist in the past.

    The fact is that in legal terms the bids by Basra, Wasit and Salahaddin are all equal and Maliki is obliged by the law to let them have their referendums.

  7. bb said

    I thought the initiative in Basra famously failed in 2009 because the proponents were unable to muster the 140,000 signatures? You wrote about it a lot at the time?

  8. Reidar Visser said

    The initiative in 2009 was based on alternative A for requesting a referendum: Signatures from a tenth of the electorate. However there is also alternative B, which has a threshold of only a third of the members of the governorate council. So the Basra council made a second bid via that route in 2010 and it was shelved by Maliki even though it was his allies in Basra that made the bid.

    One of the defects of the Iraqi legislation on federalism is that these exercises can be repeated after 12 months if they fail, again and again.

  9. robinson said

    It some cases, I suspect calls for federalism represent little more than a tactical maneuver by disenfranchised provincial governments, aimed at extracting concessions from Baghdad. The example of Anbar playing the regionalizing card immediately following the 3rd O&G licensing round might be the example Salahadin, Diyala, Anbar part deux, and perhaps others are trying to replicate. (I believe the Anbar govt was able to at least secure “promises” of housing complexes, a refinery down the road, and perhaps some gas fired power plants (though presumably they’d be on the national grid, so who cares?) in exchange for playing nice with Kogas)

    Although, in other cases, notable Basra, (and for all I know perhaps some of the provinces I mentioned above too) there is surely a genuine desire for a greater degree of autonomy. Indeed, it’s probably a bit of both in all the cases, just weighted at differently case by case.

    Also, I’m sure this headline will really calm down Maliki critics in Salah ad-Din etc…

  10. bb said

    Well obviously alternative A would have much more political force on Maliki if 10% of the Salahaddin electorate signed a referendum request, as opposed to a third of the council? If the Salahaddin council do not organise this, one would assume they are not really serious.

  11. Michael said

    I suspect that Maliki would not resort to arguing the constitutional or legal imperative of any obstacle to federalism.

    In fact recent activity suggests he may be more inclined to default to lateral, aggresive, perhaps even dictatorial policy (if it can be called policy), which succeeds in deflecting criticism but ultimately achieves little more than providing him with a minor political window in which to surface for air.

    One might even suggest Maliki has already begun to fight a political rear-guard action, increasingly prohibiting him from arguing from any position of strength.

    If this is the case then it will not be lost on others in his circle and will most likely lead him back to paths he previously relied upon for electoral success – indeed perhaps more so now that he no longer possesses the (token) Sunni support he once did.

  12. Reidar Visser said

    Robinson, I sense a difference in the Anbar bid in 2010 and the Salahaddin bid in 2011 in that in the case of the former, there were loud protests from a number of leading Sunni politicians against the federalism project. In the case of Salahaddin, it appears only the Shiites of Dujayl are protesting.

    Bb, the two routes to a federalism referendum are equal under the law. I have previously suggested that the threshold of a mere third of the members in the provincial council is ridiculously low for calling a referendum but that’s what the law for forming regions currently says and if Maliki or others want to change that, which in itself may be a good idea, they need to work through parliament.

  13. Kermanshahi said

    Maliki continues to violate the consitution when it comes to Kerkuk, and he will violate it when it comes to any other governorate. Just plain stupid were those who agreed to give him a second term, because really, is anyone happy about it?

  14. observer said

    Why is this blog 100% anti-Maliki ?

  15. Reidar Visser said

    Observer, and I suppose you may be a different observer from our regular Observer, it is not entirely true that this blog is consistently anti-Maliki. In fact, I have taken quite a few beatings in the past for recommending that Iraqiyya explore bilateral pacts with Maliki instead of fantasizing about ISCI, the Sadrists and the Kurds. On constitutional issues including federalism, I long thought Maliki consistently appeared more level-headed than the rest.

    Those reservations notwithstanding, it is true that increasingly in 2011, I have been critical of a Maliki that seems a lot more authoritarian and sectarian than in 2009. His latest exegesis on the federalism and Baathism clauses of the Iraqi constitution are so laughable and pathetic that it makes you wonder whether he will ever be able to win any friends outside his own narrow alliance.

  16. Santana said


    You question whether Maliki will ever be able to win any friends outside his narrow alliance ? and the answer is YES…cuz as horrible as his performance has been, as backstabbing as he is, as sectarian as he is, as authoriarian as he is and even with all the criticism he gets from Shiites of other blocs within NA…he has still done remarkably well for himself and his Party…hasn’t anyone wondered how or why this is the case?…..and in my opinion it is all because Iran backs him very strongly and disseminates to everyone that “plan B sucks”…. in other words Iran paints a picture so grotesque and so scary about Iraqiya (as the plan B”)… that it keeps the NA alliance glued together…everyone –including Iran- have far better choices than Maliki but making any changes at this time would strengthen Iraqiya and Iran is not willing to take any risks by changing horses mid-stream. I know I sound like a broken record in a sense that I always blame Iran for all of Iraq’s woes but I do so because I truly believe they are behind all this and it is a whenever Iraqiya makes a move to try and lure “defectors” from NA then Iran’s Ambassador to Iraq will immediatly visit the potential defectors and either bribe them out of it, threaten them out of it, while explaining to them that the “Baath days” will be back with a vengeance and at this point the southerners eat it up like Ice Cream.

    Unless Iraqiya can launch a major PR campaign, change it’s strategy, bring in new blood while adding more shiites and Kurds so that it is viewed as a National Unity Bloc….then Iran will continue to be able to successfully label Iraqiya as the worst of two evils and Maliki remains in power as a better choice for these very gullible masses.

  17. Kermanshahi said

    Santana, the Iranians would like very much to get rid of al-Maliki, but for them he is the same as for most Iraqi factions, a compromise candidate, the least of the bad choices. No-one really likes him, the Americans, the Iranians, the Shi’a Islamists, the Sunni Islamists, the Arab Nationalists, the Kurdish Natinalists, but they are all to antagonistic towards each other and thus they all allow al-Maliki to become PM, rather than ceding power to each other. His main strength is that he is a political chamelion, he changes his views, allegiance, ideology, whenever it suits him, while others are bound by ideology and allegiances which are completely opposite of eachother, that’s why they can never agree and that’s why the ISCI-Iraqiya-Kurdistan alliance failed. But in the meanwhile al-Maliki back stabs everyone, and rather than everyone getting a little bit of what they want (as would have happened if they could have compromised their beliefs and come to a common agreement), no-one get’s what he wants except for al-Maliki.

    Iraqiyya’s election victory was a failure for their beliefs, since by defeating al-Maliki they forced him to towards Iran, for they could help bring him to power through a secterian alliance. This is also a mistake from the US, because by trying to bring Iraqiyya, which are more trustworthy allies to them, to power, they forced al-Maliki towards his enemy. Indeed they underestimated his hunger for power. But as soon as he feels it will benefit him, he will abandon Iran again. Just look at how the negotiations went, al-Maliki had no ideological or political demands to bring to the table, in Qom, Sadr and the Iranian clerics wanted to make a compromise with al-Maliki on policy and then bring forth a compromise candidate, but instead al-Maliki offered them as much policy concessions as he could give, in return for power, which is all he values – because he does not value any of his beliefs more than the PM position, because all of them are fake.

  18. Kermanshahi,
    The subject is not what Iran likes, I think many of us have a good idea of what Iran wants. It is what Maliki wants and likes because his insecurity is the main driver of the events, I believe. I agree, he wants power and lots of it but I think you are glossing over, or maybe hiding, the fact that he could not have succeeded without help from Iran and Talbani.
    Your line of thinking that Iraqiya deliberately pushed him toward cooperation with Iran is flawed, although I think Reider was inclined to think this way 🙂 . Maliki is unpredictable, nobody could have predicted his change of heart. I think what pushed him into alliance with Iran is the running of the March 2010 elections, which showed clearly Iranian fingerprints, not only in helping the Sadrists achieve representation far greater than their popular vote but in its spectacular success in suppressing all anti-Iranian voices such as Ayad Jamal Eddine and Mithal Al Alusi. All are convincing evidence that Iran, not at all the US, is running the show.

  19. Salah said

    “Maliki is unpredictable, nobody could have predicted his change of heart.”

    This sound same “words” we herd before Da’awa com to power, are we?

    As for Malik you my interested to know what sort of man he is.

    هذا هُوَ قائِدكُم العام للقوَّات المُسلَّحة

  20. Kermanshahi said

    Ofcourse al-Maliki could not have come to power without Iranian help, but does he have a loyalty to Iran which people like Syed al-Hakim or Syed Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon have? No he does not, for him Iran is but a tool to help him achieve power, he is willing to do Iran’s biding when it suits him but if he feels it is in his interest to drop Iran, he will do so.
    Maliki is unpredictable (to an extent), that is true, but could we really not have predicted his change of heart? Well maybe we could not have predicted what for change of hear he would have, but he has had many in the past and he will have more changes of heart in the future. But this is a change of heart from ideological perspective, was it a real change of heart? No. Because his heart is not into Islamism or Nationalism, his heart desires power and this drives his policies, always and in that sense, he is not unpredictable.
    Did I think al-Maliki would come running back to Iran and the INA and ditch Arab Nationalism if he failed to get any Sunni votes and failed to get support of Iraqiyya for his Premiership? Yes. The only thing I didn’t expect was that they would let him. Infact it is a sign of shortcoming of Iranian influence that they did, and that they couldn’t get anyone else in the PM spot. And as for anti-Iranian voices, did they really supress them? Nujayfi has become Speaker of Parliament, Hiwar has become the biggest Sunni party, al-Mutlaq the Deputy PM, Iraqiyya becmae the biggest list, ect. The reason Alusi lost his seat is because he ran in an insignificant small list and no small lists made it into parliament at all this time.

    Now did Iraqiyya deliberately push him that way, no they didn’t, atleast not if you mean that was their goal. But their actions unintentionaly led to this. For Iraqiyya ideology was a problem, because their Secular Arab Nationalism represent completely the opposite of the Shi’a Islamism of the INA and the Kurdish Nationalism of the KA, so they couldn’t reach an agreement with them. Al-Maliki on the other hand just changes his ideology to suit the situation, so he could easily get the Islamist and Kurdish support. The problem is that he stabs everyone in the back later and I think they should have known better.

  21. Salah said

    This is one of Maliki’s news megaphone outlets, correct me if I am wrong please

    Read and see what they talking bout the Federalism as if they paly tricks here.

    One question here if the Kurd have their own Federal space which clearly build on ethnicity why then Maliki keep telling from news media refusing listen to other voices asking to have their share under Iraqi constitution?

    Maliki keep saying he object the calls from Salaaldden and others on base these calls based on ethnicity and Sec ground? while his party purely based Sec based party ruling the country of his Sec what a joke and joker.

    إذن :- هناك فرق بين مصطلح ومفهوم الفدرالية عن مصطلح ودلالة الفدرلة ولاشك أن الأصوات التي تنادي بإقامة أقاليم في بعض المحافظات العراقية تفتقر إلى معرفة الدقيقة بهذا الفارق النظري والتطبيقي … فهم يطلون من خلال الأعلام ويقولون إننا نسعى إلى الفدرالية والأقاليم في الوقت الذي لا يذكرون فيه الفدرلة وأسسها ومتطلباتها وهذا ما لاحظناه في مطاليب القوى السياسية في الانبار والموصل وصلاح والبصرة واخيرا واسط .

  22. Santana said

    All Iraqis should watch this interview with Ali Hatem the Head of the Anbar Tribes…I worry that Iran will come after him bigtime-he has got to be the bravest Iraqi I have ever met !!!!!!!

  23. Reidar Visser said

    It’s pretty wild to hear those statements now against the backdrop of his tentative alliance with Maliki in autumn 2009…

  24. Salah said


    Iraqis they should be very vigilant from the players on their land by the AXIS of Evil “US-Israel –Iran”.

    US and Israelis they well knew with home they talk, deal before 2003 they brought those Mullah to Iraq, well knowingly they were Iranians breed Mullah..

    Right now Iraqis not in need to fight they are more in need to consolidate themselves and make their society united not scattered.

    If Anbar call for war with Iran could you give us how much support (real support not words) this man will get?

    War it’s no easy, btw, how he could launch a war while Iraq have none of its element can stand against Iranian military right now. Is can fight Iran by words? This just hot air for media.

    Let go to the head of sneak “US” their support to what it called” Arab Spring” turned to be supporting those “Islamites” ugly and extremists folks from Arab societies what on earth they will do these mindless and stupid terrorist with Arab societies and nation? We saw them in Iraq for eight years…..

    رايس: لم نذهب للعراق لجلب الديمقراطية

    Let read this and imagine how many terrorists were in Iraq send back home to be a New Leaders in areas were “Arab Spring” waiting for them.

    الطريقي الملقب بـ”أبي قدامة التونسي” متهم بالانتماء إلى تنظيم القاعدة وبتفجير مرقدي الإمامين علي الهادي وحسن العسكري في مدينة سامراء شمال بغداد في 22 فيفري 2006 وباغتيال مراسلة قناة العربية أطوار بهجت بعد يوم من التفجير .

    If Iraq brought those criminals who killed King Feisal I with his complete family dragging his body along the street of Baghdad , or those terrorist from Communist party / Baathists in 1963 who involved in massacres of Iraqis in Al-Mosul and other cities in Iraq, or those who killed abdulkarim Qassim in TV studio and spiting and dancing on his death to those criminals who killed Iraqis during Baath regime for no reason just their love of power acting criminally with Iraq, let give one example Abdhummod and his orders to cuts their ears for those innocent Iraq youth refusing to go to war.
    Then today we have Abu Dara’a “ابو درع” with other groups of criminals supported by many Mullah & officials in Iraq today under US eyes and noises.

    Those all terrorists and criminals if we stood against them and brought to justice we never been in this misery Santana…

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