Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for November 11th, 2011

The New Federalism Jurisprudence of the State of Law Alliance

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 11 November 2011 19:13

Just when you thought things could not get more farcical in Iraq, the so-called State of Law Alliance of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has provided yet more fodder for potential pun-makers.

Back on 5 November, in a comment on the recent Salahaddin federalism initiative, Walid al-Hilli of State of Law declared that there were problems with the bid relating to article 6 of the law on region formation. According to Hilli, the article in question was “unclear” with respect to the creation of new regions through the transformation of a single governorate to a new federal region.

One could have dismissed the comment by Hilli as a slip of the tongue were it not for the fact that something almost identical was repeated by Mariam al-Rayyis, also close to Maliki, in press comments yesterday.  According to Rayyis, article 6 only relates to governorates wanting to join an existing region! In her view the law must be amended by parliament before the current Salahaddin project can go ahead (she specifically suggests Salahaddin can only join Kurdistan).

Let’s look at article 6.

يكون الاستفتاء ناجحاً إذا حصل على أغلبية المصوتين من الناخبين في كل محافظة من المحافظات التي تروم الانضمام إلى إقليم

Okay, so the referendum is successful if it gains a majority in “each governorate of the governorates wishing to join/combine into a region”. In other words, it was written with reference to a case of multiple governorates forming a region. Arguably, the case of single-governorate formation should have been mentioned separately.  But to deduct from this that single-governorate formation should be governed by different rules is absurd. Article 6 is the sole article that defines the modalities for a successful referendum and it was clearly intended to cover all instances of region formation including single-governorate ones, not least since such single-governorate regions were among the most likely scenarios in 2006 when the law was drafted, for example in Basra. The idea – implicit in the comments from State of Law politicians  – that there should somehow be a stricter threshold for a single governorate to become a federal region than for a combination of governorates (which after all would constitute an even more radical change) just defies common sense.  

The comment by Rayyis which tries to differentiate between annexing governorates to existing regions and everything else is even more flawed: She seems to suggest that article 6 only applies to cases of multiple governorates wishing to join an existing region all in a single referendum! This scenario is not even discussed in article 2 of the law which merely envisages the addition of single governorates to existing regions. It should be fairly clear that the “region” mentioned in article 6 can also be the result of non-federated governorates joining together in an act of federalisation.

The bottom line is as long as the Salahaddin federalists remembered to make a simple request for a referendum (in addition to their dubious “declaration of a region”) the bid will be legal and the government is under an obligation to carry out the requested referendum. Maliki allies have tried to claim that there is somehow a difference between a similar request from Basra and the Salahaddin bid, with the suggestion that the Salahaddin federalism scheme is intended to provide refuge to Baathists, is not conducted in coordination with the central government and even marginalises the Shiite minority! The fact is that in legal terms, the two bids, Salahaddin and Basra, are one hundred per cent identical. Many supporters of the Salahaddin bid are in fact anti-Baathists and there are Baathists in exile that have denounced the whole federalism project. If Maliki continues to treat Basra and Salahaddin differently, then it means he is effectively holding the Sunnism of the majority of the Salahaddin people against them.

Perhaps the new focus on article 6 at least is an indication that Maliki eventually understood that he could not forever obstruct the Salahaddin bid with vague allegations of Baathism. But the sloppy language of that article is such a silly and contrived basis for an attempt to derail a project that clearly satisfies the constitutional criteria for a federalism initiative. This is however not untypical: During the past few days Maliki has also declared that ex-Baathists should publicly denounce the Baath party as a condition for staying in their jobs in the government sector. Once more, he is making up the rules himself.

Reportedly, Maliki is now seeking the counsel of the federal supreme court on these matters. Let’s hope that unlike other previous episodes, the court (or the consultative assembly of state) will know exactly what answer to give him.

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Posted in Federalism in Sunni-Majority Areas of Iraq, Iraq - regionalism - general, Iraqi constitutional issues | 14 Comments »