Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for November 24th, 2011

Salahaddin Leaders Turn to Talabani to Solve Federalism Impasse

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 24 November 2011 13:11

The 15-day limit for the central government to ask the elections commission to arrange a federalism referendum for Salahaddin has now expired.

The Iraqi government is breaking the law on region formation by not arranging the referendum, but in the past similar requests from the Shiite-majority governorates of Basra and Wasit have been quietly shelved by the central government – and without much in the way of protests. Salahaddin, however, is opting for a different course. Provincial council leaders now say they are contacting Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani, to make him act in his capacity as “defender of the constitution” and to impel the government to make the necessary legal steps.

In so doing, it is noteworthy that the Salahaddin leaders are hinting at the possibility of future claims before the federal supreme court, but that they are also emphasising that they want to exhaust all other options first. To some extent, this is probably a way of masking a reality in which the supreme court is seen as the tool of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, whereas Talabani, as a Kurd – and despite his personal good ties to Maliki – is seen as a federalist first and foremost. For that reason, there is an expectation that he will be sympathetic to federalism initiatives in other parts of Iraq more generally.

Constitutionally speaking, the president of the republic has a theoretical responsibility for ensuring compliance with the constitution but almost no specific constitutional powers in this regard. Even though the president has managed to carve out a certain niche as a quasi-appellate court in cases involving the death sentence, it would be wrong to see the presidency as an alternate constitutional court. What Talabani can do, however, is to act as an informal arbiter, perhaps on the pattern of what was earlier this year when the implementation of the Arbil framework became a matter of dispute. Back then, the secular Iraqiyya party made a point out of turning to Talabani, rather than to Maliki, in an attempt at resolving the remaining issues.

Talabani will be tested on this issue at a point in time when relations between Maliki and the Kurds are already strained because of the Exxon Mobil deals for KRG-held areas including disputed territories. The Maliki camp has been firmly opposed to the Salahaddin federalism bid, but it is hard to see how they can plausibly delay the process in a legal way. The constitutional and legal aspects of the case are so crystal clear that any discovery of new problems by the supreme court will raise even more doubts about its neutrality than before.

There is however one possible reason Talabani might be less forthcoming towards the Salahaddin federalists than they have been hoping for. A new idea in Kurdish circles is that article 140 of the constitution on disputed territories should be implemented before the creation of any new federal region. Also this week, it is being reported that Talabani himself has sent parliament a bill that would regulate the settlement of administrative boundaries in the disputed territories. These ideas in themselves have no constitutional basis and like so much else in Iraqi politics are the concoctions of politicians. Nonetheless, such claims may serve as an indication of a possible new preference in Kurdish circles for bilateral deal-making with Maliki on article 140 instead of or before a general move towards the comprehensive federalisation of Iraq.

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Posted in Federalism in Sunni-Majority Areas of Iraq, Iraq - regionalism - general, Iraqi constitutional issues | 12 Comments »