Iraq and Gulf Analysis

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.

12 Responses to “Salahaddin Leaders Turn to Talabani to Solve Federalism Impasse”

  1. dario_kurd said

    go on Talabani make force the prime minister to impliment the constitution and grant sunni and Kurds the right to declare federalism

  2. Salah said

    “حلول ام ازمات ”

    لم يخطيء الدستور عندما اقر اللامركزية والفيدرالية.. بعد ان حطمت المركزية البلاد وقادت الى تغيير واقع المحافظات سكانياً وجغرافياً.. وجلب اجانب من خارج البلاد لتغيير المعادلات على اسس طائفية واثنية واستبدادية. ويخطيء من يعتقد ان القرار كان اجنبيا.. اذ لابد من استذكار الكثير من الاعمال ومنها للشهيد مهدي الحكيم في الثمانينات مقترحاً 5-7 اداريات.. ومحاولات الشهيد عز الدين سليم في اواسط التسعينات.. او قرارات مؤتمر صلاح الدين لعام 1992. بل فرضت اللامركزية والفيدرالية نفسها على صدام حسين المستبد المتفرد باقراره منطقة الحكم الذاتي (1971-1974).

  3. Reidar Visser said

    At least, Abd al-Mahdi is consistent in that he favoured federalism before Salahaddin asked for it and he continues to favour it afterwards. That cannot be said about all the others in the ISCI camp or the pro-federal Shiites at large.

  4. Santana said

    So Reidar- If the government is obstructing the referendum that Salahuddin needs and they (the “Sallahudinites”) are running to Talabani -which I agree -is not much of a “Plan B” because as you said-he cannot serve as an alternate constitutional court ….so what are the Salahuddinites to do ? I mean this goes back to the dictatorship that Maliki has formed….and he (Maliki) has discovered that he can get away with just about anything. So what incentive is there for Daawa or Maliki to work with the others and get a referendum going???

    I know I mention Iran as much as Faisal mentions the UN – but unless there is a balance of power in Iraq (backing all those that Maliki is telling to go to hell on a daily basis)…..then I can’t see why or how he would lift a finger to uphold the constitution and cater to their demands/rights under the constitution. Maliki is ruling in a very similar fashion to Saddam -cuz he has figured out by now that the democratic path jeapordizes his dictatorial grip – only problem is- that unlike Saddam- Maliki is willing to handover Iraq to Iran as long as he remains PM and as long as the sectarian shiites like him hold the power. This is what Iran loves about him. They will continue to back him up so he can continue to rule as he/they desire.

    Is it not clear to everyone that Maliki has placed himself and Daawa above the law??!!…..constitution? referendums ?…….pfffffttt …yeah right! what’s that?

  5. Reidar Visser said

    Santana, I agree that there are very few alternatives left for the opposition to Maliki. But I fear that waiting endlessly for an Iranian counter-revolution will lead to passivity in a situation when action and creativity is what is really needed.

    The question is whether there are other ways of challenging Maliki than federalism. Interestingly, today Allawi says the creation of more federal entities at the present stage will add fuel to the flames. In fact, precisely like Maliki, he says this is not the right time for building more federal entities.

    I’m not sure of which direction Allawi wants to go in though. (He is calling for “dialogue”.) As I have said before, I think Iraqiyya would be in a far better position to unify its own stance if it withdraws from the government and concentrates on an opposition role.

  6. Santana,
    The difference is: Iran is acting in self interest but the UN is not acting in the interest of its membership at time of need, while the US had lost initiative and is willingly reacting to events orchestrated by Iran. I am really addressing the US and asking for proactive role and partnership, not the UN.
    In a nutshell, the role of opposition presumes clean political process which we don’t have. You used to defend the dynamic process rather than the static balance or fixed state of government vs. opposition, what happened?

  7. bks said

    Only marginally related question: What happened to the Iraqi diaspora? Are Iraqis returning from Syria and Jordan (and elsewhere), or staying in exile?


  8. Reidar Visser said

    Faisal, yes I supported a dynamic process but to me the whole process now seems so totally clogged up that it is really hard to see how it can get moving again….

  9. Phil Riese said

    What are you referring to when you say, “These ideas in themselves have no constitutional basis and like so much else in Iraqi politics are the concoctions of politicians.”

    If you mean to say that Talabani does not have the constitutional right to send a bill to parliament to regulate provincial boundaries, I’d have to disagree. Talabani has the right according to Article 140 and Transitional Administrative Law 58.
    If you were referring to the idea that Article 140 must be finalized before a new federal region can be created, I would not disagree that that has no constitutional basis, but I would say it does make some logical sense especially in the light of amending provincial boundaries. For instance, if Salah al-Din were successful in forming a region, how would one know what the region’s area of jurisdiction would be given that Salah al-Din’s borders are disputed due to Saddam’s gerrymandering of sorts?

    In the big picture though, there’s hardly a chance that Salah al-Din or any other Sunni province will form a region in the next few years.

  10. Salah said

    today Allawi says the creation of more federal entities at the present stage will add fuel to the flames. In fact, precisely like Maliki,

    خطط رسمية عراقية لانشاء محافظات جديدة بهوى طائفي

    لمئات يتظاهرون في الدجيل رفضاً للانفصال ويطالبون بإقامة إقليم صلاح الدين

    Demonstrators demand canceling regions’ articles and demarcation of Kuwaiti borders >

  11. Reidar Visser said

    Phil, it was of course not a reference to the presidential right to initiate legislation, which I have discussed previously. It was the idea that there should be disputed-territory boundary settlement prior to any region formation ot that there needs to be special legislation for the settlement of administrative boundaries for disputed territories (as opposed to changes to administrative boundaries more generally).

    This has no constitutional basis and involves so much imagination that it would leave the whole constitution pretty meaningless. Any piece of territory throughout the land can be declared “disputed” if anyone wishes to do so (say, Nukhayb between Karbala and Anbar) so the constitutional provisions for federalism would be superfluous if that logic should apply.

    Too often we forget that there is a difference between “disputed territories” generally and “territories claimed as disputed by the Kurds”.

  12. Reidar Visser said

    Just for the record, today the Salahaddin delegation actually spoke to Talabani about the matter. Talabani reportedly said he hoped Salahaddin would become the second federal region of Iraq, alongside the KRG, and insisted he would press Maliki on the question of holding the referendum in a timely fashion.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: