Sub-Governorate Separatism in Iraq: New Examples from Dujayl and Balad
Posted by Reidar Visser on Saturday, 26 November 2011 12:30
Those who are following the evolving debate about federalism in Sunni-majority parts of Iraq will have taken note of the rapidly deteriorating legal standard of the arguments presented. The assertion earlier this week by Khalid al-Attiya, an ally of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, that the constitution does not call for the “immediate establishment” of federal regions may represent a low mark in the debate so far. It is true, as Atiyya claims, that the constitution does not say that federalism regions need to be established “immediately”.
“الدستور لم ينص على إقامة الفدرالية فوراً، كما أنه حذر من أي توجه عنصري أو طائفي لإنشاء الأقاليم
The thing is, Mr. Atiyya, they can be established “anytime”!
Also, the second part of the State of Law argument, that the constitution supposedly warns against establishing regions as a result of racist or sectarian impulses, is an outright lie.
A particularly interesting genre of federalism-related constitutional perversion relates to the newly revived idea of sub-governorate separatism, with or without reference to federalism discussions. In fact, the new Iraqi constitution of 2005 fails entirely to address the question of changes to the administrative boundaries of existing governorates. In terms of territorial changes, it deals only with the possible agglutination of multiple (whole) governorates into new regions through a process of federalisation. The relevant law on the books is a Saddam-era regulation that vests the power to make administrative changes in the central government – which of course is at variance more generally with the radical, bottom-up spirit of the new asymmetrical system of regions and governorates that was introduced with the new Iraqi constitution in 2005.
Despite the absence of clear constitutional or legal provisions allowing sub-governorate separatism through local initiatives, several incarnations of such projects already exist in the political history of Iraq in the post-2005 era. Perhaps most prominently, this includes repeated calls for the creation of new administrative units (governorates or regions) in the oil-rich Qurna and Zubayr areas within Basra governorate. Qurna is a peripheral part of Basra bordering on Dhi Qar, whereas Zubayr is west of Basra and home to a substantial Sunni minority.
Another example in this category is the idea of a Christian-dominated federal entity in the Nineveh plains. In this case, an attempt has been made to seek justification in article 125 of the constitution (which stipulates the right to “administrative rights” for ethnic and religious minorities), but it seems a far stretch to interpret this as a right to form a federal region: Region formation is treated separately and in a far more detailed manner elsewhere in the constitution, whereas article 125 is part of a section dealing with “local government”.
This week, the latest federalist initiative in Salahaddin has prompted sub-governorate separatist attempts from those who do not want to be part of the bid. Symptomatically of today’s sectarian climate in Iraqi politics, these calls for secession (and annexation to Baghdad) are apparently mainly from Shiite minorities who are territorially concentrated in Balad and Dujayl. In local elections in 2009, Maliki’s State of Law won some 14,000 votes in these areas and 2 seats in the governorate assembly; in March 2010 the Shiite Islamists fell short of the one-seat threshold of some 30,000 votes. Historically, Dujayl has seen severe episodes of sectarian upheaval, including in the 1980s after an anti-regime assassination attempt that led to the collective punishment of many Shiites, as well as in anti-Shiite terrorist episodes in the post-2003 era.
It is true that some of the new, anti-federal resistance is framed with reference to previous administrative maps when Balad in short intervals was part of the Baghdad governorate when the rest of Salahaddin wasn’t. As such, it could perhaps be grouped with other “disputed territory” conflicts (including Nukhayb in Anbar in addition to the better known areas claimed by the Kurds). However, the long line here is that the very creation of Salahaddin as a governorate is a relatively recent phenomenon, and that until the late 1960s the governorate of Baghdad was much bigger – an elongated province stretching northwards to the borders of Kirkuk. First and foremost, then, this latest separatism sub-governorate initiative looks somewhat sectarian in character, and certainly more sectarian than the federalism initiative against which it supposedly reacts (there is in fact nothing more sectarian about the Sunni-led, uni-governorate Salahaddin federalism initiative than what was seen in previous attempts to establish Basra as a separate federal entity, apart from the other Shiite-majority areas).
Thankfully, there are also reports about anti-separatism in Dujayl. Back in history, Dujayl was the ancestral home of Shiite writers who were among the first Iraqi nationalists in late Ottoman times, including Kazim al-Dujayli. Still, if sub-governorate separatism becomes a persistent trend in Iraq, we may soon end up with as many federal entities as there are oilfields in the country.
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