Iraq and Gulf Analysis

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.

10 Responses to “Sub-Governorate Separatism in Iraq: New Examples from Dujayl and Balad”

  1. Salah said

  2. Reidar Visser said

    This is an example of Kurds nominally supporting federalism across Iraq (including in Salahaddin) whereas what they really talk about is confederalism. Take the complaint that “everything has to go through Baghdad”. This is patently untrue. The KRG does most of its business without reference to Baghdad entirely. Baghdad has a fair case for demanding coordination in the oil sector with reference to article 112 of the constitution. Similarly, the idea that the Kurds should have a constitutional right to self-determination (in the shape of de jure secession from Iraq) is a complete distortion of the relevant constitutional articles.

    On a lighter note, Maliki today showed some rare acumen and self-insight when he told a conference of women that males are responsible for most of the political problems in the country:

    أغلب المشاكل تأتي من الرجال الذين يقودون عملية العنف السياسي والعقائدي والأسري والاجتماعي والمشكلة منهم تبدأ”.

  3. Salah said

    On a lighter note, Maliki today showed some rare acumen and self-insight

    Reidar, you give too much credit to a person not worthwhile, Maliki (Maliky as he write his name) a surprise at a time and vacuum of politicians.

    If his speech to Iraqi women he should hold himself and all those around him with all parties what Iraqi women suffered under his regime?

    He forgot to address the real problems facing Iraqi women after 2003 till now as an IRAQ: Silent victims

  4. azzam said

    What options do the govenrorates have when they are sidelined by decisions from Baghdad?. Centralization of power is the root problem and devolution of that power is the solution. but Baghdad has been and will always be hugnry for centralization. I agree with you that oil and water are areas where Baghdad should be in control, but giving the pwoer to ONE person is not the answer either. There has to be a proper debate for policy setting. But all efforts to have policy be set by a group of “wisemen” have been resisted and continue to be so.

    Now that everybody is declaring a win for Iran with the termination of the SOFA, I hope we are not abotu to enter into yet another dark era where the majority (read she3a) will loose another historic oppertunity to be a dominant force due to the lack of vision of their chosen leadership. In my humble opinion, if the center continues to demand that they be in charge, there will be no option for the sidelined entites but to seek control of their own destiny(ies).

    I hope I am worng, but I see nothing but trouble over the horizon. May the gods prove me worng.

  5. Reidar Visser said

    Ok Azzam, so Maliki and Iraqiyya at least agree that oil should be controlled by Baghdad and there should be no more federal regions outside the KRG (on this Nujayfi now disagrees with them). You have a problem with Maliki’s influence in the oil sector, but the truth is that Shahristani/Luaybi are often taking positions that are closer to Iraqiyya on oil, whereas Maliki is the one who is sometimes prepared to horsetrade with the Kurds.

    My point is there is no reason why Iraq should not be able to have a normal oil ministry instead of all sorts of multi-member councils that can never agree on anything anyway.

  6. Azzam,
    I think Centralism as we knew it in Iraq is not at fault, it’s Maliki’s interpretation of it which made the governorates seek federalism. Centralism in modern Iraq meant government appoints locals who are sympathetic to the rulers, Maliki often makes provocative appointments.
    Sure I think the She3a are losing another historic opportunity but not because of centralism vs. federalism. I strongly believe that the main reason is because of no accountability over their own supporters across the board, whether the supporters are Daawa or Sadrists or others. The Sunni blocks let their thieves and murderers get away with their crimes and look at them now, they lost their popular support.

  7. Reidar Visser said

    Biden just touched down in Baghdad….

  8. Salah said

    Biden.. what will be most of this visit?

  9. azzam said

    Riedar and Faisal,
    I disagree with you and I think that the solution is more like what Adel Abd AL Mahdi has been advocating – let the govenorates and local counclis be in charge of the services (including police) in their own areas and give the central government control ONLY on foriegn policy, defence, and coordination power over oil and water (sort of like the interpertation of the commerce clause in the US constitution). Feds should be in charge of monitoring compliance with policy while implementation of said policy is the job of the local governments. By the way, the same works in Claifornia between Sacramento and the Counties/cities.

    Coordination does not meen control, it means setting policies and using the power of the purse and courts to assure complience. Policy should not be set by government either but by parliment. The Parliament has an oil and gas committee – its role has been sidelined, just like the rest of the Parliamnet in iraq.

    On power – my thinking is more along the lines of the tensions between DC and Tahran and how that is translated into actions in Iraq (and Afghanistan). The US can not be expected to take the SOFA termination and lick its wounds. This is just a battle in a long war. My opinion is that leaders in SOL and SCIRI bet on the wrong horse (again). Iran is strong in Iraq – no question. But that is temporary.

  10. Azzam,
    Even if Iraq goes like you suggested the question remains: Who interprets the constitution? Look at Gaddafi, he did not have Any constitutional powers yet he interpreted the constitution! And he got away with it because Libya had No clean elections.

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