Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Maliki, Allawi, and the Sunnis That (Still) Reject Federalism

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 6 December 2011 13:22

Perhaps one of the most interesting dimensions to the recent surge in federalism interest in Iraq’s Sunni-majority areas are those Sunnis that still don’t like the idea of federalism.

We have been in a similar situation before, with the Shiites. Back in 2005, when SCIRI suddenly declared its interest in a big Shiite region and the Western mainstream media promptly announced a general pro-federal tendency among Iraqi Shiites, it was internal Shiite opponents of federalism that ultimately torpedoed the whole project. Back then, at least to some extent, it seemed that popular resistance against sectarian federalism had prevailed.

Since Iraqi Sunnis began discussing federalism in earnest in late 2010, there have been three distinctive rounds of reactions.

Firstly, in the autumn of 2010 the provincial council in Anbar adopted a stance on the development of the Akkaz gas field that in practice amounted to federalism – and at least some local politicians openly advocated federalism. At the time, however, there were plenty of prominent, dissenting voices within Anbar itself.

Second, when parliament speaker Usama al-Nujayfi seemed to embrace something tantamount to Sunni sectarian separatism in late June 2011, there was also no lack of internal critics. Leading politicians from both Mosul (Nujayfi’s hometown) and the Iraqiyya coalition (Nujayfi’s political party) criticised the move.

Thirdly, there has been a separate wave of reactions to the latest bid by the governorate council in Salahaddin to request a federal referendum.

In the case of Salahaddin, perhaps the most prominent feature is that it has been somewhat difficult to identity leading Sunni local politicians opposing the bid. Vocal opposition has mostly taken the form of threats about sub-governorate separatism, which in turn has a (Shiite-minority) sectarian dimension.  One of the few publicised signs of local opposition was a meeting between the Shiite premier, Nuri al-Maliki, and a number of unspecified tribal shaykhs of the governorate. For what we know, they may well have been Shiite Dujaylis.

Outside Salahaddin, however, negative Sunni reactions remain numerous. There have been anti-federal tribal conferences in Anbar (Dulaym,) and Nineveh (the Jubbur tribe). Also in Kirkuk, Diyala and Mosul, many Sunnis remain sceptical of federalism more generally. Urban politicians in Mosul still call for the intervention of the (Shiite-led) Iraqi army to counter Kurdish assertiveness in the oil-rich disputed territories where Exxon recently signed deals. It is however true that there is some Sunni-led sub-governorate separatism underway as well, for example in the demand that Falluja be separated from the rest of Anbar in a reaction to perceived dominance by Ramadi.

There are signs Maliki is reaching out to the long-exiled amir of the Dulaym tribe, Majid Sulayman, in order to counter the pro-federal current in Salahaddin. The problem with Sulayman (and other exiles) is that he may well be out of touch with local sentiment in the Sunni areas. Symptomatically, perhaps, Maliki’s detractors made a big point of the fact that Izzat al-Duri, the exiled Baathist leader, shared his criticism of the federal project in Salahaddin!

If Maliki is smart, he will reach out to those local politicians on the ground in the Sunni areas that still reject federalism. If he is to maintain some semblance of democracy in Iraq, he will need more than Sunni figureheads from White Iraqiyya or Tawafuq and tribal sheikhs – Saddam Hussein, after all, had excellent relations with many Shiite shaykhs, including Maliki’s own Banu Malik. In Anbar, the deputy governor, Hikmat Jasim Zaydan, recently expressed scepticism towards federalism as a step towards sectarianism and partition. That is an example of the kind of politician to whom Maliki could try to reach out.

Interestingly, Ayyad Allawi, the leader of the secular Iraqiyya has come out with exactly the same position as Maliki: The time is not right for more federal regions. Of course personal relations between him and Maliki are notoriously bad. Allawi could use this situation for two different purposes: Either he could embark on the unlikely project of reconciling with Maliki, or he could exploit the situation to win more support on the ground in a situation when the Nujayfi camp appears to be betting on the federalism option. Are we still convinced that the current Sunni pro-federal trend is really more than SCIRI’s call for a Shiite region in 2005?

16 Responses to “Maliki, Allawi, and the Sunnis That (Still) Reject Federalism”

  1. observer said

    Allawi: I would build the state along the lines of a decentralized, federal system where a great deal of responsibility is put on the provincial and local authorities, who are in many ways closer to the people than the distant ministry in Baghdad, rather than repeat the buildup of the central state whose forms were basically outlined in the 1920s. This is because Iraq as a centralized state cannot really function in the long run unless there is high degree of political maturity or a dictatorship. There is just no way around it.

    Granted it is a different allawi (his cousin and a nephew of Chalabi) – but it is the same position of adel mahdi and incidentally Ayad Allawi. The point is that people are confusing federalism with decentralization. The reason for the confusion, in no small part, is Baghdad’s infuriating insistence on controlling all things, small or large, when it comes to decisions. Local politicians are suffering under the dominance (and incompetence) of Baghdad in front of their own people.

    Solution: devolve power to where it belongs. Baghdad should have hegemony only in things specifically given to it by the constitution but even more importantly, not with ONE person, be it a PM or a deputy PM 😉

  2. Reidar Visser said

    Allawi (Ayyad) did recently say he was specifically against the creation of any new federal regions at the present time. In Iraq, I think it is a good idea that the difference between federalism and decentralisation should be clear (and, ideally, clearer than in the current constitution). Historically, it makes sense to give the Kurds more autonomy than any other areas. Still, once Baghdad loses confrol of the oil sector, we’re not really talking about federalism anymore but confederalism.

  3. azzam said

    Even the Kruds agree that oil sales should be under SOMO!! However, baghdad is dragging its heals on increasing production – can you give me a good reason why it has been 8 years and has been no significant increase in production? Is it not because there is one man in charge and he has to take the responsiblity for the failure (as well as the credit for success)? If baghdad treats everybody equally and gives attention to the development of the oil sector (not to mention services) in KRG as well as Anbar, there would not be any problems, but baghdad is so focused on itself that it looses sight of what is important. No different than politicians in DC being out of touch with the outlaying districts.

    Repeat – decentralization is the answer. The federal government should set policies and guidlines then get out of the way and let the provinces implement. You want to give Baghdad a power — fine she can control water and oil (provided that it develops eaually all the portential areas). Also foriegn policy, and defence, but for goodness sake let the police be locals to each governorate (same for National Gaurdsmen vs Army) and so on. There is no reason why Baghdad should have 1/4 of the population of the entire country and consuming half of the budget.

  4. Reidar Visser said

    Azzam, note that those are two different visions of decentralising the police: Demanding locally recruited personnel is a longstanding Iraqi tradition going back to the monarchy (the Ottomans often liked to put foreigners in the police to avoid getting entangled in local politics). That option is not necessarily at variance with the idea of a national police (with policies set in Baghdad) and the concept of a unitary state.

    On the other hand, if the police is organised entirely by local authorities (as in the KRG) then we are talking federalism.

  5. azzam said

    Dear Riedar,
    By nature, our solutions will have to be hybrid solutions. Further, Iraq is the size of California, not the US. So the political structure can not afford to have a legislator in every “region” to be piled on top of the local governing councils. I wonder what salahdin has in mind? To elevate the elected governing council to the status of a regional parliament? then convert the DG’s of service offices to ministers? Or put a brand new layer of government on top of the locals? The latter obviously is not going to solve the problem and is going to make the situation even worse. But my discussions with Basra officials indicate that they fully intend to do what KRG is doing for political gain (more positions to give away to their own supporters). If we are looking for better governance (not the case any way, but lets talk hypotheticals), then the solution is for baghdad to yield on the issue of centralization of power. The insistence of Baghdad to be the center of all decision is fact the centrifugal force that is driving the provinces to demand their freedom.

    Let us not get confused in semantics. What we need is devolution of power to the provinces and bringing Baghdad back to natural size, both economically and politically (they are both inter-related, of course). Let the talented Iraqis go back to their roots and let all of Iraq rise economically through the proper distribution of oil wealth on infrastructure projects.

  6. Reidar Visser said

    I have the impression that those seeking federal status are mainly interested in the separate budget arrangements that the KRG currently enjoy. It should be added that those arrangements are not really grounded in the constitution: The Kurds pay only for defence and foreign service whereas according to the constitution there should be shared responsibilities in many areas, including oil, health and education. Of course, the Kurds had developed their own governmental structures since 1992 but if another region comes into existence, this is certain to become a heated debate.

  7. Azzam,
    I think you are proposing a permanent solution to a temporary problem, a bit like Saleheddin who are assuming that the status quo will last forever.

  8. azzam said

    The problem of Baghdad is anything but temporary. 😉

  9. Salah said

    Excuse me to put this here, but this is al- Jaafri (ابراهيم لغوة) give his stand about forming consultation government

    دكتور ابراهيم الجعفري لـ( الحل نيوز) انا لا أأمن بالحكومة الديمقراطية التوافقية

    الجعفري : راي قلته في السابق واقوله للمرة الثانية والثالثة وحتى اخر يوم يخرج به قوات الاحتلال ‘انا لم ارضى في يوم على وجود القوات الاجنبية على ارض العراق فوجود القوات الاجنبية على الارض العراقية لطخت عار في جبين العملية السياسية قلناها في السابق ولا زلنا

    لجعفري: الدستور العراقي شانه شان دساتير العالم الاخرى يؤثر ويتاثر يبدل ويتبدل الدستور ليس مقدسا فالشعوب هي التي تختاره اساس لطريقها تتطور الشعوب فتعكس تطوراتها على الدستور ، مثال على ذلك الولايات المتحدة الامريكية حتى عام 1971 26وهي بدلت دستورها لـ26 مره ،

  10. Reidar Visser said

    The Jaafari comments are interesting in that he, too, alludes to a more majoritarian form of government as preferable.

    بحكومة ديمقراطية توافقية التي بصراحة اقولها انا غير مؤمن بها وهذه من البدلات التي لا تنسجم مع قيمنا ومبادئنا ولكن شيء لابد منه في ان نحترم التعددية دون ان تتحول الى محاصصة حزبية وتكتلية وان تاخذ حق الفيتو على كل الاطراف هذا ما نرفضه من الديمقراطية التوافقية

    It is widely believed he is closer to Iran than Maliki (who has been using similar language).

    It is also pathetic to read his declarations of support for the constitution followed by the anti-constitutional suggestion that the “atmosphere” is not right for more federal regions at the present time…

  11. Salah said


    Iraqi knew him well what he is and what he was, Iraqis never forgot those years they had bloody sectarian chaos infiltrated by Daawa/Iran inside Iraq.
    To show readers here more “Pathetic” & schizophrenically test of jaafri, let’s read back in 2005 when he said back:

    After America pulled out, Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari observed that America had stayed for a relatively short two-and-a-half years. Two-and-a-half years is clearly not long enough to satisfy Iraq, said al- Jafari. Sure, America is happy, but we have needs too, you know.Al-Jafari then went on to say that when the British Empire invaded Iraq,it stayed for almost sixty years.But then again, the British Empire had a much bigger [military] unit,al-Jafari added.

    December 2005
    Bush Pulls Out Of Iraq Early,President Unloads His Soldiers On Side Of Kuwait

    More of his “Pathetic” answers back in 2005:

    What has happened in Iraq during this short period of what has taken place are many steps and important steps in Iraq. First of all, Iraq has witnessed a qualitative change and freedom which have taken place in Iraq. At the time when all that was in Iraq was one dictatorship, one leader of a state, who was also the leader of the party and a military leader as well, and the person who was the head of the media. And this is how a dictatorship was encompassed in the character of Saddam Hussein and ruled with an iron fist.
    Whereas today there are so many parties, political parties, and many political gatherings and many political figures and a diversity of media that speaks freely. We do not claim that we have reached full maturity and this is the last—we do not claim that this is the last step in democracy. However, despite the short time that has passed, we have strived and accomplished tremendous achievements.

    Let read what he think about US and democracy…

    And we acknowledge that the blood of your sons have mixed with the blood of our sons, and paid a very high price and the sacrifice to bring about an atmosphere of democracy and freedom. And any society that wants to come out of dictatorship into freedom and democracy must pay a price, pay sacrifice, as did the revolution of George Washington. There were many sacrifices then, and any revolution that brings about a better state always involves some sacrifice and must pay a price. This is the way things are.

    Here let read about federalism

    The principle of federalism, we have agreed to in principle when we were in opposition, and now when we are in government. And federalism is created by the people. It is the people who decide the type of federalism and the nature of federalism. And just as federalism needs a rebirth, it needs to be protected, too. So it’s the people who will form the type of federalism and protect the type of federalism. Therefore, we do not fear any type of federalism as long as it is the people who choose the type of federalism. And it is the constitution that will lay down the principles for federalism, and the constitutional committee will bring forward proposals for the people to vote on. And therefore, we leave it to the Iraqi people.

    A Conversation with Ibrahim al-Jaafari

    You chose ” pathetic” term to label his comment, this less thing to tag him, he deserve more than this word but just shows what this “lunatic” have to say while he was doing those doggy things when was in UK to get paid from UK taxpayer money for fraud claims about his professional skills.

    He should never been included on his own claims to lead or have senior roll in Iraq politics simply he is real “lunatic” Daawa /Iranian folk.

  12. Reidar Visser said

    Here is an interesting story: Shahristani (and oil minister Luaybi) meeting with Anbari leaders, declaring solidarity with them in their stance against the Kurdish oil deals for the disputed territories:

    وقال مدير المكتب الإعلامي للشهرستاني فيصل عبد الله في حديث لـ”السومرية نيوز”، إن “نائب رئيس الوزراء لشؤون الطاقة استقبل، صباح اليوم، رئيس مجلس محافظة نينوى جبر العبد ربه وعدداً من أعضاء المجلس وبحضور وزيري النفط عبد الكريم لعيبي والدولة لشؤون المحافظات ترهان المفتي”، مبيناً أن “العبد ربه قدم شرحاً مفصلاً عن التجاوزات التي تقوم بها بعض الشركات النفطية الأجنبية من خلال التنقيب على النفط في المناطق التابعة لمحافظة نينوى”.

    وأضاف عبد الله أن “نائب رئيس الوزراء حسين الشهرستاني اوضح للوفد أن موقف الحكومة الاتحادية هو أن أي عقد نفطي لا يعرض على مجلس الوزراء ولا يحظى بموافقة الحكومة المركزية لا يعتبر صحيحاً ولا يحق للشركات الأجنبية العمل على الأراضي العراقية من دون موافقة الحكومة”.

    The question is, how representative is Shahristani for the State of Law coalition right now? Maliki sometimes seems more prepared to negotiate with the Kurds.

  13. Wladimir said

    But if Allawi starts to compete with Nujayfi over federalism, what happens with the Iraqiya list?

    “Urban politicians in Mosul still call for the intervention of the (Shiite-led) Iraqi army to counter Kurdish assertiveness in the oil-rich disputed territories where Exxon recently signed deals”

    I thought they wanted more control over local security forces in Mosul and kick the Iraqi army and Peshmerga out of Mosul. Especially the al-Hadba list. Are these politicians different from al-Hadba, or?

    Also dont forget that Baghdad is supporting a shiite police force and shiite demographic expansion/houses/etc in disputed territories in Ninveh, and also Shiite Turkmen in Kirkuk. Something Sunni Arabs, and some Christians in Nineveh do not like much. I heard this a lot of Sunni Arab politicians in Kirkuk. That they are worried about this issue, as much as KRG policies.

  14. Reidar Visser said

    Wladimir, here is an example of one of those stories:

    It refers to a majority decision in the Nineveh council and specifically quotes a Hadba member, Abd al-Rahim al-Shammari.

    There is a dispute re the police commander in Mosul, but at least in this example Mosul is asking Baghdad for help against Arbil.

  15. Wladimir,
    Federalism is a pseudo issue for all but the Kurds, I don’t think it is important enough to cause rift within Iraqiya.

    I think your observation that “Baghdad is supporting a shiite police force and shiite demographic expansion” has some merit but many Iraqis would not put it this way in public, too undiplomatic! The rest of your observation fits, everyone is trying to pretend that Maliki’s policies are not disastrous. Iraq now is an Iranian chessboard.

  16. Salah said

    Iraq now is an Iranian chessboard.


    My anti was in Mashhad/Iran for a visit in 1967, I was in Istanbul in 1977 for tourist visit, both were felt both Iranians and Turkish looking to Arab generally and Iraqis specifically as their past domain “imperialism” history.

    Iranian and Turks cannot forgot their dreams of this very rich hidden priceless gift, so they were never & will never behave in a way as normal neighbours and brother in Islam..

    This is the dilemma with both not Iraqis, Iraqi just had this bad luck along 5000 years of history of his Northern & Eastern neighbours.

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