Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Towards Asymmetrical Decentralisation in Iraq?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 14 February 2012 18:34

Maybe it was the physical dislocation of the Iraqi cabinet and Iraqi journalists to the southern port town of Basra that was the reason.  Perhaps it had to do with a desire on the part of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to somehow please his constituency in Basra at a time when pro-federal Sunni movements have forced him to take a negative stance on the creation of new federal regions generally. Whatever it was, Iraqi politicians and journalists produced an amazing array of misleading statements subsequent to the first meeting of the Maliki government outside the capital Baghdad yesterday.

In what appeared to be direct quotes from normally reliable people like deputy PM Hussein al-Shahristani and government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh, there were suggestions that not only had Basra been granted some kind of special status with minister rank for its governor and enhanced spending powers compared with other governorates. Some even suggested that contractual powers for the oil sector were also included:

وقال الشهرستاني في تصريح صحفي ان :” مجلس الوزراء قرر في جلسة عقدها اليوم في البصرة منح المحافظ خلف عبد الصمد صلاحيات وزير فيما يتعلق بصرف المبالغ الخاصة بالمشاريع الخدمية الى جانب ابرام العقود النفطية في خطوة ينشد منها المجلس توسيع صلاحيات الحكومة المحلية في المحافظة “.
واشار الشهرستاني الى ان ” قرار المجلس اعطى المحافظ صلاحية التوقيع على صرف مبالغ تتراوح ما بين 50 الى 100 مليون دولار والتي كانت سلفا حصرا بالوزير ، كما مكن المجلس المحافظ من احالة المشاريع وابرام العقود مع الشركات (بضمنها ا النفطية) دون الرجوع الى الوزارات المعنية بالامر “.

Many observers were skeptical, but for the next 24 hours the stories made their way through Iraqi media anyway – complete with parliamentarians commenting for and against the assumed cabinet decision. After all, the Iraqi cabinet already violates so many fundamental features of the Iraqi constitution (including the right to form federal regions) that it wouldn’t necessarily be shocking for it to introduce yet another infraction, however outlandish.

In the end, though, it was a false alarm. In the more down-to-earth report by parliament spokesman Dabbagh today, there is no mention of the oil sector, and hardly any suggestion that Basra was given special status – the reported spending cap was made to apply to all governorates. In fact, in the Dabbagh summary, the only special privilege granted to Basra is an apparently simplified governmental approval process for certain kinds of projects. Whether this really constitutes differential treatment in practice remains to be seen, but it is a lot less radical than the initial media headlines suggested:

7.الموافقة على زيادة سقف الحد الأعلى لصلاحية لجان المشتريات في كافة المحافظات الى (100) مليون دينار بدلاً من (50) مليون دينار ورفع صلاحية المحافظ في الإحالة الى (100) مليار دينار. والإيعاز الى محافظة البصرة بعرض المشروعات المحالة من قبلها دون إستحصال موافقة اللجان الوزارية المختصة على اللجان المختصة القطاعية لتدقيقها وإستحصال الموافقات الاصولية بشأنها وعلى اللجان الوزارية القطاعية (لجان الخدمات والشؤون الاقتصادية والطاقة والتعليم) النظر في المشاريع المحالة عليها من الوزارات والمحافظات خلال (14) يوماً من تاريخ استلام الطلب في اللجنة وبخلاف ذلك تعتبر موافقة اللجنة حاصلة ما لم تبادر اللجنة لطلب معلومات إضافية عن المشروع من الوزارة أو المحافظة خلال تلك الفترة وترسل طلبات الموافقة على الإحالة الى اللجان الوزارية المختصة مباشرة دون الحاجة الى إرسالها عن طريق الأمانة العامة لمجلس الوزراء من قبل الجهة المعنية وباليد لتسريع الإجراءات

What this whole little affair has revealed, however, are the large gaps in the legislation regulating centre–periphery  relations in Iraq – as well as considerable ambiguities in the Iraqi constitution itself.

Everyone talks about the “spending cap” for governorates, but where exactly has that been legislated? Is it in the provincial powers law of 2008 or in the annual budgets?? This problem in turn relates to the fact that the provincial powers law of 2008 did not really do much to demarcate responsibilities between governorates and ministries in so-called “shared” areas of government (articles 112 and 114 of the constitution). What it did, first and foremost, was to create a sack-and-appoint procedure whereby local politicians were given a say in the appointment of high-level officials of the central administration working in their governorate (health, police, education etc.).

Similarly, today, the Kurdish MP Bayzid Hassan expressed outrage about the alleged cabinet decision to give Basra contracting powers for the oil sector. This “has to be legislated”, he demanded. But his outrage is misguided. According to article 112, federal regions and producing governorates enjoy exactly the same rights as far as oil is concerned. Basically, if KRG can sign – and that is a big if, depending on how one reads the rest of 112 – Maysan can sign. There is no other possible reading, regions and producing governorates have equal constitutional status as regards energy (and residual powers, article 115), period. Incidentally, this means that if any of the current draft versions of the oil and gas law actually passes in parliament, it will be unconstitutional from the get-go since all versions bestow contracting rights on federal regions but not on producing governorates.

Most commenters dismissed the story about Basra contracting rights as unrealistic, not least given the past record of centralism on the part of Shahristani in particular. What the episode actually highlighted was yet another fundamental contradiction between the Iraq outlined in the constitution of 2005 and the way the country actually works.

21 Responses to “Towards Asymmetrical Decentralisation in Iraq?”

  1. Reidar,
    “if any of the current draft versions of the oil and gas law actually passes in parliament, it will be unconstitutional”
    Excellent point, I bet the Legal Expert of Iraq is dreaming new ways of interpreting the constitution.

  2. Reidar Visser said

    I assume that refers to Tareq Harb or even to Maliki himself…

    Just to be clear I’m not advocating the right of governorates to sign deals; I’m advocating constitutional reform. The “state of law” looks somewhat ridiculous if it has to violate its own laws and constitution all the time.

  3. Observer said

    Are you saying that neither versions of the oil law are constitutional?

    On the pronouncements – you have no idea how the governorates are frustrated by the central government. Baghdad may finally be understanding the level of frustration. Maybe – just maybe, baghdad will start decentralizing,,,, you thin?

  4. Reidar Visser said

    I’m saying both versions are unconstitutional because they treat federal regions and producing governorates differently and there is no constitutional basis for that. Whatever interpretation one arrives at with respect to 112 – i.e. does provincial entities of any kind have rights to sign anything or not – it should apply across the board as long as the constitution itself is not revised.

    Looking at the net result of the Basra meeting it doesn’t really look like a real empowerment of the provinces. Apparently just some red tape was removed and there is probably a good deal of that left in place anyway. Maybe the media confusion was calculated to create some extra hype, and then nothing?

  5. Observer said

    on a sperate note, two career groups in the Gulf. Not a regular rotation maneuver as the first group only showed up three weeks ago.

    oh – and I got independent confirmation yesterday that the reported blow out of the pilot window of the Iranian supplied Airbus that the PM uses was true. the PM, Sheristani, and Adeeb were not on board on take off as the latter were “delayed” and were scheduled to take a later flight on a C-130 to Baghdad.

  6. Observer said

    RV Regarding 4, my understanding is that a deal was struck between Iraqiya and the Kurds that a special committee will review the contracts signed by KRG and “approve”. The bottom line is that the main difference is Production Sharing vs. Service Agreements. The position of Sheristani is down right stupid as it harms Iraq in the long run as it does no have incentives to increase production and the IOC are better off investing elsewhere (including KRG). While Sheristani wants to take the moral high ground as the protector of Iraq’s rights, in fact he is causing Iraq harm by delaying the increase in production.

    so had Baghdad been less intransigent in regards to its hegemony, there would not have been a crisis, constitutional or otherwise…..but Maliki and co live on drama.

  7. Reidar Visser said

    Whatever they agreed, we need to remind ourselves that the KRG + Iraqiyya lack the parliamentary strength to do anything bilaterally. That is after all the reason they all want to revive Arbil.

  8. Mohammed said


    Apparently in the interior ministry in its infinite wisdom decided to close down the police academies in ninewa and basra. Is this true?

    So much for decentralization!

    Why are they digging more holes for themselves?


  9. Reidar Visser said

    Yeah, I have seen those reports and see no reason to not believe them. They are sending exactly the wrong signal at the wrong time. Having a police academy somewhere other than capital is the softest form of decentralisation you can possibly have. Norway is also pretty centralised but we have small concessions of this kind like the Statoil head office in Stavanger and the foremost mercantile college in Bergen and some fishery related bureaucracy there as well.

    It is exactly this sort of decentralisation Maliki should allow for if he wants to bring the demands for federalism to an end.

  10. Salah said

    RV Said:
    from normally reliable people like deputy PM Hussein al-Shahristani

    Very…Very reliable……..

  11. Reidar Visser said

    Reliable in the sense that he usually means what he says.

  12. Salah said

    Reliable in the sense that he usually means what he says.

    Yes, let this is prove to you, let see, is “he usually means what he says” in English and in his native mother tongue?

  13. Reidar Visser said

    For unclear reasons, Maliki today says Basra privileges will be gradually extended to other governorates.

    Contradicts Dabbagh press release which indicated almost everything (spending powers etc.) would apply to governorates generally.

  14. Samir Abdallah said


    Exact translation of the text as published by PUMedia you referenced doesn’t say gradually. A more exact translation would be “Basra privileges will be extended to other governorates”

    Without the word “gradually”, this extension of privileges may take place in a very short time. In this case that does not practically contradict Debbagh press release.

  15. Reidar Visser said

    Fair enough, but the main point here was the discrepancy between the media perception that Basra had been granted something unique and the subsequent press statement that focused on governorates being treated uniformly. It does look odd and somewhat patrimonial if the cabinet can travel around the country and extend privileges here and there (Maliki specifically envisions more Basra-like events elsewhere) whenever it wants to portray itself as a patron.

    I think perfectly uniform treatment across the board would have been more in line with the “State of Law” concept.

  16. Salah said

    There are two reported incidents in the news make you wonder all the fuss about oil and speeding, singing deals with big oil companies all of that> its shows those in Iraqi government also those who in power about Oil and electricity the famous one who is “normally reliable deputy PM Hussein al-Shahristani” and oil ministers.

    Let us read these two coming reports:
    1- عرض عراقي على طريقة الدفع بالآجل لشراء مشتقّات نفطيّة من باكستان

    2- العمارة: قرار بمنع دخول وزير النفط الى المحافظة

  17. Salah said

    One very simple question here. Why then oil deals and negotiations and all the fuzz about oil contract and all of that.

    According the report the Oil companies they secure 100% they are free to get Iraqi oil, no one can beat them under the Iraqi new law.

    وكالة أميركية: العراق عدل عقود النفط بما يمنح امتيازات كبيرة للشركات العالمية

    قالت وكالة “داو جونز” ، إن العراق وضع تعديلات مهمة على بعض بنود عقود الخدمات التقنية المعمول بها منذ 20 عاماً مع الشركات العالمية التي تسعى إلى التنقيب عن النفط والغاز في 12 موقعاً محتملاً أدرجتها وزارة النفط ضمن جولة التراخيص الرابعة المقرر عقدها في أيار المقبل.

    وأضافت الوكالة أنه وفقاً للعقد الجديد، ستكون حصة الشركات العالمية 100% من المشاريع، مقابل لا شيء للشركات الحكومية العراقية، بعد أن كان العقد يتقاسم الحصة بين 75% للأولى و25% للثانية.

  18. Reidar Visser said

    Salah, please read the original report here:

    This relates to the fourth bidding round and is nothing near what you describe.

  19. Salah said

    oops, I just send the comment while you put it Reidar.

    I understand that but this looks will be the new policy isn’t?

    Then the new contract will bounded by these new law, which clear there are more oil discivry and wells will be under the new regulations.

  20. Reidar Visser said

    Salah, these are a type of model contract considered for a particular category of fields on offer in the fourth bidding round. The oil law leaves it to a commission to decide model contracts, which can be different from case to case. But the law has yet to be adopted. In general, the deals signed by the Baghdad government so far are considered beneficial to Iraq in terms of how much money they get per barrel of produced oil. The problem and the reason to criticise the oil ministry has more to do with how they have managed the contracts, causing production levels to remain lower than the potential.

  21. Salah M. Yahya said

    Thanks for your thoughts, I totally agree, only one concern is as you said “are considered beneficial to Iraq in terms of how much money they get per barrel The ere are may smears report how much Iraq really get money/barrel? Although which figure will be beneficial to Iraq especially in this time as every cent needed.

    However there are regional factor as much as internal factor affecting Iraq oil production, i.e. Mubarak port which causing some havoc and conflicts, Iran sanction with some reports they pushing their fest on Iraqis not to increase the oil production…etc.

    So Iraq still in limbo inside and outside, but I believe the major is how those Iraqi official works for the best for Iraq not for their buckets and greed.

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