Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for the ‘Federalism in Sunni-Majority Areas of Iraq’ Category

The New Federalism Jurisprudence of the State of Law Alliance

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 11 November 2011 19:13

Just when you thought things could not get more farcical in Iraq, the so-called State of Law Alliance of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has provided yet more fodder for potential pun-makers.

Back on 5 November, in a comment on the recent Salahaddin federalism initiative, Walid al-Hilli of State of Law declared that there were problems with the bid relating to article 6 of the law on region formation. According to Hilli, the article in question was “unclear” with respect to the creation of new regions through the transformation of a single governorate to a new federal region.

One could have dismissed the comment by Hilli as a slip of the tongue were it not for the fact that something almost identical was repeated by Mariam al-Rayyis, also close to Maliki, in press comments yesterday.  According to Rayyis, article 6 only relates to governorates wanting to join an existing region! In her view the law must be amended by parliament before the current Salahaddin project can go ahead (she specifically suggests Salahaddin can only join Kurdistan).

Let’s look at article 6.

يكون الاستفتاء ناجحاً إذا حصل على أغلبية المصوتين من الناخبين في كل محافظة من المحافظات التي تروم الانضمام إلى إقليم

Okay, so the referendum is successful if it gains a majority in “each governorate of the governorates wishing to join/combine into a region”. In other words, it was written with reference to a case of multiple governorates forming a region. Arguably, the case of single-governorate formation should have been mentioned separately.  But to deduct from this that single-governorate formation should be governed by different rules is absurd. Article 6 is the sole article that defines the modalities for a successful referendum and it was clearly intended to cover all instances of region formation including single-governorate ones, not least since such single-governorate regions were among the most likely scenarios in 2006 when the law was drafted, for example in Basra. The idea – implicit in the comments from State of Law politicians  – that there should somehow be a stricter threshold for a single governorate to become a federal region than for a combination of governorates (which after all would constitute an even more radical change) just defies common sense.  

The comment by Rayyis which tries to differentiate between annexing governorates to existing regions and everything else is even more flawed: She seems to suggest that article 6 only applies to cases of multiple governorates wishing to join an existing region all in a single referendum! This scenario is not even discussed in article 2 of the law which merely envisages the addition of single governorates to existing regions. It should be fairly clear that the “region” mentioned in article 6 can also be the result of non-federated governorates joining together in an act of federalisation.

The bottom line is as long as the Salahaddin federalists remembered to make a simple request for a referendum (in addition to their dubious “declaration of a region”) the bid will be legal and the government is under an obligation to carry out the requested referendum. Maliki allies have tried to claim that there is somehow a difference between a similar request from Basra and the Salahaddin bid, with the suggestion that the Salahaddin federalism scheme is intended to provide refuge to Baathists, is not conducted in coordination with the central government and even marginalises the Shiite minority! The fact is that in legal terms, the two bids, Salahaddin and Basra, are one hundred per cent identical. Many supporters of the Salahaddin bid are in fact anti-Baathists and there are Baathists in exile that have denounced the whole federalism project. If Maliki continues to treat Basra and Salahaddin differently, then it means he is effectively holding the Sunnism of the majority of the Salahaddin people against them.

Perhaps the new focus on article 6 at least is an indication that Maliki eventually understood that he could not forever obstruct the Salahaddin bid with vague allegations of Baathism. But the sloppy language of that article is such a silly and contrived basis for an attempt to derail a project that clearly satisfies the constitutional criteria for a federalism initiative. This is however not untypical: During the past few days Maliki has also declared that ex-Baathists should publicly denounce the Baath party as a condition for staying in their jobs in the government sector. Once more, he is making up the rules himself.

Reportedly, Maliki is now seeking the counsel of the federal supreme court on these matters. Let’s hope that unlike other previous episodes, the court (or the consultative assembly of state) will know exactly what answer to give him.

Posted in Federalism in Sunni-Majority Areas of Iraq, Iraq - regionalism - general, Iraqi constitutional issues | 14 Comments »

More Federalism Chaos

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 4 November 2011 18:56

There is so much fuss surrounding the renewed federalism debate in Iraq that it is really hard to know where to start.

Maybe a suitable vantage point is nomenclature: Can the Iraqi press please understand that no one can “declare” themselves a federal region in the way Salahaddin tried to do? Iraqi media keep talking about the “declaration” of federal regions, ignoring the fact that the most the governorate council can do is to ask the government to conduct a referendum.

Other oddities can be found in the arguments for and against the emerging federalism bid. One Iraqiyya figure claims that “everyone” supports the Salahaddin bid, including all the districts.

 أأكّدَ فرحانُ العوض المرشح للبرلمان العراقي عن محافظة صلاح الدين ان قرار مجلس المحافظة إقامة اقليم فدرالي، تم بموافقة جميع ابناء المحافظة بجميع أقضيتها وشتى أطيافها وألوانها

Again, this is irrelevant. Sub-entities may count in Spanish federalism but they don’t count in Iraqi federalism. The referendum will be a straightforward majority vote counted at the governorate level.

As for the opponents of the Salahaddin federalism bid, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki still continues to produce statements that are legally and constitutionally flawed. He labels the Salahaddin bid as neo-Baathism in disguise, ignoring the fact that the law does not specify ideological preconditions for launching a federal region. In other words,  it is the prerogative of the people of Salahaddin to go federal and try to grow bananas if they so desire.  Similarly, Maliki continues to talk about “conditions” for federal regions to emerge in concert with the government, and even alludes to the “pre-occupation” of the central government to build security at the moment!

إقامة الأقاليم حق دستوري لكن الدولة مشغولة حاليا ببناء البلد وتحقيق الاستقرار الأمني

Again, these are not valid arguments against implementing the law on forming regions, which Maliki has previously refused to do with respect to bids from Basra and Wasit.

Additional confusion has been thrown into the mix because of unprecedented talk in some circles of Sunni regions joining the Kurdish areas. For their part, some Kurds have said they would like to see the implementation of article 140 of the constitution on the disputed territories before any region-formation, which again is an idea that enjoys no legal basis.

What seems certain is that Maliki is now coming under pressure on federalism issues from fellow Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis alike. That is an unprecedented situation which will add further pressure on his minority-government survival strategy unless he either manages to win over some substantial Sunni and secular allies or gives the Kurds some more of what they want.

Posted in Federalism in Sunni-Majority Areas of Iraq, Iraq - regionalism - general | 24 Comments »

Nujayfi’s Separatist Threat and the Reactions

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 28 June 2011 18:50

One sentence in an interview with Al-Hurra by parliament speaker Usama al-Nujayfi – a leading member of the Iraqiyya coalition – has created a wave of reactions in Iraq. In the interview given at the conclusion of his visit to the United States, Nujayfi alluded to the possibility of a “Sunni separation” from Iraq  unless there was improvement in the political situation.

Although there have been growing calls in the Sunni-majority areas for territorially based concessions  over the past year or so – many demand more rights for the governorates and some call for the establishment of federal regions – Nujayfi’s hint about a possible fully-fledged separation “of the Sunnis” is unprecedented. Firstly because separation in itself is rarely alluded to by others than the Kurds, and even they like to be a little circumspect when it comes to using that term. Secondly, the idea of combining the Sunni-majority governorates to a single “Sunni region” is not consonant with the limited pro-federal activity that has taken place over the past year, which has been mostly governorate-focused (as in the cases of Anbar and Salahhaddin). Indeed, any would-be Sunni separatists would face exactly the same problem as ISCI did in 2005 (and as Amin al-Charchafchi in 1927) when they tried to conjure up images of some kind of Shiite region: What should they call the new entity? Because exactly like ISCI’s “Region of the Centre and the South”, the Sunni region enjoys no historical precedent. Probably the only historical competitor to the concept of Iraq in this area would be the “Jazira region” – in which case Mosul (but not necessarily all parts of Anbar) might try to absorb parts of northeastern Syria like Dayr al-Zur and even Raqqa to carve out a new state. Good luck.

Perhaps more significant than Nujayfi’s separatist threat itself are the reactions that materialised today. Nujayfi allies in Mosul like Abdallah al-Yawer criticise the statement and say it is “against the constitution”. Shakir al-Kuttab says that Nujayfi’s statement should not be used to construe a desire on the part of Iraqiyya to work for any kind of “Sunni region”. Muhammad al-Khalidi denies that Nujayfi called for the creation of a Sunni region and “the partition of Iraq”, adding that the parliamentary speaker said what he said simply to illustrate the seriousness of the current situation. Safiya al-Suhayl, formerly with Iraqiyya, then State of Law and now an independent, detects a “regional dimension” in Nujayfi’s threat. Obviously, members of Nuri al-Maliki’s State of Law alliance are beyond themselves in happiness over this latest propaganda coup: They spin it as if Nujayfi has finally been exposed as a separatist, as do members of the Iraqi Islamic Party (a Sunni Islamist party frequently accused of being the party that has spearheaded the drive for decentralisation among some local Sunni politicians.)

It is obvious that many in Iraqiyya are unhappy about the way things are unfolding in Iraq right now, but there must be better ways of addressing this than dreaming up unlikely alliances with ISCI and the Sadrists, demanding a strategic policy council that the Iraqi parliament is unlikely to ever grant them, or threatening with the creation of new states that would barely know what to call themselves.

Posted in Federalism in Sunni-Majority Areas of Iraq, Iraq - regionalism - general, Iraqi constitutional issues, Iraqi nationalism | 26 Comments »

The Akkaz Revolt: A Test Case for Iraq, and for Iraqiyya

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 20 October 2010 13:02

For the past couple of years an interesting energy revolt has been simmering in the mainly-Sunni governorate of Anbar: Local councillors are increasingly expressing a desire for a leading role for the local authorities in developing the Akkaz gas field. When the central government earlier this year included that field in a batch of contracts put up for auction to foreign companies, the local council protested and recently issued a threat about non-cooperation in case the deals went ahead.

Today, the Akkaz field was awarded to a South Korean consortium after an auction in Baghdad. It will be interesting to see not only how the governorate politicians in Anbar react, but also how the Iraqiyya coalition – which is strongly represented locally in Anbar – responds at the national level.

The constitutional facts of the matter are that the central government is supposed to be in the lead when it comes to “existing fields”, albeit in some kind of unspecified cooperation with the local authorities. Back in 2007, when an attempt was made to agree on an oil and gas law, Akkaz – which was discovered in the Saddam Hussein period before 2003 – was listed in the annexes to the draft law in category 3 of “non-producing” fields in need of considerable investment. Of course the oil and gas law was never adopted (and the Kurds protested strongly at the way the annexes were drawn up), and the central government has since gone ahead with the award (or attempted award) of several category 3 fields in previous licensing rounds with foreign companies, including Badra, Gharraf, Kifl and a gas field in Diyala. It is thought that the degree of “coordination” with the local authorities in these mostly Shiite-majority governorates (that is, except Diyala) has been quite minimal, and whereas protests from the local governorates themselves have been limited – and possibly have been ameliorated by the generous fees given to oil and gas-producing governorates in the 2010 budget – a general challenge to the government’s line has been mounted in the courts by Shadha al-Musawi, a former deputy of the old, all-Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, with respect to the contract signed with a British-Chinese consortium for  the supergiant Rumaila field in the Basra area.

Thus, the question is whether the oil ministry needs to do anything more in terms of coordination with the Anbar authorities than they have done in places like Dhi Qar. It is interesting that so far, the vision of a dominant central government in these issues has been promoted by Hussein al-Shahristani, a close ally of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Conversely, the Kurds and forces close to another Shiite party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) have been accused of abetting regionalist tendencies in Anbar, which used to have a nationalist orientation. Given the current rivalry between Maliki and Ayad Allawi to win over the Kurds in order to form the next government, it would be interesting to see where Allawi’s Iraqiyya really stands on this important issue concerning the key question of whether Iraq should be centralised or decentralised. If Iraqiyya supports the Akkaz revolt against Shahristani, maybe it should stop calling itself Iraqiyya altogether and instead merge with the Kurds and ISCI to form a new parliamentary bloc called Al-Kurdistaniyya? It is noteworthy in this context that the ministry of planning, headed by Ali Baban who is considered quite close to Maliki, recently announced its decision to scrap the question about ethnicity in the forthcoming census – a move likely to meet with Kurdish protests and applause from the Sunni Arabs in northern Iraq.

Posted in Federalism in Sunni-Majority Areas of Iraq, Iraqi constitutional issues, Iraqi nationalism, Oil in Iraq | 37 Comments »