The Rationale Behind the Regionalization of Iraq

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An Iraqi woman displaced by fighting, between government supporters and ISIS group, uses hot water to wash clothes near shelters built for pilgrims but now housing internally displaced people (IDP) on January 5, 2015, in the holy city of Najaf, about 160 kilometers south of Baghdad. AFP/Haidar Hamdani

By: Salam Zaidan

Published Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The expansion of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the north of Iraq has revived the debate about establishing new regions in Iraq. It is important to keep track of the “regionalization” proposal as it reflects the Iraqi people’s vision for their country in the post-US invasion years, independent from the ill-founded view that administrative and political divisions are mere means to design the form of government in any country.

Baghdad – The Iraqi constitution, which the Iraqi people voted to ratify in 2005, gave the country’s governorates the freedom to establish regions that enjoy considerable independence from the central authority. However, on the popular level, the regionalization project was rejected by most of the Iraqi society’s Sunni and Shia components, because it seeks to divide the country along sectarian and ethnic lines.

The procedures for the establishment of regions are defined in Article 119 of the constitution. Thereby, a request should be submitted to the Council of Ministers by one-third of the Baghdad Provincial Council members or one-tenth of voters in the governorate seeking to establish a region. The constitution also gives each region the right to draft its own constitution — which defines authorities and jurisdictions — and the mechanisms to exercise this authority, and to allocate a fair share of the federal revenues to cover expenses, taking into account the resources, needs, and population ratio in the governorate.

After the US invasion of Iraq, future US Vice President Joe Biden proposed the idea of establishing three regions based on sect and ethnicity; the central and southern governorates would make up the Shia region, the western governorates would make up the Sunni region, and the Kurdish governorates would make up the Kurdish region. At the time, most political constituencies in the country responded to this proposal with ire.

Back in 2003, the late political leader Abdel Aziz al-Hakim was the first to propose the idea of establishing the central and southern regions. His supporters claim that the call was endorsed by Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali al-Sistani who lives in Najaf. However, the call did not receive political or popular support at the time.

Speaking to Al-Akhbar, Abdel Salam al-Maliki, member of the Iraqi National Alliance, said that “the country's economy relies on the central and southern governorates because they are rich in oil, have ties with several countries, include ports, and are known for religious tourism.” He noted that “the country faced significant challenges after 2003 in light of the increasing political differences, the collapse of general security, and the rise of extremist forces, which hindered the declaration of the establishment of the central and southern regions that include 10 governorates.”

“The governorate of Basra will alone declare an independent region because it has endured marginalization and exclusion, especially since 85.3 percent of the oil revenues entering the country come from the refineries in Basra,” al-Maliki said. He added that “30 percent of the population suffers from poverty, and the governorate lacks adequate infrastructure.”

Al-Maliki said that “the authorities overseeing the process of establishing the Basra region began the implementation of the necessary formal procedures and have obtained the signatures of one-tenth of eligible voters in the governorate as stipulated in the constitution.” He added that “the political movements in Basra have organized delegations to visit the religious and political leaders in Baghdad and Najaf to get their support for the establishment of the Basra region.”

In their demonstrations that started in 2012 — following the arrest and detention of Finance Minister Rafie al-Issawi’s protection team on charges of terrorism — the people of the western governorates (Anbar, Salahuddin, Diyala, Nineveh) raised slogans calling for the establishment of a “Sunni region.” The project was endorsed by several politicians, most notably Osama al-Nujaifi, Rafie al-Issawi, Ahmed al-Alwani, and Ali Hatem Suleiman.

Mutashar al-Samarrai, member of the Regions and Governorates Committee of the Iraqi parliament, told Al-Akhbar that “after 2003, suspicion and mistrust generated by political differences caused a major rift in the social fabric. Thus, the establishment of a Sunni region is the solution to all the crises that have occurred in the last period.”

Samarrai, a member of the Iraqi Forces Union, added that “the establishment of regions will preserve the unity of Iraq, because the highly centralized form of government adopted after 2003 has devastated the governorates and led to the squandering of the country's resources.” He points out that “the Sunni governorates have been devastated by the war on ISIS, thus the central government is required to rebuild them even in the event of the declaration of a Sunni region.” He explains that “the differences that will emerge between the governorates regarding administrative boundaries will be resolved in accordance with Article 140 of the constitution.”

The Kurdish region – which was established under the former regime and has expanded significantly in the years since the regime change – assumed a leading political role after 2003. It also sought to prevent the establishment of a strong government in Baghdad in order to achieve its interests.

Kurdistan Alliance MP Serwa Abdel Wahid said that “the regionalization of Iraq will not necessarily result in the country’s division along sectarian lines, and the constitution granted all governorates the freedom to establish regions.” He noted that “the establishment of regions will contribute to the development of the infrastructure in the governorates, as was the case in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.”

Abdel Wahid says that “the case of the governorate of Kirkuk and other disputed territories can be resolved by applying the provisions of the constitution, and allowing the locals to determine whether they want to continue to be a part of the federal government or join the Kurdistan Region after holding a referendum.”

Political analyst Iyad al-Mallah, who agrees with Abdel Wahid, says that “the constitution has defined the process of establishing regions, which was obstructed by political rivalry.” He adds that “the distribution of Iraq’s cities is based on sectarian and ethnic origin, and regionalization would result in regions comprising a single sect or ethnicity.”

He says that “regions will contribute to the development of societies, the reconstruction of infrastructure, and the flow of foreign capital,” adding that “the decision to establish a region should be made by the people of the governorates, and not by certain parties.”

“The capital Baghdad will not be an autonomous region, as stated in the constitution,” he notes, adding that “the governorate of Kirkuk and other disputed territories will be resolved in accordance with Article 140 of the constitution, because the process requires political stability.”

Political analyst Salam al-Rubaie tells Al-Akhbar that “the Sunnis reject the establishment of a region of their own, as they would lose a lot of economic privileges since their areas are not rich in oil. They would also have to acknowledge being a minority in comparison with the Shia, which they would not accept.” On the other hand, he notes that “the Shia reject the establishment of a Sunni region, because it will be headed by Baathist and radical leaders and likely become a breeding ground for terrorist and extremist groups, thus posing a threat to their existence in Iraq.”

“The Kurdish Region acts like an independent state and has transgressed the powers defined in the constitution, which has caused major problems and conflicts with the central government,” adds Rubaie. He notes that the Kurdish region has secessionist tendencies, because it seeks to annex several areas outside its borders, which might cause disputes between the Sunnis and Shia over buffer zones.

“Holding a referendum on the disputed areas, including the governorate of Kirkuk, will lead to infighting between the Iraqi communities, since the demographic balance has changed in favor of the Kurds.”

Rubaie concludes that “the creation of a Shia region is unlikely since the Shia have dominated the Iraqi government since 2003, and the declaration of a region by any governorate would weaken them.” He notes that “the Shia are seeking to maintain control of the country even if they make concessions to the Kurds and Sunnis on the issue of self-determination.”

Law of the capital

The Iraqi constitution states in Article 124 that “Baghdad with its municipal borders is the capital of the Republic of Iraq and shall constitute, with its administrative borders, the governorate of Baghdad.” The article adds in the second item that “a law shall regulate the status of the capital,” and in the third item that “the capital may not merge with a region.”

The Iraqi Council of Representatives has yet to approve such a law, another issue that the previous parliament failed to resolve. The Baghdad Provincial Council has stressed the urgency of passing the “law of the capital,” and believes that, should the parliament do so, it may resolve the issue of defining the powers of government bodies in Baghdad. This is essential because it would define the constitutional powers between the federal government, on the one hand, and the local government on the other.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

Don't turn your back on the masses or they will trample you to death

CONTROL
IT IS ALL ABOUT CONTROL
THE 2008 GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS GUTTED THE WORLDS ECONOMIES
THE CURRENT POWER STRUCTURES WILL DO ANYTHING TO AVOID LOSING THEIR POSITIONS OF POWER & WEALTH
THE CURRENT POWER STRUCTURES WILL DO ANYTHING TO AVOID BEING HELD TO ACCOUNT FOR THEIR CRIMINALITY
THE CURRENT FINANCIAL SYSTEM DOES NOT WORK
IT MUST CHANGE
WE THE PEOPLE OF THIS PLANET NEED TO BE UNDER CONTROL
THEY NEED TO HAVE US UNDER CONTROL
It is not about you or me - it is all about them
Contra to what we are led to believe - in the Great Depression - people did not conveniently just lay down & die for their masters - they made a bee line for them with malicious intent - which snapped the powerful establishment out of its complacency very quickly indeed.
THEY STILL REMEMBER THAT WE THE PEOPLE ARE A REAL & DANGEROUS THREAT TO THEM WHEN PUSHED..

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