Friday, March 21, 2008

Debating Devolution in Iraq (MERIP)

From: The Middle East Research and Information Project (March 10, 2008)

(Reidar Visser is a research fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs and editor of the Iraq website

In early August 2007, Jalal al-Din al-Saghir, a Shi‘i preacher affiliated with the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, made headlines with striking comments to a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor. The cleric revealed in an interview with Sam Dagher that “a massive operation” was underway to secure the establishment of a Shi‘i super-province in Iraq, to be named the “South of Baghdad Region,” and projected to encompass all nine majority-Shi‘i governorates south of the Iraqi capital. Saghir claimed that his party had already drafted detailed plans for how such a super-province would be governed -- plans of such importance to Iraq and the region that there was “no room for misadventures.”[1] While Saghir did not mention a timeline for this remarkable undertaking, other Supreme Council supporters of the idea were less reticent: “The Shiite federal region will be announced in April 2008,” wrote one enthusiastic proponent.[2]

The date was not chosen at random. April 2008 is the month when the law for implementing federalism -- adopted by the Iraqi parliament in October 2006 -- comes into effect. For the first time in Iraqi history, areas of the country that desire a special federal status similar to that already enjoyed by Kurdistan may initiate a procedure for transforming themselves from ordinary governorates into “federal regions,” potentially acquiring such privileges as the right to establish local paramilitary forces and the right to negotiate local deals with foreign oil companies. In order to obtain the rank of federal region, a governorate must hold a referendum in which no less than 50 percent of the electorate votes and a simple majority votes yes. If multiple governorates wish to band together in one federal region, the proposition must pass such a referendum in each province tagged for inclusion. (Only the Baghdad province is prohibited from forming part of a greater federal region.) If one targeted governorate says no, the federal project founders.

To read the rest of the article, click here.

For additional background, see and Reidar Visser, “Basra: Reluctant Seat of ‘Shiastan,’” in Middle East Report 242 (Spring 2007).

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