(Reidar Visser is a research fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs and editor of the Iraq website www.historiae.org.)
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.
For additional background, see www.historiae.org and Reidar Visser, “Basra: Reluctant Seat of ‘Shiastan,’” in Middle East Report 242 (Spring 2007).