Spectre of Iraqi Federalism frightens
By Bahadin Yousef, Sulaimaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan
Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — Federalism could be one
way of solving Iraq’s current political impasse. But
forming semi-independent states could also lead to
more conflict and violence. And those in Iraq’s only
current federal region, Iraqi Kurdistan, are
Currently the spectre of increased federalism in
Iraq is haunting the semi-autonomous state of Iraqi
Kurdistan – and that is despite the fact that Iraqi
Kurdistan is itself a mostly independent state with
its own military, government and laws. By rights,
Iraqi Kurdistan should support federalism. Instead
though politicians in Iraqi Kurdistan are anxiously
awaiting the results of moves made by the provinces
of Salahaddin, Ninawa and Diyala toward more
The Kurdish have long supported the establishment of
a federal system in Iraq. But this is not enough to
ease their minds about what is happening in
Salahaddin, Ninawa and Diyala.
All three of these provinces share borders with
Iraqi Kurdistan and also contain disputed territory:
That is, there is land there that Iraqi Kurdistan
says belongs to Iraqi Kurdistan but which Baghdad
says belongs to Iraq. And fears are rising that if
these regions do achieve some level of independence
they may be reluctant to negotiate with Iraqi
Kurdistan over the disputed territory.
Salahaddin, Diyala and Ninawa are home to a broad
mixture of religious sects and ethnicities,
including Kurds, but the majority of their
populations are Sunni Muslim Arabs.
The first calls for more regional independence came
in the latter months of 2011 when Salahaddin
authorities said they would establish an independent
region. The bid for independence – which is
supported by the Iraqi constitution if one third of
local government members make the request for a
referendum – was also supported by Iraq’s
parliamentary speaker Osama al-Nujaifi.
He said the bids for independence were the result of
the fact that Sunni Muslims had started to feel
marginalized in Iraq; Iraq’s coalition government is
led by a Shiite Muslim dominated political alliance.
The Salahaddin council itself noted that
“marginalization and negligence practiced by the
central government in Baghdad against these
provinces has caused suffering and made people
demand more independence”.
In mid-December members of Diyala’s council also
voted to take similar measures and it is expected
that Ninawa will eventually come to do the same.
As a result the leaders of Iraqi Kurdistan find
themselves in a difficult situation. They support
the requests for regional independence as
constitutional and legitimate – as they must. They
themselves are one. And the more independent regions
there are, the more justified their own existence.
But they also fear that independence could further
complicate an already complicated situation when it
comes to disputed areas.
This is why Kurdish politicians have been qualified
in their support for independent regions and
When he received a delegation from Salahaddin in
November last year, Iraqi Kurdistan’s president
Jalal Talabani said that he broadly supported the
region’s claim to independence but that this could
not include any disputed territories.
Leading Kurdish politician and deputy speaker in the
Iraqi Parliament, Arif Tayfur, has also said he
supports Salahaddin’s bid for independence. “Iraq is
a civilized country and provinces have the right to
form regions,” Tayfur said at a meeting with
Talabani and the delegation from Salahaddin. “It is
a legitimate right guaranteed by the Constitution."
Another Kurdish politician Latif Mustafa, who holds
a doctorate in constitutional law, has described the
bids for independence as a “positive step”. But he
also expressed concern about what would happen to
the disputed territories.
"If the people of these provinces decide to form an
independent region, then territories in those
regions cannot be annexed to Iraqi Kurdistan,”
Mustafa explained. “Especially if the referendum
leads to a regional right to self determination.”
Those Kurdish lawmakers who are concerned about
independent regions have suggested that Article 140
of the Iraqi Constitution be applied before any
independence is granted.
Originally formulated in 2003 and then later
revised, Article 140 addresses the expulsions,
ethnic cleansing and Arabisation carried out under
Saddam Hussein’s regime and sets out to remedy them.
It “mandates a process of normalization and
referendum for disputed territories” using three
steps. These are, firstly,www.ekurd.net
normalization - a return of Kurds and other
residents displaced by Arabisation – followed by a
census taken to determine the demographic makeup of
the province's population and then finally, a
referendum to determine the status of disputed
For example, if there are more Kurds in one of the
disputed territories, then the area may well become
part of Iraqi Kurdistan. If there were more Arabs,
it would remain part of Ninawa.
A Kurdish member of Salahaddin’s council Rasheed
Khurshid told Niqash that, in a case like that of
the disputed town of Tuz Khormato in the Salahaddin
region, “the town should be annexed before the
formation of the Salahaddin region because it would
be difficult to annex it afterwards.”
As Latif concluded: “the current situation in Iraq –
with a central government and the one Kurdish region
- is not that different from government during the
Saddam Hussein's regime. Whereas the principle of
federalism, from a legal point of view, requires the
presence of a central government and several local
governments. The centre should then act as the
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