THE PAPER | Possible Fallout Due to Implementation of Regional Federalism in Iraq
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THE PAPER | Possible Fallout Due to Implementation of Regional Federalism in Iraq

By Murad A. Abbas and Radhi S. Jassam
Department of Political Thought, International Studies, University of Baghdad, Baghdad, Iraq

This article is not intended to oppose the application of federal system throughout Iraq, but it attempts to clarify the problems facing the formation of new federal units similar to the one in Kurdistan Iraq. It is intended & attempted to be academic, objective, impartial point of view, which is expressed by Iraqi university professors. This paper calls for the application of the federal system based on the realization of its importance & the necessity to adapt in accordance with the facts of the reality of Iraqi political, social & economic situation.

THE PAPER | Possible Fallout Due to Implementation of Regional Federalism in Iraq

In 1921, Iraq was founded by the British mandated authority as a unitary state composed of three major areas (Willayat = Baghdad, Mosel, Basra). These three willayates had no common interest in forming such a state. Administratively, they were divided into smaller units called governorates, and were centrally ruled from Baghdad . Therefore, they had no opportunity to build their own local authority, and to manage the affairs of their governorates, to reflect their ethnic, religious and sectarian diversity. However, in 2003, the new Iraq had been founded with the intention of becoming a federal state in order to reflect its diversity. In 2005, Iraq had become officially a federal system after the adoption of the permanent constitution. It has been formed from the Kurdistan region, which has become constitutionally a federal unit. The rest of Iraq stayed as it was composed of 15 governorates, having the right to form its own federal units. 

The problem of forming new federal units in Iraq, could lead to the division of Iraq at least into three major units. This fear based on facts existed on the Iraqi ground & supported by local & regional forces. Formation of new federal units based on ethnic, religious or sectarian principles would not lead to the stability of Iraq as a state. What might lead to a real stability in Iraq would be, forming those new federal units on an administrative principle with a strong federal government. Strong federal government means, it must have the rights & capabilities to keep the unity & stability of Iraq.

"One of the basic conditions for the success of the formation of states to their constitutional system requires studying the experience of other states" - Blindenbacher & Ostien, 2005: p. 54

Iraqis through their adoption to the federal system & the experience of building it, they should not only learn from those experiences, but they should first admit the great complexity of building their own federalism. The suffering of this experience has resulted from the problem of mixing & the interaction between the internal factors such as (ethnic, cultural, political & economic), & the external regional (Arab & non-Arab) & the international. We have noticed through the context of this overlap, & through the experience of building the first federal region in Iraq, that, Iraqi Kurds, on the one hand, since the creation of the Iraqi state at the end of the second decade of the 20th century, have suffered from many problems & difficulties with the succeeding central governments. 

On the other hand, and for fair and objective reasons, they have caused so many problems & difficulties to those governments. No one could deny the fact that, the relationship between those two parties was mostly built on the action of one party & the reaction of the other one, the attempt of each party to take advantage of the problems of another party through making some pressing demands & try as much as they can to acquire some benefits & concessions. Therefore, Iraqi Kurds in a very natural human behavior that, they would not be blamed for, have attempted to employ the new circumstances that existed after 9 April 2003 to serve their cause & pushing the new political system to adapt with the federal principles, according to the following realistic facts:

The application of regional federalism in Iraq, weather in the case of Kurdistan region or the future formed regions is facing two basic problems:

1. The distinct ethnic & linguistic formation from the rest of the components of Iraqis society.

2. They make the greater majority within a unified geographic area that is located in the northeast of Iraq 

3. They were able with the help of the United States & the United Nations (through what used to be called Operation Provide Comfort) to enjoy a great deal of autonomy outside the control of the central government in Baghdad after the end of the 1991 war.

Since Iraqi permanent constitution of the year 2005, asserted that, the new Iraqi state is going to be a federal state & confirm the formation of the Kurdistan region as a federal region, never clarify the natural and legal bases for the formation of such a region, this fact makes us believed that, the bases were made on the followings:

1. The constitutional naming of the region as (Kurdistan region) means the (Land of Kurds ).

2. The insistence of the political & societal Kurdish parties on annexing a new land area and adding it to the region, including Kirkuk & other parts from others Iraqi governorates. The Kurds consider those areas (withholding areas), the other Iraqi political & societal parties call it (disputed areas). The Kurds parties on their pronounced fact have made this presumption that; those areas are composed of the majority of the Kurds population.

What has been said, would lead to the fact, that, the federal region of Kurdistan in Iraq is the type of dual federation based on racial-ethnic (Kurdish nationalism) & regional-geographic (the region North East of Iraq), which would make it at the same time a mixture of (Ethno-Region federalism). This has known as a type of federalism, which recognizes the different ethnic societies as a component of the system.

The First Problem: 

The common misunderstanding among most of the political & social Iraqi parties to federalism as a thought & project. Most of them believe that, it could be used as a cover to secession. If this common misunderstanding is mistaken concerning the federal project & their reality of aiming at achieving the political & societal unity of the state & preserving it through the federal system as a guarantor to the diversity within the framework of unity. It should be right on the other side as much as it is related to the Iraqi reality which is full of such factors & circumstances which do not help in preventing such negative understanding to federalism & its potential objectives.

The Second Problem: 

It is the federal region of Kurdistan is not the only federal region to be build upon for the future federal regions in Iraq. There are many projected federal regions presented by many different political parties to be formed in the middle & south of Iraq . Those regions would not be similar in its formations & basics to the federal region of Kurdistan . Those federal projects are too many & would be conflicting with one another, & would not aim at gathering the Iraqi Arabs in one geographic region similar to the one in Kurdistan , where the two federal regions are based on a dual base (political regionalism, ethnic regionalism).

The problem with the projected federal regions, is that, those parties are going to build those federal regions in accordance with their sectarian borders and not their ethno-national borders like what their Kurdish brothers have in the north of Iraq. We should not forget the diversified nature of the inhabitants of such regions as Basra , Unbar, Salahaldeen & Kirkuk, which is highly mixed concerning their ethnic, religious & sectarian identities. This fact has encouraged many interested Iraqi & foreign parties to work hard to build such a region according to what they believed in, especially their sectarian interest. The details of such picture are affirmed if we remember that Mr. Paul Bremer, the first ruler of Iraq after the invasion of 9th April 2003, had announced that, the social, political reality of Iraq , has changed and Iraqis are divided into (Shias, Sunni, & Kurds).

The forces, who have participated in administering Iraq since then, are divided & were formed on ethno-sec- tarian facts. Iraqi components have been described since then as (Shias, Sunni & Kurds). Therefore, we believe that such classification does not match the reality of Muslims in Iraq , neither for Arabs nor for Kurds. This fact finds its explanation in the reality that Muslim Kurds are too, divided into Sunni & Shias, but the majority of them are Sunny. The Arab Muslims also divided into Sunni & Shias, but the majority of them are Shias. There are also minorities living in Iraq such as the Turkmen who are divided into Sunny & Shies too. There are also other religious minorities such as the Kuldo-Assyrian, the Eyzedeen, Shabak & Sabena. Therefore, classifying Iraqis into Shias, Sunni & Kurds, ignores the reality we have discussed above & deny the existing reality of Iraq.

This evokes in our minds the state of the Czechoslovakian union, which was formed from two different ethnicity. This type of a federal system clarifies the problems and tensions, which might be created by forming such a system. This cumulative polarization ended when Czechoslovakia became two independent states in 1993, without even having a referendum asking what the people would like to. These examples clarify the specific problems, which would result out of the formation of such unions & the dynamic process represented by the cumulative dual polarization, the speed which division between those two components would take place, when the political leaders believe it would be beneficial to their own interests.

Recalling such cases pushes us to pay more attention to the percentages & the methods of distributing authorities in Iraq between the federal government & the government of Kurdistan region & other local authorities. According to the scientific fact, which asserts that, the higher the degree of harmony among the societal components of the state, the higher the authorities granted to the federal government. The higher the degree of diversity, the higher the authorities granted to the regions or any other units comprising the federal system. It is desire to give the federal government more authorities, so it would able to resist all attempts to divide the state & even attempts to weaken it.

Since the process of rebuilding state in Iraq after 2003, has suffered from problems similar to the ones discussed above, especially the problem of identity, corruption, & the political quota. Therefore, the danger of the cumulative polarization (Ethnic, Religious & Sectarian) would be present with its negative consequences especially if the future federal regions would be formed on those bases. This kind of formation would threaten not just the stability of the Iraqi state & the continuation of its federal system, but it also would threaten its existence & survival as a unified state.

Cite this Article:

Murad A. Abbas, Radhi S. Jassam (2016) Dangers of Forming New Federal Regions in Iraq on Ethnic-Sectarian Bases. Open Journal of Political Science,06,316-322. 

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