Status of Iraq Federalization
In a move long expected, numbers of Kurds are returning to Kirkuk years after being displaced by Saddam Hussein. It’s an obvious effort to consolidate influence in the region before the unveiling of the proposed permanent Iraqi constitution which will most likely make way for Kurdish autonomy. Still, the question remains whether or not the final draft of the constitution will include an ammendment on future Kurdish independence, AKA the formal creation of Kurdistan. Some Kurds have demanded language on a future independence referendum, but it’s doubtful that they would veto a federalism-based constitution if the issue remains ambiguous. Simply, the federalization of the Kurdish provinces — with Kirukuk as a capital — would be a huge victory for Kurds following their subjugation and abuse under Hussein’s regime and it’s doubtful it would be turned down over a referendum Kurdish leaders know would be impossible to enact any time soon. Also, the creation of a fully independent Kurdistan would draw the ire of the Turkish government, which is currently supportive of Kurdish autonomy under the central Iraqi government since it could, theoretically, quell the desire for full independence (which is highly debatable.) Regardless, some backlash and violence may erupt if Kurdish autonomy passes, emanating primarily from local Turkmen and Sunni Arab populations. Any provisions denying the Kurds full control over Kirkuk could also cause upheaval, so the question really centers around which ethnic group will be behind the majority of violence in the north following the constitution’s unveiling.
A number of Shi’a are also still backing the federalization of the southern, primarily Shi’ite provinces of Missan, Basra, and Thi Qar , which include the Basra-based Rumaila oil field. Early reports on the southern autonomy movement didn’t really give a decent idea of how, exactly, SCIRI and Dawa Shi’a felt about autonomy. Undoubtedly there are some in the Shi’ite religious coalition who would possibly prefer central government control over the south and its oil wealth since its doubtful another coalition will control the Baghdad government any time soon. Tehran is undoubtedly pushing Baghdad to formally centralize control over oil wealth and the country itself, which would aid in fomenting Iranian influence over the country. Extremely conservative Shi’a, like Muqtada al-Sadr, are most likely opposed to federalization for reasons that may run parallel to Supreme Leader Khamanei’s — it’s easier to spread highly conservative Islamic governance with an omnipresent central government. However, some news is leaking out now that the religious Shi’a may back southern autonomy. Ridha al-Khafajee, a high-ranking SCIRI official, is speaking out in favor of southern autonomy. Whether or not Khafajee speaks for the whole of the SCIRI is difficult to say, but it does suggest Shi’ite autonomy does indeed have some sort of high-level backing in Baghdad that was previously unconfirmed. At the very least, this serves as another sign that the religious Shi’ite parties, while frighteningly close to Iran, may fight to retain Iraqi domestic sovereignty even if future foreign policy goals match Tehran’s significantly.
The Sunni are against federalism considering Iraq’s two largest oil fields — Kirkuk and Rumaila — belong to the Kurds and the Shi’a respectively. And it’s not wavering opposition; if federalism is spelled out in the final draft of the constitution, it’s conceivable that one of the Sunni provinces, either al-Anbar or maybe Salah ad Din, will veto it. The concern is that federalization will lead to a dispersion of oil wealth not beneficial for the Sunni provinces, and that would be correct. Sunnis, especially tribes that Hussein bribed with oil wealth to protect pipelines and crackdown on dissident forces, profitted greatly from Iraq’s oil wealth. Regardless of the constitutional outcome, the Sunnis will lose the benefits of Baghdad-directed monetary redistribution simply because Shi’a will be in control, but a federalized system nearly guarantees immediate and sustained economic stagnation in the Sunni provinces. Shi’ite lawmakers are aware of this, and hopefully it’s a problem that will be publicly dealt with before the constitutional referendum — although that’s somewhat doubtful especially now that the constitutional committee, under extreme US pressure, is rushing to finish its draft by August 15th.
Regardless of the final constitutional language on federalism, there’s going to be continued upheaval in Iraq. Being a member of the constitutional committee is akin to being a knife-juggler — take focus off one knife, in this case concerns from specific ethnic groups, and it’ll most likely chop off a toe. The problem is that there are way too many knives.
Cross-posted to Digital Dissent