With a new Iraqi government now finally formed, Basra’s desire for a referendum on becoming semi-autonomous may finally get past Baghdad’s stalling tactics.
The Iraqi constitution allows provinces to become semi-autonomous, just like the northern region of Kurdistan. The Associated Press reported on the pros and cons, writing that Basra would be able to stop sending more money to Baghdad than it receives back in aid, but the fear would then be lower accountability and increased local corruption.
More seriously, the power may cause conflict between local factions. There is strong enmity between some of the political factions in the region, as well as local militia and gangs all enmeshed in the same web. Local power will lead to greater competition between them and potentially more violence.
Other potential issues are that an autonomous Basra may weaken Iraq and divide the nation, leading to squabbling over such things as oil revenues. This has already happened with Kurdistan. The heavily Shiite province of Basra may also fall more under the influence of Iran, which is the largest investor in the province.
Even so, if its budget was autonomous it would be entitled to a much larger slice of the national cake and it would not face incessant delays in releasing its share of the oil revenues from locally produced oil.
Basra is very important for Iraq, as it has almost three quarters of the country’s oil reserves at more than 140bn barrels. It is also the gateway to Iraq’s only major ports.
(Source: The Associated Press)