The Economics of Federalism in the Iraqi 2012 Draft Budget

The following article was published by Reidar Visser, an historian of Iraq educated at the University of Oxford and currently based at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. It is reproduced here with the author’s permission. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

The Iraqi government has presented its draft for the annual 2012 budget law.

In light of the recent surge of interest in federalism in Sunni-majority areas of Iraq, the government’s approach to federalism issues in next year’s budget is of particular interest. The allocation of money to central government ministries, ordinary governorates, and federal regions can tell us a lot about the facts of Iraqi federalism in a setting where the legal and constitutional frameworks remain hazy.

What is clear from the 117 trillion Iraqi dinars budget is that it is the existing federal region – the Kurdistan Regional Government – that continues to get the best deal from the allocation of money. The budget envisages that Kurdistan oil exports will amount to 175,000 barrels per day in 2012, which is about 6.7% of the anticipated total Iraqi daily production of 2,6 million barrels. By way of contrast, the KRG will receive a 17% allocation of the expenditure budget (around 16 trillion ID) after the deduction of so-called “sovereign” spending covering mainly external defence and foreign diplomatic service. By increasing its exports, the KRG contribution to the national income is up from about 4.5% in 2011, but it is perfectly clear that the Kurds remain dependent on a big subsidy from Baghdad.

Compare the 16 trillion ID Kurdish share of the budget with what goes to the ordinary governorates. The oil-producing governorates will continue to get their one dollar per exported barrel fee, but this is not expected to make up more than 1.7 trillion ID in total, or just a tenth of the total Kurdish budget share. This despite the fact that a governorate like Basra contributes the lion’s share of Iraq’s total 2.6 million bpd production. Similarly, the pilgrimage fees that were introduced in 2010 will produce a mostly symbolic contribution to the governorates of Najaf, Karbala, Baghdad and Salahaddin. (In 2011 budget this income was given to the border governorates instead.) Additionally, the investment headings for all of Iraq amount to no more than 30 trillion ID in total for the entire country.

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