But exactly at the same time as the creation of Salahaddin in January 1976, another new Iraqi governorate came into existence: Najaf. This in turn has similarly created cases of “disputed territories” with respect to neighbouring and more well-established governorates like Karbala. Presumably Talabani does not aim to abolish the Najaf governorate. Presumably, too, his law proposal contains impenetrable arguments for abolishing Salahaddin but not Najaf!
At the practical level, there are problems too. Why should the Shiite parts of Salahaddin plus Samarra revert to Baghdad but not Sunni Tikrit? All of these lands belonged to Baghdad in the early 1970s, reflecting administrative realities that date back at least to monarchical times. If the Talabani proposal involves attaching Shiite but not Sunni parts of Salahaddin to Baghdad it will no doubt be seen as sectarian, perhaps in resonance with the idea of a “smaller Iraq” from Basra to Samarra that has been in vogue among some exiled Iraqis.
It is interesting that Maliki is flirting publicly with ideas that will be seen by many Iraqis as typically post-2003 partition-oriented discourse – precisely the sort of thing Maliki has tried to steer away from since 2008. On the other hand, we should perhaps not exaggerate the importance attached by Maliki to these ideas as end goals in themselves. Maliki knows perfectly well that whereas giving him the premiership was completed in a single parliamentary session, fulfilling all his promises to the Kurds and others depends on further legislation in parliament. Each legislative initiative comes with at least three crucial junctures (first and second reading before a vote), each of which offers opportunities for unexpected drama that can easily consign a legislative project to the growing catalogue of on-hold items awaiting political consensus.
This may well be Maliki’s real intention in flirting with the Talabani initiative on disputed territories. The Kurds will see it as a concession of sorts. Sectarian Shiites will like the idea of a bigger Baghdad extending to Samarra. None of it is likely to come into existence anytime soon.
Meanwhile Maliki governs.