This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
Giving Provinces More Power: Could Law 21 Save Iraq?
How can a country like Iraq – with its different sects, religions and ethnicities – be governed appropriately? Some are now suggesting that giving all of Iraq’s provinces the powers they were granted by a law amended mid-2013 could be a way out of the current crisis. Local authorities would govern themselves better than Baghdad and Iraq would remain united.
As Iraqi politicians have been trying to form a new government, more than one analyst has said that the country’s current crisis is due to the policies established by the most recent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and his desire to monopolize and centralize power. Various solutions have been suggested regarding the problem.
These have included introducing amendments to the Iraqi Constitution, creating new laws to reign in the Prime Minister’s powers or just simply removing al-Maliki from the job – which may well happen anyway as some of the Shiite Muslim Prime Minister’s most important allies seem to have deserted him.
However there is one other potential solution to at least some of Iraq’s current woes – and that is to properly enact, and then commit to, Law 21, which was amended by the Iraqi Parliament in the middle of 2013.
There are at least 18 Iraqi cities regularly complaining about the monopolization of power by Baghdad. They say the government interferes in provincial affairs far too much, that it makes decisions that actually go against the Iraqi constitution and that it prevents local officials from making good decisions and local appointments.
“Iraq is a country with many ethnicities, sects and religions,” explains local political analyst Saeed Radi. “It’s very difficult for any one party to manage all affairs. A Shiite Muslim-dominated government would be hard pressed to know what Iraq’s Sunni Muslims and Kurds want and need.”
Local authorities in Basra province have reportedly threatened to break away from the central government and create an autonomous region of their own.
The idea was rekindled by MP Wail Abd al-Latif, who told Rudaw:
“Efforts toward making Basra an autonomous region is a project and not a trump card against the central government …
“Starting this month, the committee assigned with making Basra an autonomous region will take new legal steps through forming a council made up of representatives from all the towns and sub-districts of Basra.”
He noted that this project has been in the making for a number of years and conforms fully to the Iraqi constitution.
Just days before drafting the final version of the Iraqi constitution in 2005, the issue of a southern Shiite autonomous region caused heated divisive debate among Iraqi politicians.
An autonomous Shiite region that includes several southern provinces is considered the brainchild of Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the former leader of the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq (ISCI).
He proposed a Shiite autonomous region modeled after the Kurdistan Region, but divisions between Shiites and strong Sunni opposition defeated the project.
In 2010, 22 members from 35 Basra Provincial Councils signed a petition demanding Baghdad hold a referendum in the province in accordance with the Iraqi constitution, so that residents can choose if they want to remain under Baghdad or form their own autonomous government. But the demand fell on deaf ears at the prime minister’s office.
Abd al-Latif argued:
“If Basra became an autonomous region, it would be different from the Kurdistan Region, because the Kurdistan Region was a reality before the formation of the new Iraq and its achievements were incorporated into the Iraqi constitution …
“The region of Basra would be compatible with the current Iraqi laws and constitution.”
Over the past several months the Sunni provinces of Anbar, Salahdeen and Diyala unilaterally declared autonomy from Baghdad.
By Mushreq Abbas forAl-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
The Iraqi parliament’s passage on June 23 of the Provincial Powers Law, which bolsters decentralization and gives local governments added authority, encouraged politicians to demand that the Federation Council Law be revived in a bid to further strengthen decentralization.
The 2005 Iraqi constitution states in Article 65 that “a legislative council shall be established named the ‘Federation Council’ to include representatives from the regions and the governorates that are not organized in a region. A law, enacted by a two-thirds majority of the members of the Council of Representatives, shall regulate the Federation Council formation, its membership conditions, its competencies and all that is connected with it.” The council has not yet seen the light of day, despite the parliament submitting a draft law to organize it in 2009.
The importance of the Federation Council lies in its function as a permanent overseer of relations between the central government and the governments of the regions and provinces. The Federation Council’s powers were the subject of disagreements that hindered the adoption of this earlier version of the law. Penned by the parliamentary Provinces Committee, it gave the council powers in keeping with the developments that followed the adoption of the Provinces Law.
On July 8, Nabil Harbo, a member of the Provinces Committee, stated, “The council’s powers lie in its capacity to monitor all pieces of legislation adopted by parliament. It also has the power to veto any decisions aimed at diminishing the authority of provinces. The council will filter out all laws adopted by parliament, and has the authority to either pass those laws or reject them.”
This view of the council’s powers is clearly representative of the parties that favor decentralization. They consider it an additional safety valve safeguarding the authorities that regions and provinces have gained of late. It is a vision undoubtedly crystallizing and expanding to include most of Iraq’s political spectrum, thus leading to the resurgence of demands for the formation of a new council.
By Omar al-Shaher forAl-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
An Iraqi researcher has advised the councils of oil- and gas-producing provinces to take advantage of a loophole in the new amendment to the provincial law recently passed by the Iraqi parliament in order to “issue a law of oil and gas specific to each province, and repeal, retroactively cancel and renegotiate the Oil Ministry contracts (service contracts) in compliance with the choices and priorities of each province.”
The Iraqi parliament voted on June 23, on the second amendment of the Law of Provinces not associated in a region, Law No. 21 for 2008. According to several MPs, this law “addresses the overlap between the powers of local governments and the central government, gives broad legislative and regulatory powers to the provinces and will have a positive impact on all provinces.”
Article 2 of Paragraph 6 of the new amendment states: “The joint disciplines stipulated in Articles 112, 113 and 114 of the Constitution are managed in coordination and cooperation between the federal government and the local governments. In case of dispute between the two, the Law of Provinces not associated in a region gets the priority in accordance with the provisions of Article 115 of the Constitution.”
According to the researcher, Nebras al-Kadhimi, stipulating that the priority goes to the provincial law in the event of conflict between the central government and the province allows provinces to legislate their own laws to exploit oil production.
Kadhimi wrote on his Facebook page, “I have advice to give to the … provincial councils in Basra, Nasiriyah (Dhi Qar province), Amarah (Maysan province) and Kut (Wasit province) in light of the new powers set forth in the amendment of Law No. 21 for 2008, especially Article 2 of Paragraph 6.There is a large gap that you can benefit from. You can actually issue a law on oil and gas that is specific to your province.”
The disputes between Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan have led some local politicians to call for the semi-autonomous region to secede from Iraq and become its own country. But, as one Kurdish commentator argues, this is far from realistic. Because now it’s all about money and oil, not politics.
Recently there has been a lot of comment about an independent Iraqi Kurdistan. As tensions between Baghdad and the semi-autonomous, northern state of Iraqi Kurdistan continue, the Kurdish have been playing the “independence card”, with local politicians and commentators airing their views on the subject like never before.
It is no secret that the majority of Kurds, if not in fact, all of them, would love to see an independent Kurdistan. And the easiest way for a Kurdish politician to become popular is to call for an independent state.
Although the Kurdish president, Massoud Barzani, has recently given the impression that he wants to see an independent Iraqi Kurdistan, the political party to which he belongs, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), and the other major political party in the area, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), have so far resisted similar temptations. In fact, most Kurdish politicians are still talking about a “united Iraq” despite Kurdish public opinion against this idea.
And they have a point. If you are a Kurdish politician and you need to maintain diplomatic relations with your neighbours, and if you’re aware of the economic and political realities for Iraqi Kurdistan, then it’s very hard to call for Kurdish independence and really mean it.