Maliki, Allawi, and the Sunnis That (Still) Reject Federalism

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.

Perhaps one of the most interesting dimensions to the recent surge in federalism interest in Iraq’s Sunni-majority areas are those Sunnis that still don’t like the idea of federalism.

We have been in a similar situation before, with the Shiites. Back in 2005, when SCIRI suddenly declared its interest in a big Shiite region and the Western mainstream media promptly announced a general pro-federal tendency among Iraqi Shiites, it was internal Shiite opponents of federalism that ultimately torpedoed the whole project. Back then, at least to some extent, it seemed that popular resistance against sectarian federalism had prevailed.

Since Iraqi Sunnis began discussing federalism in earnest in late 2010, there have been three distinctive rounds of reactions.

Firstly, in the autumn of 2010 the provincial council in Anbar adopted a stance on the development of the Akkaz gas field that in practice amounted to federalism – and at least some local politicians openly advocated federalism. At the time, however, there were plenty of prominent, dissenting voices within Anbar itself.

Second, when parliament speaker Usama al-Nujayfi seemed to embrace something tantamount to Sunni sectarian separatism in late June 2011, there was also no lack of internal critics. Leading politicians from both Mosul (Nujayfi’s hometown) and the Iraqiyya coalition (Nujayfi’s political party) criticised the move.

Thirdly, there has been a separate wave of reactions to the latest bid by the governorate council in Salahaddin to request a federal referendum.

In the case of Salahaddin, perhaps the most prominent feature is that it has been somewhat difficult to identity leading Sunni local politicians opposing the bid. Vocal opposition has mostly taken the form of threats about sub-governorate separatism, which in turn has a (Shiite-minority) sectarian dimension. One of the few publicised signs of local opposition was a meeting between the Shiite premier, Nuri al-Maliki, and a number of unspecified tribal shaykhs of the governorate. For what we know, they may well have been Shiite Dujaylis.

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