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

Outside Salahaddin, however, negative Sunni reactions remain numerous. There have been anti-federal tribal conferences in Anbar (Dulaym,) and Nineveh (the Jubbur tribe). Also in Kirkuk, Diyala and Mosul, many Sunnis remain sceptical of federalism more generally. Urban politicians in Mosul still call for the intervention of the (Shiite-led) Iraqi army to counter Kurdish assertiveness in the oil-rich disputed territories where Exxon recently signed deals. It is however true that there is some Sunni-led sub-governorate separatism underway as well, for example in the demand that Falluja be separated from the rest of Anbar in a reaction to perceived dominance by Ramadi.

There are signs Maliki is reaching out to the long-exiled amir of the Dulaym tribe, Majid Sulayman, in order to counter the pro-federal current in Salahaddin. The problem with Sulayman (and other exiles) is that he may well be out of touch with local sentiment in the Sunni areas. Symptomatically, perhaps, Maliki’s detractors made a big point of the fact that Izzat al-Duri, the exiled Baathist leader, shared his criticism of the federal project in Salahaddin!

If Maliki is smart, he will reach out to those local politicians on the ground in the Sunni areas that still reject federalism. If he is to maintain some semblance of democracy in Iraq, he will need more than Sunni figureheads from White Iraqiyya or Tawafuq and tribal sheikhs – Saddam Hussein, after all, had excellent relations with many Shiite shaykhs, including Maliki’s own Banu Malik. In Anbar, the deputy governor, Hikmat Jasim Zaydan, recently expressed scepticism towards federalism as a step towards sectarianism and partition. That is an example of the kind of politician to whom Maliki could try to reach out.

Interestingly, Ayyad Allawi, the leader of the secular Iraqiyya has come out with exactly the same position as Maliki: The time is not right for more federal regions. Of course personal relations between him and Maliki are notoriously bad. Allawi could use this situation for two different purposes: Either he could embark on the unlikely project of reconciling with Maliki, or he could exploit the situation to win more support on the ground in a situation when the Nujayfi camp appears to be betting on the federalism option. Are we still convinced that the Sunni pro-federal trend is more than SCIRI’s call for a Shiite region in 2005?

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