The following commentary originally appeared in Musings On Iraq
Hizb al-Dawla leader Wail Abdul Latif has been calling for a Basra federal region since 2003
On November 13 the head of the Hizb al-Dawla party, parliamentarian Wail Abdul Latif gave a petition to the Iraqi Election Commission calling for the creation of a Basra federal region. 34,800 residents of the province signed it. That was 2% of the governorate’s voting population, which was required for such a proposal. The Election Commission said they had accepted the request. Latif and his supporters now have one month to collect 139,200 more signatures, 10% of the province’s voters. If that is accomplished, a referendum most be held on the measure within 15 days. Latif said this was not a plan to undermine the authority of the central government. Rather he said the purpose was to provide the province with basic services, something that he accused Baghdad of failing to do. Latif has been working on this campaign since August 2008 when he announced that he would start a petition.
Latif is a secular Shiite from Basra province. He became a judge in 1981, and was later thrown in jail by Saddam Hussein. After the U.S. invasion he was appointed governor of Basra, a post he held until 2004. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) later appointed him to the Iraqi Governing Council. He then joined Ilyad Allawi’s interim government and became a member of his Iraqi National List party. He was mentioned as a possible minister in the Ibrahim Jaafari government that was elected in 2005, but the United Iraqi Alliance blocked his way. In 2003, while he was governor of Basra he first put forward the idea of a federal region.
Originally, several southern governors came up with the idea of a three province federal region in 2004. That was when the CPA wrote the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) that was to rule Iraq until a constitution was written. The TAL said that three provinces could join together and form a federal region. This led the governors of Basra, Maysan, and Dhi Qar to propose such an idea. Prime Minister Jaafari killed the proposal however. In 2006 Latif revived the plan, but this time it was just Basra by itself.
Many local parties support Latif’s petition, but the friends and enemies at the national level are daunting. Within Basra, several independent Shiites, tribes, the ruling Fadhila party, and the head of the provincial council all back the plan. They all believe that Basra can’t prosper without being autonomous. Outside of the province, the head of the Karbala provincial council, and the Kurdish Alliance in parliament are fans of the idea. The Kurds already have their own regional government, and supporting others with similar aspirations strengthens their push for autonomy. On the opposite side are the Sunnis, namely the National Dialogue Bloc and the Iraqi Islamic Party. A member of the Dialogue Bloc said the move was simply electioneering before the January 2009 provincial vote. An Islamic Party official in Basra said the party was opposed to the idea of federalism. The Sunnis in general have been opposed to the concept, fearing that they would be cut out of the country’s oil wealth, which is concentrated in the Shiite south and the Kurdish north. The Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council has not publicly commented on Latif’s idea yet. They do not have much influence in Basra, and have been silent as of late on their nine-province federal region. A spokesman for Moqtada al-Sadr however, came out strongly against the proposal, saying that it could tear the country apart. The Sadrists have also stood for a strong central government because they are based in Baghdad, and have a nationalist ideology. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will also probably come out against the idea because he is pushing for a strong central government with him at its head. He will probably not take lightly an attempt to federalize Basra, which is the site of major oil fields, and has the country’s only major seaport where this liquid wealth flows out of.
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- “Lights shed on federalism in Iraq Basra,” 11/13/08
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Kurdish Globe, “Basra Seeks a Region of Its Own Within Iraq,” 11/13/08
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Otterman, Sharon, “IRAQ: The interim government leaders,” Council on Foreign Relations, 6/2/04
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- “The Maliki Government – What It Could Mean to Southern Iraq” historiae.org, 5/23/06
- “Suffering, Oil, and Ideals of Coexistence: Non-Sectarian Federal Trends in the Far South of Iraq,” Historiae.org, 11/17-20/07