Saturday, October 29, 2011

Salahuddin wants to break away, Nouri's on a tear

Thursday, Salahuddin Province's council voted to go semi-autonomous. Iraq has 18 provinces. Three make up the semi-autonomous Kurdish Regional Government. Salahuddin Province's vote was to move towards that sort of relationship. (A form of federalism once advocated by Joe Biden when he was in the Senate.) The next step would be a referendum (that Nouri al-Maliki's government out of Baghdad would have to pay for) and, were the popular vote to back up the council and were the rules followed (always a big if with Nouri as prime minister), Baghdad would control only 14 provinces (of the 18). Though some outside the province are attempting to dispute that the council had the right to vote on the issue, the measure's apparently very positive with the residents (which would explain the 20 to zero vote on the council -- eight members were not present for the vote). Al Mada reports that people turned out throughout Salahuddin Province (including in Tirkrit, Samarra, Dhuluyia and Sharqat) on Friday to take to the streets after morning prayers and demonstrate in support of the council's vote. Ahmed Abdul-Jabbar Karim, Deputy Governor of the Province, is quoted stating that this decision is something that the officials will not retreat from and that it was backed by the voice of the people. Various State of Law members are quoted offering varying reasons why the vote was wrong or doesn't matter. State of Law is Nouri's political slate. Yesterday, residents of Anbar Province took to the streets advocating for their province to follow Salahuddin's lead.

Today Nouri al-Maliki issued his own response. What does Nouri do when he's unhappy? Accuse them of being Ba'athists. So it's no surprise that Ahmed Rasheed (Reuters) quotes a statement from Nouri declaring, "The Baath Party aims to use Salahuddin as a safe haven for Baathists and this will not happen thanks to the awareness of people in the province. Federalism is a constitutional issue and Salahuddin provincial council has no right to decide this issue."

Nouri, of course, sees Ba'athists everywhere. Al Mada notes that the campaign against so-called Ba'athists allegedly plotting a coup continues with at least 560 Iraqis arrested by his forces, on his orders in the last week. The article notes Ayad Allawi (leader of Iraqiya) has called the arrests illegal while MP Mahmoud Othman has stated these arrests are not helping to build cohesion or a strong government. Rebecca Santana (AP) notes 615 arrests and observes, "Sunnis say that Baghdad sometimes uses crackdowns on Baathists as a tool to exert political pressure." Al Mada states Nouri's threatening to cut off water to the province. Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) notes, "Salahuddin officials said the timing of the vote was spurred by the recent firing of more than 100 professors at Tikrit University for alleged Baath Party connections, and by a nationwide roundup of Baathists in the course of this week." Hammoudi also counters Nouri's claims that he and the Parliament must okay any decision by a province to become semi-autonomous, "In actual fact, article 119 of the Iraqi constitution requires only that a referendum be held in a province following a request for regional status by one-third of the members of the provincial council, or one-tenth of the population." Aswat al-Iraq adds, "The chairman of the Higher Electoral Commission declared that any requests to form a region should be submitted to the Cabinet, underlining that some media organs are reporting inaccurate information with regards to this matter." Who is right? According to the Constitution, Laith Hammoudi's report is correct. From the Iraqi Constitution:

Article 119:
One or more governorates shall have the right to organize into a region based on a request to be voted on in a referendum submitted in one of the following two methods:
First: A request by one-third of the council members of each governorate intending to form a region.
Second: A request by one-tenth of the voters in each of the governorates intending to form a region.

That's the Constitution on the matter, there are no articles or sub-clauses on the issue. Per the Constitution, Salahuddin Province has already met step one. Step two shouldn't be too hard since only 10% of the voters are required to sign off on the request.

Al Mada notes that Jalal Talabani, Iraqi president, made general statements today about coups. The statements could be read as backing Nouri's move (and came after he received a briefing on the arrests; however, they are rather weak to be seen as supportive of Nouri's efforts. (They speak in terms of 'anyone who plans a coup will face darkness and' blah, blah. As opposed to speaking to specific arrests and the claims of an attempted coup.) Dar Addustour reports that 6 of the arrested were professors with doctorates.

Meanwhile KRG President Masoud Barzani is in Tehran. Aswat al-Iraq reports, "Kurdish region president Masoud Barzani announced today that the borders of the Kurdish region shall be safe according to an agreement reached with anti-Iranian PJAK. In a press conference held in Tehran, he added the agreement that PJAK will stop its operations in the region." Press TV (link has text and video) adds, "These are the remaining elements of the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan or PEJAK, a terrorist group with bases in the mountainous regions of northern Iraq. They have over the years attacked and killed hundreds of civilians and border guards in western Iran, southern Turkey and northeastern Syria." AFP quotes Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi stating, "With the good management of Mr Barzani, we were able to handle the issue of the PJAK terrorist group and currently our borders with the Kurdistan region of Iraq is secure."

We'll close with this from the KRG:

KRG’s Head of Foreign Relations to Congresswoman: US must support Iraq’s federalism after troop withdrawal

Erbil, Kurdistan - ( Iraq - Kurdistan Regional Government’s Head of Foreign Relations on Thursday in Erbil met US Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez to discuss the impact of the forthcoming US troops withdrawal on the Kurdistan Region and on Iraq as a whole.

Minister Falah Mustafa Bakir said that after the troop withdrawal, the US should support federalism and decentralisation to ensure Iraq’s democracy, economic prosperity and stability.

Congresswoman Sanchez briefed the minister about the reasons for her visit and her Iraq activities in the American Congress. She said, “The Kurdistan Region is a success story within Iraq and even with the US troops draw-down, the United States will remain a committed ally to Kurdistan.”

Congresswoman Sanchez, who was accompanied by a delegation, has previously visited other parts of Iraq, but this was her first visit to the Kurdistan Region.

Minister Bakir highlighted that in addition to the implementation of Article 140 of Iraq's constitution on the disputed territories, the senior Kurdish leadership is concerned about many other unresolved issues. These issues include adherence to Iraqi’s constitution as well as its federal structure that has been enshrined in the constitution, partnership and democracy-building, the passage of a hydrocarbons law, a revenue-sharing law and other outstanding issues between Erbil and Baghdad.

The emphasis on the federal framework of Iraq is no longer just a Kurdish issue according to Minister Bakir, but is also in the interests of all Iraqis regardless of ethnicity, religion or sect. It will help pave the way for a genuine partnership between Iraq’s political blocs, and will ensure the rule of law. Given the complex make-up of the Iraqi state, a federal structure far away from the centralised methods of governance of the past would be the only way to satisfy the needs of the different communities living within Iraq.

Minister Bakir and Congresswoman Sanchez exchanged views on the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, and the possible scenarios that could unfold afterwards,Minister Bakir expressed his hope that the American government will remain active in supporting a federal, democratic and pluralistic Iraq in order to achieve economic prosperity, security and stability, not only in the Kurdistan Region but across Iraq. Minister Bakir thanked the Kurdish-American Congressional Caucus for their continued assistance and support to the people of the Kurdistan Region.

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