Bahr al-Ulum: Federalism can work with 18 Provinces
In a recent interview in al-Siyasah, a Kuwaiti newspaper, Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum implicitly opposed the Iraqi Kurds’ demands for a consolidated Kurdish state:
“(Bilal) Do you think federalism is good for Iraq?”
“(Bahr-al-Ulum) First of all we do not accept the division of Iraq or any situation that leads to the division of Iraq. We stress the unity of the homeland and its territorial integrity. We must spare this country anything that might lead to its division or fragmentation. But I believe that we must make a step towards the creation of 18 governorates enjoying some self-rule and not relying on a central government or a regional federation. This could help citizens serve their interests and objectives. But we should not work for a strong federation that might cause problems.” (via BBC world monitoring via Lexis Nexis.)
Bahr al- Ulum, a Shiite clergyman close to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and a member of the Interim Governing Council, has thus rejected the idea of “regional federations” of the sort the Kurds advocate. Most Shiite Arabs are opposed to the Kurdish plan, favoring a relatively strong central government, which they plan to control. The Shiite demonstrations of January 20 included among their demands the rejection of the Kurdish demand for an ethnic canton and a very loose federalism. Bahr al-Ulum appears flexible on the second issue, but not on the first, and he probably is a good guide to mainstream Shiite views.
For contemporary views on Iraqi politics among Kurds in the north, Tom Hundley’s Chicago Tribune piece is well worth looking at.