Warring Visions of Iraqi Federalism
“Sumer” Rises in South
Al-Hayat says that its sources in Iraq describe an ongoing dispute between the Kurds, who want an Iraqi federalism that gives “states’ rights” only to Kurdistan but not to other provinces, and the Shiites, who want a federalism that would apply geographically throughout the country. The Shiites want to create a southern super-province to serve as a counter weight to Kurdistan. Shiite leaders are planning a congress that can establish the instrumentalities for creating the region of “Sumer” in the south, which will consist of 3 consolidated provinces.
This information came in part from Abdul Karim Mahud al-Muhammadawi, the Marsh Arab leader and head of the Marsh Arab Hizbullah Party. Maysan, Dhi Qar and Basra provinces will form one subregion. Likewise, Wasit, Diwaniyah and Samawah will join into a region, as will Karbala, Najaf and Hillah. Apparently “Sumer” is the planned name for all three (i.e. for 9 provinces as Iraq is presently constituted). He maintained that the United Iraqi Alliance, the coalition of Shiite religious parties that dominates parliament, will work to implement this vision of general geographical federalism– as long as there are guarantees that it will not threaten the unity of Iraq.
He said that there are also consultations behind closed doors by parliamentarians on the issue of whether a special federal court is needed to resolve disputes between these super-provinces and between them and the central government in Baghdad. He said there was general agreement in the UIA and between it and the Kurds that the reorganization of the southern provinces would proceed. He said that the plan had not been officially endorsed by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Najaf, but that it had been passed by him, and there was an unofficial go-ahead. Al-Muhammadawi said that the plan was also popular among some MPs from the Iraqiyah list of Iyad Allawi. Al-Muhammadawi himself says he does not support the idea of Shiite super-provinces.
The plan is opposed by Iyad al-Samarra’i of the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, who said that the IIP is willing to recognize a Kurdistan but that otherwise the present provincial boundaries should be kept. He said that if the Kurds and Shiites did go ahead with their schemes for large federal regions, the Sunni Arabs would be forces to consider creating one for themselves, as well.
The Shiites’ use of “Sumer” as the name of the southern confederation is a reference to the earliest civilization in Mesopotamia, based in the south near the Gulf, who had writing as early as 3500. It is always a bad sign when people revive ancient place names, since it points to a romantic nationalism, the most virulent, false and ugly kind. (The people of southern Iraq didn’t even know about Sumer two centuries ago– modern archeologists recovered that part of history. It was perhaps the one success of Saddam’s educational system that he instilled a craze for ancient Iraqi civilization in the students, as part of his nationalist agenda).