Federalism Issue Bedevils Constitution
Infighting Undermines Municipal Governments
Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), has made his move. Giving a speech in the holy city of Najaf, he demanded that the nine southern Shiite-majority provinces be allowed to form a regional confederation that would deal with the central government in Baghdad. This confederation would mirror the “Kurdistan” confederation of northern provinces already established. The southern confederation, which some call “Sumer,” in honor of the ancient civilization of that region, would make a claim on some percentage of the petroleum revenue coming out of the Rumaila oil fields.
Al-Hakim has split on this issue with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who earlier, at least, is said to have opposed the plan. He has also split with his coalition partner, the Dawa Party, led by Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, which prefers that the central government continue to deal with each of the 9 provinces separately.
Although Dawa got the prime ministership and so has a special interest in retaining the prerogatives fo the center, SCIRI won most of the provincial elections in the south, dominating their governing councils. Since SCIRI believes that it can continue to be dominant in the Shiite south, it is essentially making a claim on provincial resources and power, denying some portion of them to the central government. It cannot be good for the prospects of the approval of a permanent constitution to have a major split develop within the United Iraqi Alliance (which has a majority in parliament and groups Dawa and SCIRI) on this issue.
Alissa Rubin of the Los Angeles Times reports that prime minister Jaafari has sent an envoy to the southern city of Samawah in an attempt to quell the political turbulence there. The governing council had attempted to oust the governor, a SCIRI figure, and he has refused to go. Now governing council members say that they are receiving death threats. The Japanese Self Defense Forces appear to be essentially barricaded in and in some danger given this outbreak of instability among Shiites in the region. See below on how likely their mission is to continue very long given these developments and also the coming Japanese elections.
Meanwhile, Jaafari has thrown his support behind the ousting of Baghdad mayor Alaa al-Tamimi by SCIRI. SCIRI won the Baghdad provincial council elections last January and therefore has the right to appoint its own mayor. Often in contemporary Iraq, incumbents put there by the United States or its proxy interim government have refused to leave when ordered to do so by the winners at the ballot box, and Tamimi was one of those who had ensconced himself, apparently with a private guard. The change of mayor therefore had to be accomplished by the elected governing council through a kind of coup whereby Badr Corps (the paramilitary of SCIRI) occupied the mayor’s office.
Bill Roberts and Jeff St. Onge argue that President Bush is doing a high wire act without a net in Iraq. He cannot increase US troop strength in hopes of destroying the guerrilla movement, because the US does not have the extra troops. He also cannot keep 138,000 US troops in Iraq for another year without risking destroying the all-volunteer army. So he has to draw down. But if he does that too fast or in a strategically flat-footed way, the guerrillas could kill off the new elected government and throw Iraq– and the oil-producing Gulf region– into massive turmoil. The Bush administration is therefore proposing a rolling withdrawal, without fixed deadlines or targets, but simply bringing out US units when Iraqi units can take over. (The problem with this strategy is a) that it can be thwarted by a simple ratcheting up of guerrilla attacks, requiring delays in US drawdowns and b) the Iraqi troops probably are not going to be ready for 5 years.)