• Wednesday 2nd December 2020

Kurdish Thorn In Iraq’s Side, Gulf News By Francis Matthew, Editor At Large

Al Maliki’s authoritarian ways will force Sunnis and Kurds to seek common ground in reinforcing their local power

Yet another complicated crisis is building up in Iraq, as opposition and regional groups are worried by Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki’s increasingly authoritarian rule. Several separate but connected issues are coming together which will increase tension in Baghdad, and make it much harder to find the necessary and different solutions for each issue.

Underlying everything is the failure to get to grips with the inadequacies of the constitution. When it was written in 2005, the Kurds were running an almost sovereign region in the north of Iraq, and had no intention of surrendering any of their hard-won independence.

The rest of Iraq was in the middle of a brutal civil war, so many leading Shiite politicians supported the Kurdish version of extreme devolution of power to the provinces, mainly to avoid the possible return of a Sunni strongman like Saddam Hussain.

But now (seven years later) the situation is very different. Al Maliki is a Shiite prime minister who has been in power since 2006, and has become a lot more authoritarian after the American forces left in December 2011. Today it is the leaders of the Sunni provinces who are deeply worried about what they see as an unchecked and autocratic Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad, and they want to redraft the constitution to limit Baghdad’s impact on their regions.

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So the Shiites (who previously supported powerful provinces) are now supporting a strong centre, and the Sunnis (who previously supported a strong centre) now want more provincial authority. The Kurds do not care very much about the rest of Iraq, but will not give up any of their own unique autonomy in the north.

As put by Sean Kane, Joost Hiltermann and Raad Alkadiri in The National Interest, the problem is to get all parties to agree to a constitution that allows different levels of autonomy to different regions of the country.
The Kurds level of self-governance has become the effective minimum for regional authority in the constitution. But if the rest of Iraq were to get this one-size-fits-all style of autonomy, the survival not only of the central government but of the country itself could be threatened. Therefore, it seems inevitable that the non-Kurdish provinces will not get the same level of autonomy, however much they may want it.

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