Here is something that hasn’t been grabbing too many headlines.
For the last two months in Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, an initiative to turn the Basra Governorate into a federal region a la Kurdistan has been gathering votes. The initiative was pushed by Wael Abd al-Latif, a member of parliament from Basra.
Today Radio Sawa says that he conceded defeat (Arabic). What the initiative needed to move ahead was the signatures of 10% of the electorate of Basra in order to open a referendum on the initiative, that’s about 150 000 votes.
I have to admit that I find this very surprising. There have been many calls on the past from Basra politicians for a federal region. They have complained in the past that they should be the richest city in Iraq with all the oil reserves and ports. Instead the money gets siphoned off to the capital Baghdad. Kurdistan’s command of 17% of all Iraqi national budgets since the fall of Saddam is something that the Basrawis have always looked at with envy. Also Basra being as mixed ethnically and religiously as Baghdad has always looked at the larger SCIRI plans for a Shia federal state in the south of Iraq with suspicion.
The initiative’s defeat is a big surprise, although we have been hearing grumbles about not providing enough voting centres and the deluge of Basrawis standing in queues to vote ‘yes’ for a referendum never materialized.
The good thing is that since the initiative didn’t pass the necessary threshold for a referendum other parties trying to spread their influence on Basra by creating a larger southern Iraq federal state will have to rethink their strategies because Basrawis chose to stick with a centralised state even though they believe Baghdad is not giving them their dues.
Two questions come to mind
1. Why and what stopped the people of Basra from choosing to go for a referendum on becoming a federal region, commanding a percentage of the national budget and deciding on their own policies without Baghdad meddling in their affairs?
2. What does this mean for other parts of Iraq and/or political parties who pushed hard to include provisions for the creation of federal regions in the Iraqi constitution?