Amid Iraq’s instability, Sunnis ponder autonomy from Baghdad

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Zhelwan Z. Wali
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Many Sunni lawmakers have advocated an autonomous Sunni region similar to that in Kurdistan as a model to protect themselves and provide security and services for their constituents.

Sunnis predominate across the northern and western parts of the country, including in Anbar, Saladin, Nineveh and Diyala provinces. 

“The Kurdistan Region has been a successful example in Iraq. It is in everybody’s interests to apply this experience in other parts of Iraq,” Faisal Issawi, a Sunni MP who represents Anbar province as a member of the Qarar bloc, told Rudaw on Saturday. Anbar, a predominantly Sunni province, is the largest province by territory in Iraq.

Issawi’s comments came as violence in Iraq continues to worsen, and the autonomous Kurdistan Region remains the only stable area of the country. 

Issawi added, “There is a political group in the country who does not believe in partnership between the components and their unique characteristics,” referring to the powerful Shiite factions of Iraq’s legislature and ruling government.

The Shiite-dominated Iraqi government has repeatedly failed to honor constitutional provisions for the minority Sunni population, especially their call for the formation of a Sunni region or at least the decentralization of power to their provinces. 

According to the Iraqi constitution, any three provinces can build a federal region with their own monetary and administrative systems.  

It is clearly stated in Article 117 that, “The constitution shall affirm new regions established in accordance with its provisions.”  Some other articles of the constitution reaffirm that regions could be formed and powers be decentralized, including articles 118, 119, 120 and 121.  

“They [Shiites] want to run the county on a majoritarian basis,” Issawi said. “The formation of a Sunni region will assure the people of Anbar province that we have started the authentic measures.”

Another MP from the Nineveh province says that the Sunni populations of Iraq are now in favor of an autonomous region of their own given the ongoing instability in Iraq, including months-long anti-government protests and US-Iran tensions which rose in the wake of the killing of Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani on January 3.

“There is an idea to form an autonomous region,” said Mahasn Hamdoon, who represents Nineveh province. He added that the ongoing turmoil in Baghdad “is the reason why we are pondering regional federalism, and the Nineveh province is strongly supporting such ideas.”

Manar Abdulmutalib, a Sunni MP from the Saladin province and a member of the Iraqi Forces Bloc, believes the Iraqi government and Parliament will not endorse such ideas.

“At this stage, it is impossible to be endorsed,” she said, although she also added that if a proposed autonomous Sunni region was meant to be like that of the Kurdistan Region, Sunnis would support it.

“If the model is like that of the Kurdistan Region, it is a good thing. It is a good thing for the people of the provinces to take advantage of their own wealth.”

Iraqi parliament endorsed a bill in late July 2016 that legally empowered provincial capitals in their relation to the central government in Baghdad and gave them lawful means to create semi-independent regions with considerable political and administrative powers.    

The decision was of particular importance for the Sunni population of Iraq, which has long sought its own autonomous region.

Among the Shiites, the only vocal supporter of autonomy is Basra province, as its population has repeatedly waged protests demanding the provision basic services, lack of power blackouts and unemployment in the course of the past few years.

However, initiatives to coordinate on the administration of semi-autonomous regions have yet to materialize in any Iraqi provinces.