Saturday, April 28, 2007

Showdown in Basra: The federalism angle

Azzaman, in its London edition (but apparently not in its Baghdad edition) says this:
Meanwhile, in the field, the religious parties in Basra have rallied their militias in preparation for a final showdown over the governorship of the municipality, while residents, frightened, have have been laying in stores of necessities since the violence started spreading three days ago, involving light and medium weapons and mortar. And meanwhile the Iraqi government, which is led by Nuri al-Maliki, continues to adhere to its policy of silence on this issue, demonstrating yet again its inability to stop this expected outbreak of violence in Iraq's third-largest municipality, source of fully one-third of Iraq's crude oil, which is now threatened with stoppage in the event of an outbreak of violence between these militias.
The reporter quotes a government source who said the main opposing militia forces are those of the Fadhila party on the one side (the party of the current governor), and those of a group led by SCIRI and the Badr orgainzation on the other.

Reidar Visser yesterday sent out an explanatory note to bring people to speed on what is going on, and it included this:
In January 2005, the Fadila party won control of the provincial council in Basra, by establishing an alliance with three other parties and thereby sidelining the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Until now, the junior coalition partners have stood shoulder to shoulder with Fadila during its various challenges - whether from SCIRI, the central government, or, more recently, from Basra supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr. The Harakat al-Daawa (a breakaway faction of the Daawa movement) has been particularly supportive of Fadila’s campaign to establish Basra as a small-scale federal region, either on its own, or along with its two neighbouring governorates.
Recently, Fadhila's junior coalition partners, or some of them, have reportedly switched sides and agreed to vote with SCIRI in a motion of no-confidence in the governor. That group calls itself al-Wasat, or "the middle", and it reportedly includes: the Basra branch of Allawi's Iraqi List, the Harakat al-Daawa, and another Islamist party. Visser says the voting line-up isn't clear. And in any event, there isn't any legal basis for a majority vote of no-confidence. Rather, what would be needed is a two-thirds vote for termination, pursuant to the Bremer-era Coalition Provisional Authority pronouncement on local-government issues, and that makes the situation even more uncertain. What today's Azzaman story appears to indicate is that this might well end up being settled by force instead.

What is the underlying issue (or issues)? Visser mentions Fadhila support for a small Basra-centered federal unit in the south (in contrast to SCIRI's support for a nine-province unit that would include its stronghold in the Najaf area). For what it is worth, Azzaman this morning adds another, related angle. It says:
The Azzaman reporter says independent Kurdish politicians in Washington told him that "there is a deal that SCIRI is trying to work out with Kurdish leaders, and with Talabani in particular, that would impose SCIRI control in Basra, in exchange for a manifestation of flexibility [by SCIRI] on the question of Kirkuk."
SCIRI control of Basra would be via this takeover of the provincial council and the governorship. There isn't any detail on what contribution the "Kurdish leaders and Talabani in particular" might be making to this project, but Azzaman does note that the Maliki government, of which Talabani is president, is maintaining a studious silence on the Basra events.


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