Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—A decade-old proposal by US Vice-President Joe Biden to divide Iraq into three federal states is attracting fresh attention in the wake of sectarian attacks that have thrown the process of forming a new government into doubt.
In an article published in the Washington Post on Friday, Biden said that Iraq’s leaders were making progress towards forming a new government and in the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He also said that a “functional federalism” approach was “emerging,” and that the US would be prepared to support such an approach with aid and training.
In 2006, Vice President Biden, at the time a member of the US Senate, proposed that Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region join two others, one Sunni and one Shi’ite, in a major decentralization of power away from Baghdad.
Although Biden’s proposal was rejected at the time by all of Iraq’s factions—with the exception of the Kurds—a fresh round of sectarian violence in Iraq has led to calls from some parties to revisit the proposal.
On Friday, an attack on a mosque in a village in Iraq’s Diyala province killed almost 70 local Sunnis. The attack, blamed on pro-government Shi’ite militias, led the leaders of major Sunni parties to pull out of talks to form a new government with the Shi’ite-led National Alliance.
In the wake of the killings, Prime Minister-designate Haider Al-Abadi has met with Parliament Speaker-elect Salim Al-Jabouri, on the Sunni leaders who suspended involvement in the talks, in an attempt to assure Iraq’s Sunnis that a serious investigation will be held into the attack.
A leading figure in the Sunni Mutahidoun parliamentary bloc, Mohamed Al-Khalidi, told Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday: “Federalism has become the only solution because of the crisis of trust and the inability to coexist due to the politicians’ failure to build a state which is in charge of weapons, rather than the militias [being in charge of them], and which imposes its authority on all citizens regardless of the type of the system in place, as there are many strong states with federal systems.”
Khalidi said: “The federalism which Arab Sunnis are calling for has nothing to do with Biden’s or any other proposal; it has become a reality which we must acknowledge and has become the only guarantee to avoid the break-up of Iraq.”
If the formation of provinces into regions was not possible, Khalidi added, “a compromise is to grant governorate authorities wider administrative powers according to provincial law, but this is rejected by those who want to monopolize power.”
A leading member of the Sadrist Al-Ahrar bloc, Hakim Al-Zamili, said he agreed with Khalidi that political power needed to be decentralized to Iraq’s provincial authorities.
He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Granting governorate councils wider powers will reduce calls for the establishment of regions in the governorates.”
Zamili said the calls for the creation of new autonomous regions were linked to demands for improvements in the provision of services and the security situations in Iraq’s various governorates.
Meanwhile, Kurdish Alliance MP Shwan Mohammad Taha told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The system in Iraq, according to the Iraqi constitution, is a federal union system; therefore, what Biden proposed before and what he supports today is nothing new as it has become a reality according to the constitution.”
He added: “The system is based on a broad decentralization which means no division in any case, and if there is division in Iraq, it is a division in terms of political views, and not actual division . . . the federal system is the best solution for Iraq’s unity; it is the only guarantee for this unity. Without it, the break-up of Iraq will become a reality.”