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Iraq and Federalism « Previous | |Next »
September 19, 2003

Abu Ardvaark has linked to an interesting paper by Brendan O'Leary on democratic governance in Iraq. It is interesting in the light of an occupation that is not going well, makes a welcome change from the military side of things and offers an alternative to the growing possibilities of an American-imposed "soft" dictatorship in Iraq. Sooner or latter the US has to leave Iraq.

O'Leary argues for a position that has been advocated by public opinion mark 1: a multi-national federation because the regional reality of Iraq's multinational composition makes a monocultural federation unworkable.

The Ardvaark is not persuaded by what by what he says is O'Leary's enthusiasm for a multi-national federalism. He leans towards, but does not endorse, non-federal options. That nonfederal pathway is towards a centralized liberal democracy with a monocultural nation. The danger on this pathway is the exclusion or repression of different ethnicities that constitute the Iraqi nation (eg., Kurds and Sunnis). That is a recipe for disaster.

Juan Cole has drawn attention to the drawbacks of multinational federalism. He says (in email) that a:

"Multinational loose federation is a recipe for the future break-up of Iraq. ...The alternative is to put in strong safeguards against a tyranny of the majority for the Kurds. Devolve education policy to the local governments, along with local commerce and agriculture. Have provincial legislatures and elected governors. Have a strong bill of rights. Have a bicameral legislature with an upper house that over-represents the Kurds and Sunni Arabs. i.e., use the 1789 US constitution as something of a model; it faced similar dilemmas. That is, I think the Kurds can get a lot of what they want under a fairly strong Federalism, as long as the right safeguards are built into it. And this would be preferable to encouraging sub-nationalisms that provoke civil wars in the future."

Abu concurs. The danger of O'Leary's loose multinational federalism is the Lebanonizing Iraq and so would encourage Iraq's eventual breakup.

Juan on my reading is advocating federalism with his mention of provincial legislatures and elected governors. Presumably these regionally based legislatures would be a political expression of the different regional ethnicities. So we have a federal political structure with a de-facto multicultural nation. Presumably we have one state and a common citizenship.

Hence the debate is about the degree of "looseness" versus centralization.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:01 AM | | Comments (4)


I would refer your readers to comments I made earlier - & welcome constructive,informed suggestionse as a corrective to my half-thought out ideas

I would refer your readers to comments I made earlier - & welcome constructive,informed suggestions as a corrective to my half-thought out ideas

The type of democratic structure that forms in Iraq is probably almost completely dependent on its geopolitical context:if it was possible to create democracies around Iraq first, a different set of conditions condition would apply.
(a) federal state
(b) "integrated" state
(a)means the opportunity for schemers from outside Iraq to destabilise, e.g. the Kurdish Autonomous region,or conversely Shia Southern region
(b) means Italian style instability > constant changes of government caused by presence of too many small parties
(a) means questions have to be asked about what the federal structure would be. If it were US style, it might not work because of the strong religio-ethnic divides and jelousies that have never been subsumed to a Great Iraqi Ideal, except for a short period under Nur es said, although he too was authoritarian. Saddam achied the same result by totalitarian control.
(a) means rotating presidents to satify the strong ethnic0-religion divisions
(b) means lack of strong leadership > one ethnic group will not except the authority of the others head of state
** I favour a "centralised" federal state not a federation
*** This will need what I have suggested elsewhere > a roughly 5 year cooling off before elections proper
**** A democratification programme of massive proportins > based on bringing through the new voters in schools and universities, rather than relying already entrenched positions. (Vide > Russian pensioners wanting Stalin or Gorbachev back "because he kept order and paid us proper pensions")

* Devolve education policy to the local governments, along with local commerce and agriculture.*

(1) Devolution of education - after 25 years of authoritariasm turned totalitariansm - would not inculcate the Iraqi identity or "federal ethos" needed. It could be used by trouble makers - of all sorts - to encourage the very differences that militate against the Greater Iraqi Concept essential to hold Iraq together. The rationale behind regional schools/universities would lead to demands for total freedom of education > Mardasas anyone ? They are not salted cashews or a fortified wine!

(2) I argued early in my weblog (started to follow pre-war and immediate post-war events through my personal perspective, and in relation to Iraq's recent history, as is reflected in the sort of references & side links I put up) about the lessons to be learnt from 40s & 50s Iraq under Nuri es Said. You will see in some of the articles I referenced, a flavour of the educational developments that Nuri started, encouraged, including buraries from the US to study abroad and an accerated progamme of primary & secondary school building, with many British staff starting the schools.

SEE, New Babylon: A Portrait of Iraq, Desmond Steart & John Hycock,Collins 1956

Are they going to let back the 250,0000 - 300,000 Iraqi Jews they kicked out in the late 50s ? these were the backbone of the business and intellectual elite of Iraq. 100,000 went to Israel, directly.