A reader forwards a Financial Times report on political developments around Basra. It doesn’t sound like good news. The Iraqi Shi’a who are sitting on the oil reserves don’t seem to think that the Shi’a mullahs in Najaf speak for them.
Someone once remarked that Americans never really had a feel for the whole “dominion over palm and pine” business. That’s true, I think. It is, as a temporarily famous American once said, “hard work,” and not the sort of work we’re especially good at. As the bumper sticker puts it, we’re a great nation, but a lousy empire.
It seems to me that those of us who, back in 1992, wore buttons that said “Saddam Hussein Still Has His Job; How About You?” owe the elder President Bush an apology. Maybe pushing on to Baghdad wasn’t such a good idea.
Oil-rich Iraqi provinces push for autonomy
By Roula Khalaf in London
Published: September 29 2004 20:33 |
Last updated: September 29 2004 20:33
Iraq’s oil-rich southern provinces are considering plans to set up an
autonomous region – a move that reflects their growing frustration with the central government in Baghdad.
Members of the municipal council of Basra, Iraq’s second largest city,
have been holding talks with officials from councils in two
neighbouring provinces on establishing a federal region in the south, following the example of the Kurdish north. The three provinces – Basra, Missan and Dhiqar – account for more than 80 per cent of the proved oil reserves of the country’s 18 provinces and provide a large share of the national income.
The talks are a political challenge to the embattled interim Iraqi
government which is fighting a fierce insurgency in Sunni Arab areas, continued unrest in an impoverished Shia suburb of Baghdad and militant gangs bent on disrupting the country’s reconstruction.
Diplomats familiar with the talks say the three provinces have felt
marginalised in new government institutions, including the consultative assembly, and believe they are not receiving a fair share of economic resources.
The cabinet led by Iyad Allawi, the prime minister, includes only one
representative from the three provinces.
“The south has been desperately disappointed and they see Baghdad as continuing to leave them without representation,” said a western diplomat. “So they are working on ways to organise themselves to have more clout with the centre.”
Walid Khadduri, editor of the Cyprus-based Middle East Economic Survey, and an expert on Iraq, said the talks on self-rule were alarming. “It could weaken the state and lead to the eventual fragmentation of the country.”
Part of the problem stems from the powers given to local governments by the US occupation authorities before the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq this summer. In order to regain some of these powers, Mr Allawi’s government is said to be giving military commanders in the south more civilian authority.
Since the end of the Iraq war, the US and, more recently, the Allawi
government, have struggled to reconcile the competing demands of the majority Shias and the minority Sunni Arabs and Kurds. The government has sought to quell a popular Sunni insurgency by giving greater representation to Sunni Arab tribes. It also has tried to maintain the support of Iraq’s Shia majority by addressing the demands of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the highest-ranking Shia cleric in the holy city of Najaf, who has insisted on early elections.
The Kurdish minority, whose leaders are long-time US allies, has been
held in check by the promise of a large measure of autonomy when a permanent constitution is drafted after the January elections.
The three provinces, however, have felt left out, and are demanding
that their local representatives, rather than the Shia clergy in Najaf,
speak for them.
“In the south people feel Najaf and Karbala [Iraq’s second Shia holy
city] look down on them as second-class citizens and they would not do better under them any more than under the Sunnis,” said a western diplomat.
But people close to the Iraqi government say some officials driving the autonomy talks are backed by Muqtada al-Sadr, the renegade Shia cleric who launched an uprising against American troops in July.