April 04, 2023

Two Decades of Uneven Federalism in Iraq

Transforming the centralized Iraqi state into a federal state was one of the most pressing political goals for the engineers and so-called nation builders behind the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Proponents of federalism, like the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), saw it as a panacea that would resolve the crisis of public services and protect sub-national identities. Its opponents, however, believed it would deepen divisions in an already fragmented country and serve as a tool of separation.

Beyond the political obstacles and resistance by the central government to give up control over revenue-generating resources, Iraq lacks the institutions for decentralized governance.

Supporters of federalism won, at least on paper. In 2005, it was enshrined in Iraq’s constitution. But 20 years on, the system has proven stagnant.

Today Iraq is comprised of 18 governorates. But only three of them—Duhok, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah—are incorporated into an autonomous region, Iraqi Kurdistan, with its own parliament, sub-national ministries and a regional president. The other 15 governorates maintain a centralized relationship with Baghdad, although each has a governor and a provincial council. Those governorates that attempted to form their own region over the past two decades have faced various obstacles from both the central government and Iraqi Kurdistan, ensuring that any promises of federalism remain uneven and unfulfilled.

Read the full story and more from Middle East Report.

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