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iraq’s new borders
cause for conflict or righting past wrongs?

Mustafa Habib
Iraqi politicians have agreed that the country’s provinces should look as they did before Saddam Hussein changed them for his own political purposes. But whether the redrawn map of Iraq is going to make…
11.07.2013  |  Baghdad

This past week the MPs on the Iraqi Parliament’s Regions and Provinces Committee did an unusual thing for national politics: they came to a consensus. Their agreement was over a draft law named the Provincial Borders Demarcation, which was originally submitted to Iraq’s parliament by now-ailing Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in 2011. And most of the Committee apparently voted for it.

While the President of the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, was visiting Baghdad recently the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced work would begin again on various laws, whose progress into legislation had been suspended. This includes the Provincial Borders Demarcation law.

Although the Kurdish politicians and the country’s leaders in Baghdad have had their differences, lately both groups seem to have been on a charm offensive. How the country is divided up is a major cause of conflict between them.

The law has yet to be passed. But if it does make it into law, it will see borders of the country’s various provinces re-drawn and the map of Iraq will look more like it did in the 1960s before Saddam Hussein and his nationalist Baath party came to power. During Hussein’s time in power, the map of Iraq was redrawn, not according to natural geography but rather, according to Hussein’s plans to dominate power in Iraq. It also favoured Hussein’s own Sunni Muslim sect.

This was among the justifications given by the committee for their decision to amend the country’s provincial borders: “The former regime had made unfair changes to the administrative borders of provinces, districts and neighbourhoods in different parts of the Iraqi Republic, manipulating them according to its desires.”

“These changes were made through the issuance of decrees, presidential resolutions and other legislation. They have were introduced not to serve the interests of the Iraqi people but rather to achieve the political aims of the regime, so it could tighten its control over all spectrums of the society. In order to annul these changes and restore the situation to what it was before the Baath regime rule, this law should be enacted.”

The draft law states that: “all decrees, resolutions and any other legislation issued by the former regime, in order to achieve its political aims … shall be cancelled.”

According to a statement issued by parliament’s Regions and Provinces Committee, the law will come up for debate and vote during the next few sittings.

However, while the parliamentary committee has agreed on this, there are still plenty of political forces that will stand against the law, with many considering it a threat to peace.

MP Omar al-Jibouri from the opposition Iraqiya bloc, who represents Kirkuk, told NIQASH that it was “illogical” to try and cancel over 40 years worth of legislation with one law.

“The Baath Party regime’s resolutions, regardless of their legality, have created a new, more even distribution of population,” al-Jibouri says. “Additionally the new law will lead to the loss of several provinces, including Najaf and Salahaddin, and that just isn’t acceptable.”

Indeed Salahaddin province, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein, will no longer be an independent province. Along with a handful of others, it will be annexed to other provinces or cities. That includes Najaf, which will become a district of Karbala province, and Tikrit, which will become part of Baghdad. Meanwhile Nakheeb and Ain al-Tamr, currently in Anbar, will be annexed to become part of Karbala.

“Passing this law might just complicate an already complicated situation,” says Raad al-Dahlaki, an MP for the opposition Iraqiya party from Diyala. “It could trigger a new political crisis, especially under the current conditions.”

Also unsure are Iraqi MPs who represent the country’s minorities. The Turkmen MPs are sceptical as to whether the law gives minorities any advantages. One of the most senior Turkmen MPs, Arshad al-Salihi, suggested that another law be passed at the same time that allowed the creation of new, independent provinces in minority-heavy places like Nakheeb, Zubair and Tuz Khurmatu.

Meanwhile Kurdish politicians are seen as some of the prime movers behind the draft law. They see it as being a partial resolution of problems around the disputed city of Kirkuk, which they say belongs to Iraqi Kurdistan but which the Iraqis say belongs to Iraq proper.

“The law will redraw the borders of provinces covered in Article 140 of the Constitution, related to the city of Kirkuk,” Kurdish MP Mohsen al-Sadoun confirmed. “Tuz Khurmatu in the Salahaddin province will become part of Kirkuk.”

Although they don’t seem to be quite as enthusiastic as the Iraqi Kurdish MPs, Iraq’s Shiite Muslim politicians also like the draft Provincial Borers law. Some have speculated that this lack of enthusiasm could be because Shiite Muslim politicians in power have been using this issue as a bargaining chip for years when negotiating with the Iraqi Kurdish.

“Passing this law is simply an effort to correct the errors of the past,” states MP Ali al-Allaq, who’s part of al-Maliki’s ruling State of Law party; he says the re-drawing is based on geography not politics. “The former regime tried to change the demography of the country using this map. But things need to get back to normal,” he argued.

However al-Allaq also admitted that the law might not that easy to push through Parliament as, because of its importance, it would need two thirds of MPs to vote for it.

And this was another of the items that most of the politicians NIQASH spoke to could agree upon. Given the current situation in Iraq, the new Provincial Borders law was unlikely to be passed any time soon, most of them said. Some said it was unlikely it would even be debated anywhere as official as Parliament soon.

“The current political situation in the country and the unresolved conflicts within Parliament all seem to indicate that this law won’t be passed,” independent MP, Othman al-Juhaiji, told NIQASH. Even if the law does eventually pass, al-Juhaiji says, “it almost certainly won’t be during this session of Parliament.”