Over the past few months the council in the central Iraqi province of Anbar have managed to create a number of new districts and sub-districts. The last meeting making such decisions was held in December and most of the members of the provincial council voted in favour of establishing four new districts inside the province.
These are Karmah, east of the city of Fallujah, Baghdadi, almost 200 kilometres west of Baghdad, Amiriyat al-Samoud, southwest of Fallujah and Nahib, 280 kilometres southwest of the city of Ramadi. An additional five villages were changed into sub-districts within these new districts.
“Tribal and political influence were among the most important reasons behind the creation of these new districts,” says Daham al-Zubai, a tribal leader in Fallujah. “These were just ordinary villages before, with a population of no more than 3,000 people.”
“Most of the new districts are actually the bases for influential individuals who are trying to control nearby villages and to benefit from them, in terms of political gains,” he added.
Smaller districts will provide better opportunities for management and for the optimized use of human and natural resources.
It is perfectly legal for a provincial council to rezone areas within the province they run. But as yet, opinions on the new districts in Anbar remain divided. Some believe it to be a positive step in that the re-zoning has the potential to provide more government jobs and could improve the delivery of state services, like electricity and sanitation, to the new districts. But others think the timing is wrong, given the ongoing security crisis in Iraq, as well as budgetary problems, which mean that even if jobs were created, it would be difficult to pay for them.
“We’ve done a number of studies on what can happen when larger areas are divided into smaller ones – Anbar was one of our case studies,” says Hassan Kashash, a lecturer in geography and administration at the University of Anbar. “The results were positive and suggested that smaller districts will provide better opportunities for management and for the optimized use of human and natural resources.”
In the 1970s, similar plans were enacted with new cities built and the corresponding expansion in residential compounds and employment was seen as positive. “But there is no point in planning new administrative bodies if there is no development plan enacted at the same time,” Kashash concluded.
Plans that have not been well researched are going to deplete this country’s remaining resources.
“Contrary to some opinions, the new districts are not going to cause any kind of disunity or hasten the break-up of Iraq,” says Yahya al-Muhammadi, a member of the Anbar provincial council. “It will do the opposite. The local and central governments will be able to communicate better with the districts and villages, many of which are in need of better services and solutions.”
“If there are partisan aims at work, behind the re-zoning, then it will only be the locals who can decide [whether it was worth it],” al-Muhammadi continued. “In the near future, locals will feel the positive results of this decision,” he argued.
“If Anbar is getting new districts then it will also need new council members,” adds Samir al-Jumaili, a local economist. There are supposed to be seven for each sub-district and ten for each district, he notes. “There would also be new jobs created in security, state services and in health. But if we applied this equation right across the country, we’d need to spend lots of money – money that we do not have and that we should not spend.”
“There are some actors who are insisting on plans that have not been well researched and that are going to deplete this country’s remaining resources,” al-Jumaili argues.
Anbar MP, Mohammed al-Karbouli, who represents the province in Parliament in Baghdad, believes the re-zoning is a good idea. “The creation of new departments will mean officials have better, more direct contact with locals and citizens will be better served,” he suggests.
In fact, al-Karbouli says he has seen first-hand the benefits that can come from being designated a district. After the Karabilah area in the district of Al Qaem became a district four years ago, there were more job opportunities and the area was better represented in local government, he explains.
However if the re-zoning is done simply at the behest of local politicians or tribal leaders who only wish to consolidate power, then it could be problematic. It can complicate the provision of services and security unnecessarily and can exploit sectarian or ethnic differences, al-Karbouli concludes.