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Iraqi Federalism Good: Ethnic Conflict

Federalism is the only way to keep ethnic groups united in Iraq

Gelb, President of Council on Foreign Relations, 2007

[Oct 16, Leslie, , Gelb: Federalism Is Most Promising Way to End Civil War in Iraq, Council on Foreign Relations, http://www.cfr.org/publication/14531 (interview)]

Leslie H. Gelb, former writer for The New York Times, and a senior Defense and State Department official before becoming president of CFR, says the plan to persuade Iraqis to accept a federal form of government is the best way to “maintain harmony” among Iraqi groups. The plan, which he has co-authored with Senator Joseph R. Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was approved with seventy-five votes in favor in a recent nonbinding resolution. But Gelb says it is still not popular among many Arabs who, he says, are used to strong central government.The U.S. Senate recently passed a nonbinding resolution authored by Senator Joseph R. Biden, calling for a federal system of government in Iraq. Of course you are a co-author of this resolution since you and he have written many articles on the need for just such a federal system in Iraq. Could you explain in a terse way what this proposal does that passed the Senate? The idea is to encourage Iraqis to adhere to their own constitution and work on reconciliation amongst themselves by decentralizing power to regional governments—to create a federal system in effect—and that they have to do it themselves. We can push and cajole but it has to be their decision. And it reflects our beliefs and the beliefs of seventy-five senators that this is the only promising way of bringing about political reconciliation among the different Iraqi groups. Right now in Iraq we know the situation is that the Kurds in the north are more or less autonomous; the Shiites in the south are fighting among themselves; and the situation of the Sunnis in the center is a bit more unclear because we’ve got al-Qaeda mixed in with Sunni tribes. But is there a de facto federalism in existence now? Or do we still have a long way to go? There is a de facto diffusion of power in the country because you have a civil war and because you have different groups in control of different parts of the country, but that’s as a result of war and ethnic cleansing and movement of populations, and not the result of a political agreement on how to construct a government that will maintain harmony among the different Iraqi groups. The reaction of the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was what? The reaction of Maliki and some others to the passage of the Senate resolution was negative, because I think they were told by the U.S. embassy that this was something that the United States was going to force down their throats. Even though the resolution says that it’s up to the Iraqis to do it? The resolution absolutely says that, but I think that our embassy misled them. The U.S. embassy was harsh in its response? It was, and this bewildered me. It certainly bewildered Senator Biden, because when Ambassador Ryan Crocker appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he testified in favor of federalism. In his private conversations with senators, he also supported the idea. So it is kind of a mystery why he blasted the resolution from Baghdad. Maybe he hadn’t read it. What is the status now of this resolution? Does it have to go to the House? The House can take it up, and we hope that they will. More importantly, we are looking to the Iraqis to take up the idea. Senator Biden and others have heard from the Iraqis something to the effect that they would like to call a conference among themselves and begin looking at the idea. Even though the word “federalism” is in their constitution, it is pretty clear when you talk to Iraqis that they don’t fully appreciate their own brilliance putting the word in the constitution. That is because federalism is a relatively foreign concept in all Arab countries because it calls for the decentralization of power. Arab states are used to focusing power in a strong central government. They have to sort out different things. One is that federalism doesn’t mean chaos, that it is sensible when there are profound differences among groups in the society. Secondly, they have to focus on, what I believe to be the fact, that federalism is the only way to keep the country united. Federalism does not mean partition.

Iraqi Federalism Good: Ethnic Conflict

1) Federalism is the only way to prevent ethnic conflict and secessionism in Iraq

Brancati, visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics at Princeton University, 2004

(Can Federalism Stabilize Iraq?, http://www.twq.com/04spring/docs/04spring_brancati.pdf)

The United States devoted nine months to planning the war in Iraq and a mere 28 days to planning the peace, according to senior U.S. military officials. Much more time has to be invested in the peace, however, if the military achievements of the war are to be preserved and a stable democracy is to be created in Iraq. Establishing a governmental system that can accommodate Iraq’s different ethnic and religious groups, previously kept in check by the political and military repression of the Saddam Hussein regime, is paramount to securing that peace. In the absence of a system uniquely designed toward this end, violent conflicts and demands for independence are likely to engulf the country. If not planned precisely to meet the specific ethnic and religious divisions at play, any democratic government to emerge in Iraq is bound to prove less capable of maintaining order than the brutal dictatorship that preceded it. By dividing power between two levels of government—giving groups greater control over their own political, social, and economic affairs while making them feel less exploited as well as more securefederalism offers the only viable possibility for preventing ethnic conflict and secessionism as well as establishing a stable democracy in Iraq. Yet, not just any kind of federal system can accomplish this. Rather, a federal system granting regional governments extensive political and financial powers with borders drawn along ethnic and religious lines that utilize institutionalized measures to prevent identity-based and regional parties from dominating the government is required. Equally critical to ensuring stability and sustainable democracy in Iraq, the new federal system of government must secure the city of Kirkuk, coveted for its vast oil reserves and pipelines, in the Kurdish-controlled northern region to assure that the Kurds do not secede from Iraq altogether. For its part, the United States must take a more active role in advising Iraqi leaders to adopt a federal system of government along these lines. Such a system will help the United States not only to build democracy in Iraq but also to prevent the emergence of a Shi‘a-dominated government in the country. Without this form of federalism, an Iraq rife with internal conflict and dominated by one ethnic or religious group is more likely to emerge, undermining U.S. efforts toward establishing democracy in Iraq as well as the greater Middle East.
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