In this second report on current developments in Iraq, we look at the aspiration for “confederalism” rather than mere federalism that various members of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have been giving voice to since the outbreak of the present troubles. One KRG representative spoke directly to the NCF during an MESC meeting a couple of days ago and stated, “Kurds participated in the writing of the Iraqi constitution. Federalism was the chosen political structure, as stated in the constitution, but it was never implemented. We cannot go back to the pre-ISIS situation. There must now be a move from federalism to confederalism.” However there is clear blue water between the concept of a “federal” Iraq and that of a “confederal” Iraq and the difference represented by the new Kurdish position should be understood. There are few truly confederal nations in the world today. Switzerland is a “soft” confederation as is Belgium. There is a sense in which the Gulf Cooperation Council states or the European Union are “confederations”. The following short report by NCF interns is an attempt to clarify the implications of the new position being advocated by the KRG.
The feasibility of a confederal Iraq
“The only hope to keep the country together is probably through three different regions with a confederation” Kirkuk provincial governor Najm al-Din Karim speaking on 25 June 2014
A confederation is an association of states and groups that are loosely bound by a treaty. Most importantly these constituent states retain their national sovereignty and consequently their right to secession.
In some models a constituent state in a confederation will be able to pursue an independent foreign policy (eg. negotiating treaties with other countries); whereas under a federal system the central government would have laws and regulations that supersede those of a constituent state.
In multi-ethnic Iraq, a confederal Iraq could be divided into three large states, reminiscent of the way there were once three distinct Ottoman provinces (Mosul, Baghdad and Basra Vilayets). The new confederal states envisioned would each have one of the three main ethnic groups of Iraq as its majority population: A Kurdish majority state with borders similar to the present borders of Iraqi Kurdistan, a Sunni majority state and a Shia majority state.
One way of interpreting Iraq’s move to a “confederal” system would be a transition to the “new” type of confederation pioneered by the European Union. An EU-style confederation would result in a stark transfer of powers to the different member states. Regional parliaments would have almost complete control over their own state and could pursue an independent foreign policy. There would still be a “national” parliament for the whole of Iraq, which could direct common economic policies with numerous common laws facilitating a single economic market within Iraq with open internal borders, and a common currency along with other key aspects found within the EU confederal system. However, this national parliament would be largely toothless in dictating the budget and public finances of the sovereign regions.
The least radical approach would be the Belgian form of quasi-confederalism. An Iraqi state modelled on Belgium would not include the right of secession for the various regional groups but would ensure significant powers were transferred from Baghdad to the regional capitals. This would be similar to the Iraq that US Senator Joe Biden called for in 2006, an Iraq where “the Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions would each be responsible for their own domestic laws, administration and internal security, the central government would control border defense, foreign affairs and oil revenues.”
Whilst some would welcome a looser Iraq under a confederal system in the hopes of de-escalating sectarian tensions, others have warned against it. Iraqi scholar, Sami Ramadani, stated that