Officials from the Basra governorate are urging other southern Iraqi governorates to agree on the formation of a single unified southern province (allegedly similar to the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq), in the event that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki — whose coalition controls most local governments in southern Iraq — loses the confidence of the government.
Sabah Albazzouni, the head of the Basra Provincial Council, told Al-Hayat newspaper that “the governorate wants to create a southern province in response to the severe political crisis the country has been facing since the end of last year. This acute political crisis may lead to a vote of no-confidence against Maliki. Meanwhile, other political players are trying to take control of the country’s fate.”
“We were already uncertain and anxious about the next prime minister, regardless of his political affiliations. This is what motivates us to go through these constitutional procedures to establish a general southern province, or a Basra province,” he added.
He noted that “any candidate other than [Maliki] will make concessions to those parties that support him. For example, he might give Kirkuk to the Kurdistan province, or halt the arrest warrants against terrorists [in reference to Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi] who belong to certain parliamentary blocs.”
He said: “We will urge governors and heads of governorate councils to establish a southern province. If they do not respond to this call, we will announce the formation of a province in Basra. The request for federalism is an old one, which has been postponed repeatedly because of the political situation.” He also noted that “this issue will be one of main items on the agenda in the meeting we are holding Thursday [May 31].”
“The Governorate Council did not reject our request outright, but decided a few months ago to to wait before moving forward with it because the political situation would not have been able to handle any more problems,” said Albazzouni.
Of the Basra Provincial Council’s 35 members, 22 signed a petition in 2010 for the formation of a province in Basra. They asked the Council of Ministers to prepare a referendum in the governorate per constitutional law, but the prime minister has not yet replied to their request.
Basra Provincial Council member Walid Hamid told Al-Hayat that “the central government has so far not yet replied to our request to convert the governorate into a province. This is unconstitutional on the part of the government, but the current political crisis might change the stance of many on the matter.” He added, “We will send confirmations of our requests in order to speed up the process if our meeting with other regional governments is not fruitful.”
Former MP Wael Abdul Latif was the first to put into motion processes for the transformation of Basra into a province. In 2008 he submitted a petition for forming a province to the Electoral Commission. Nearly 2% of voters signed the petition, but he did not get the 10% approval that is needed to start a general referendum within the governorate.
Free Bloc representative Maytham Fartusi stated that “the recent movement for establishing provinces, especially in the south, is a political move to divert attention from the main problem and to lead the country into other bigger and more complex problems.” He warned against “public and widespread outrage, which will reach everyone who seeks to divide the country.”
He added: “There are those who take advantage of the feelings of citizens. They promise them security, safety, reconstruction and cultural understanding if we create provinces, as if they are going to establish another Plato's Republic.” Fartusi stated that all of this amounted to pure treachery.
Fartusi also confirmed that “the realistic solution is to rally around a democratic, strong, national and fair central government; to strengthen it, correct its mistakes and promote its positive qualities.” He also advised “the development of service projects, and avoiding the manipulation of the peoples’ emotions, especially in light of the upcoming elections.”