Basra, Iraq's Economic Capital, Wants Southern Federal Region

Article Summary
The Basra Governorate of Iraq is demanding federal autonomy like the kind enjoyed by the Kurdistan Regional Government. Ahmad Wahid reports that while the Iraqi constitution allows any province to become an autonomous region, the Independent Electoral Commission has yet to set a date for a referendum.

Officials in the Basra Governorate have repeated their calls for the establishment of a Basra federal region. This came after a project entitled “Basra, Economic Capital of Iraq” was approved for initial discussion in parliament.

Sabah al-Bazouni, head of the Basra Provincial Council, said that “we will demand the establishment of a Basra region after parliament approves making Basra the Iraqi economic capital. This gives us adequate powers at present.” He added that “the administrative autonomy that we will get based on the governorate becoming an economic capital does not meet our aspirations. The establishment of the Basra region would give us sufficient independence to work, because we would be administratively separated from the ministries that have caused disruption in the reconstruction of the city.”

He added: “Over a year ago, more than a third of the members of the Basra Provincial Council signed a request for establishing the Basra region. The request was referred to the Council of Ministers, which supposedly transferred it to the Independent Electoral Commission to set a date for holding a referendum on it. However, the request remained with the Council of Ministers.”

He explained that “the MPs representing the Basra Governorate did not help the local government in its efforts to establish the Basra region by following up on various legal stages of the project. This is part of their supervisory work, but they did not assume the role we expected of them.”

Ghanem Abdul Amir, a member of the provincial council, told Al-Hayat that “the region will persist with its demand, even if the parliament approves other laws that benefit Basra. The problems of the province can only be solved through establishing autonomous power. Therefore, we appreciate the initiative to designate Basra the economic capital and the powers it will bring; however, we believe that an [independent] region would be the perfect solution, whatever the alternatives.”

The Iraqi constitution allows any province to become a region with independent powers — excluding those that relate to security, judicial and external affairs — yet this decision remains the prerogative of the Baghdad-based central government. Officials in these regions would have the right to implement any project without the need to refer to the central ministries, something that is now seen by the Baghdad Government as an obstacle to the implementation of strategic plans.

The province of Basra, which located at 590 km south of Baghdad, is awaiting parliamentary approval of the “Basra, Economic Capital of Iraq” project, whereby the province would obtain a greater percentage of its crude oil revenue, in addition to wider powers.

Uday Awad, a member of parliament from the Sadrist Movement, told Al-Hayat that “the movement advises the province to reconsider its demands to [become an independent region], and to be content with the economic-capital project. The establishment of a region will increase foreign interventions at a time when neighboring countries are witnessing drastic political changes.”

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