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IRAQ - Regional Implications Of Federalism.

The issue of federalism has polarised parliament in Baghdad since it reconvened earlier in September. Some Shi'ite groups, such as the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), favour adoption of a law which would allow them to create a federal region in oil-rich southern Iraq similar to the KRG in the north. The SCIRI is backed by Iran. But new federal regions are opposed by other Shi'ites, as well as Sunnis who fear it will leave their heartland in the centre starved of resources. Equally opposed to the idea of federalism are Iraq's neighbours, notably including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Syria and Jordan.

Turkey and Syria fear federalism will encourage their Kurdish minorities to demand similar autonomy. Syria's Kurds have drawn a map of their "Western Kurdistan" stretching from Iraq's border to the region of Aleppo. This is far more than what the Sunni Arab majority in Syria would accept, in the event the Ba'thist regime of Damascus agrees - or is forced - to adopt federalism in a country ruled by a dictatorship belonging to a clan from the small Alawite minority.

In Turkey, however, the situation is different. The 12-14m Kurdish minority is spread to Turkey's urban centres, such as Istanbul (where Kurds number 1m), Ankara, etc., and only about 25% of them remain in the original zone of Kurdistan in the south-east. Under American pressure, with the US strongly backing the KRG in Iraq, Ankara would be compelled eventually to grant their Kurdish zone some autonomy.

Saudi Arabia and Jordan fear Iran would back a Shi'ite entity in southern Iraq as the one on which the SCIRI is insisting. That would lead to what Jordan's King Abdullah in 2004 called a "Shi'ite crescent" running from Iran to Lebanon through Iraq and Syria. Saudi Arabia, whose Sunni sect is Wahhabism which is Salafi, leads the 1.5 bn-strong Muslim World of which Ja'fari Shi'ism accounts for less than 10%. Letting the SCIRI establish a Ja'fari Shi'ite theocracy in southern Iraq to the Saudis and other Arab regimes means allowing the Sunni status quo in the Arab world to be altered in favour of Iran, not an Arab country. The Sunni monarchy in Jordan is part of a Hashemite movement originating in the Hejaz, now the Western Province of Saudi Arabia.

If that trend runs beyond Iraq, the oil-rich Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia could become a Shi'ite entity sponsored by Iran. Like the majority in Bahrain, the Shi'ites of the Eastern Province are Ja'faris and have long been influenced by the religious authority of Qom in Iran. To Saudi Arabia federalism means its potential dismemberment. This is why the Saudi royal regime is opposed to Iran becoming a major power and obtaining nuclear weapons.

Iran's Ja'fari theocracy is rapidly being radicalised in a way which threatens Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other members of the Arab Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) as well as Jordan, Egypt and the rest of the Arab world. Iran's theocracy regards itself as a global movement, meaning its Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the ruler of the world. This becomes a global threat as the Hojjatiyeh movement in Iran believes the Mahdi is returning to Earth before 2008 - which should explain Tehran's urge to pursue its atomic option (as explained in this week's news14-IslamPopeOct2-06).

On Sept. 1 Kurdistan President Mas'oud Barzani declared that "regions in Iraq's Kurdistan which have been hoisting the Ba'thist flag should lower it and hoist only the Kurdistan flag". His statement was primarily targeted at the eastern part of the self-rule zone, formerly run by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the once rival to Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

Before the merger of the KDP and PUK governments in May, the PUK-run areas usually flew a version of the red, white, black and green Iraqi flag, which Kurds identify with the former ruling Ba'th Party's brutal campaigns in their region, alongside the red, white, yellow and green Kurdish national flag. Barzani's enclave, the western part of Kurdistan, flew only the Kurdish flag. Kurdistan has its own constitution and its new map includes oil-rich Kirkuk and other contested territories.

Barzani's decree caused an outcry from Sunni Arab MPs in Baghdad, who denounced it as a land grab - a step towards partitioning Iraq into three states: Kurdistan in the north, a Sunni Arab entity in the centre (known as the Sunni Triangle), and a Shi'ite entity in the south. Many Sunni Arabs fear that the oil-rich north and south of the country will pull away at the expense of their comparatively resources-poor heartland (see fap3-IraqKurdistanSep11-06).
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Publication:APS Diplomat Fate of the Arabian Peninsula
Date:Oct 2, 2006
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