The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[casi] Defining federalism for Iraq

            Defining federalism for Iraq

      16 September 2003 - By Vahal Abdulrahman
      Defining the "F" Word

      What exactly does federalism mean and how can the Kurds ensure that a
federated Iraq would grant them their political and cultural rights? Unlike
any other group in Iraq, the Kurds did participate militarily in Operation
Iraqi Freedom, American and Kurdish forces fought together, were wounded
together and paid the ultimate sacrifice together in the effort to liberate
the northern cities of Mosul and Kerkuk. Iraqi Kurdistan is without any
doubt one of the most pro-American places in the entire world. The Kurds of
Iraq have been the greatest hosts American troops can ask for. Iraqi Kurds
must realize that they have no choice but to play their cards right during
this turning point in Iraq's modern history.

      The Kurds of Iraq were subjected to every named and every unnamed
crime by the totalitarian Ba'athi regime. Halabja and her scar of WMD served
as a justification for the Anglo-American war against Saddam Hussein's
regime at a time when there was no evidence that the Iraqi regime still had
weapons of mass destruction. The mass graves of Anfal victims, which were
discovered in the post-April 9, 2003 world, continue to justify to the world
that while the war was unpopular, it was most certainly worthwhile.

      Now the time has come for the Kurds to settle in a civil, secular,
democratic and free Iraq, but not without unsubtle guarantees.

      Northern Iraq was known to Saddam Hussein's regime as the "self-ruling
region," yet needless to mention, the reality of the situation was that the
region was a concentration camp where hundreds of thousands of innocents
were murdered to leave millions of others chained in their pain, stripped of
every basic human right. So let us not fall for words. Federalism is a fancy
word but so is "self-rule." The Kurds must make every effort that the
constitution of the New Iraq specifically grants the Kurds their political

      First and foremost the Kurdish language must be an official language
in not only the four Kurdish provinces but also in the center and southern
parts of the country. The new education system of Iraq must require all
Kurdish students to learn Arabic but by the same token, all Arab students to
learn Kurdish. Certain supreme judicial and other high-ranking posts must
require mandatory bilingualism, that is to say, fluent Kurdish and Arabic
skills. Such a step would initially ensure that the Kurds occupy those
positions, but in the long run, Kurdish-speaking Arabs would also take part.
Mandatory bilingualism will ensure that neither the Kurds abandon Arabic as
an official language nor the Arabs abandon Kurdish.

      The constitution must clearly state that Iraq is not an Arab country.
The Kurds, the Assyrians and the Turkmens are all non-Arab peoples living in
Iraq and are entitled to the same political rights as the Arab majority.

      Let us assume that a federate Iraq will be divided into four
provinces, a Kurdish north, a Sunni center, an all-Iraqi Baghdad and a Shi'a
south. These provinces must have a number of significant powers granted to
them with little if any control from the central government.

      The exclusive powers of the Kurdish province must include total
control over the education system, religious affairs, criminal justice and
defense. Let me briefly elaborate on each one of these powers that ought to
be given to the Kurdish province rather than the federal government.

      The Education System

      During the decade of 1990's, the Kurdistan Regional Government took
various measures to turn Kurdish into the primary language in Iraqi
Kurdistan. Year after year, the Arabic language became more distant to the
Kurdish children and teenagers resulting in the birth if a generation of
Kurds who lack the ability to speak even basic Arabic. While this change has
Kurdified a once Arabized region, the process of de-Arabization was taken
too far. Every Kurdish young man or woman who seeks for opportunities within
Iraq will be required to speak Arabic. A future education ministry in the
Kurdistan province should immediately take measures to include Arabic in the
curriculum not only as a one-subject requirement as is the case now, but
also as an intense program to produce Arabic speaking youngsters.

      Aside from language, a Kurdish-controlled education system for the
northern province will ensure that the curriculum includes subjects such as
Kurdish history and Kurdish literature as well as Assyrian and Turkmen
history and culture. This is beneficial for all the provinces. For instance,
if the southern Shi'a province chooses to include religious studies as a
school subject, then it is their right to do so.

      Religious Affairs

      Iraq has a number of religious groups. There are Sunni and Shi'a
Muslims, Catholic and Orthodox Christians, Yezidis and others. The federal
government should have no power to regulate any religious affairs and must
grant the power to individual provinces. Due to the fact that most Kurds are
secular Muslims and there are non-Muslim groups in the future northern
province, Islam must not play the same role in the north as it seems likely
to play in the south. The religious disparity between various Iraqi groups
can only be solved if the federal government handed that power exclusively
to the provinces.

      For the Kurds, a secular platform of governance is not only fit for
reasons mentioned earlier but also because a secular Kurdistan is likely to
attract tourists who will provide an additional income to the local
government not to mention give opportunities for the local residents to
invest in the tourism industry.

      It is in Iraq's best interest to leave religion to the individual
provinces. If the predominantly Shi'a south decides to make and enforce laws
on the basis of religion, then it would be undemocratic for the federal
government to stop them. However, it would be equally undemocratic, not to
mention unacceptable to make the rest of the country follow an unpopular
religious platform.

      Criminal Justice

      The Kurds must insist that the northern province is given exclusive
power on the issues of criminal justice for the Kurdistan region. If by
virtue of referendum, the people of Iraqi Kurdistan decide to abolish
polygamy, capital punishment, honor killings, or if they decided to allow
the selling of alcohol, licensed ownership of small arms, or abortion, they
should not have to go through the federal government to do so.

      There are many issues on which the people of Iraq in general should
agree to disagree. The only way to satisfy all groups is to allow them to
have their own way bound of course by a federal constitution protected by
the armed forces of the provinces of Iraq.


      It would be unrealistic to assume that the Peshmerga forces would
change their uniforms and become Iraqi soldiers overnight. The issue of
defense is a crucial and a complex one as the federal government must
eventually be put in charge of all the armed forces. However, to ensure that
the armed forces of the New Iraq are loyal protectors of Iraq's constitution
and borders, there must first be some degree of trust between the various
groups that constitute the mosaic known as Iraq.

      In the initial stages of the transition, the Kurds should insist that
the Peshmerga forces remain intact and the formation of a unified Iraqi army
be delayed. That said, the President or the legislative branch should have
the power to call upon the armed forces in matters of supreme emergency. The
Kurds and the Arabs of Iraq must work together, live together, form shared
establishments together, create Kuro-Arabic associations together, learn
each others' languages together before a firm trust is created. Once the
trust is there and a relative stability and economic prosperity is there,
then the constitution should be amended to form a unified Iraqi military.

      I have briefly specified some of the terms that must be included in
the new Iraqi constitution; there are various others that the Kurds should
strive to obtain. The word "federalism" is used daily by policymakers and
media outlets yet the details of such a plan are seldom mentioned. The Kurds
of the Diaspora as well as those living in Dohuk, Erbil, Sulaimany, Kerkuk
and of course Baghdad should urge the 25 members of the Governing Council
and the 25 cabinet ministers as well as ambassador Paul Bremer III and his
team and the constitutional committee to include the mentioned points in the
constitutions as exclusive powers granted to the northern province.

      Once these powers are given to the local authorities rather than the
central government, the Kurds can then fantasize about having a Kurdistan
soccer team to be allowed by FIFA to play to qualify for the world cup like
Scotland. Or they can try to get the government to build a Halabja monument
or a museum in Baghdad so that the whole world can see that the New Iraq is
really a new Iraq.

      The Kurds must realize that maintaining the territorial integrity of
Iraq does NOT mean that Kurdistan will be under the control of the central
government. They must insist that they run their affairs by themselves. The
Kurds of Iraq deserve to be given autonomy in a unified Iraq, their
experiment with civil society in the past decade is apparent by the fact
that Kurdistan is the only place in Iraq where American soldiers are not
being murdered.

Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
To unsubscribe, visit
To contact the list manager, email
All postings are archived on CASI's website:

[Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]