Seminar on Practical federalism in Iraq

Erbil, 10-16 July 2007

The Iraqi Constitution was adopted following a referendum in 2005 in which over 12 million Iraqis voted. Further to Article 142, a Review Committee was subsequently established to evaluate potential amendments to the Constitution. The Committee has issued a report containing a series of recommendations to which some groups have expressed their opposition. These recommendations therefore remain the subject of ongoing discussion.
Some speakers retained their sceptical position, while others expressed their optimism about prospects for negotiations, noting that the atmosphere in which negotiations were now taking place were markedly better than when they began. It was suggested as indicative of this, for example, that the Committee is no longer discussing whether federalism should be Iraq’s political system, but rather what kind of federalism it should be.
Speakers also noted however that a number of issues remain unresolved, and that amongst them are some of the most controversial issues facing Iraqi society. The main issues of discussion remain political, primarily the oil law, the question of Kirkuk, and article 69, though some participants raised also the issues of family law and the rights of women as particularly undeveloped. Speakers lamenting also more widely the limited input that has been received from the women of Iraq.
Other participants expressed less optimism about the review process, noting in particular that a failure to act within the deadlines outlined by the Constitution has resulted in substantial disillusionment with the process. Confidence in the outcome of discussions could only be achieved, it was argued, by carefully following the provisions and steps outlined in the Constitution.
Many regional representatives noted their desire to work with the central government, but noted that this would have to occur within an agreed framework. To this extent they acknowledged also the importance of following strict procedural guidelines before amending any aspects of the Constitution, especially those 7 affecting the relationship between the central and regional governments. This might include consulting the Iraqi people through referendums and votes before making any amendments.
Some speakers expressed the concern that federalism might be considered new to the people of Iraq, while others noted it had been part and parcel of discussions ever since the quest for independence began in the early 20th century.
There was broad agreement on the general need for more understanding of the concept and potentials of federalism however, with many expressing the concern that some people in Iraq still perceive it as potentially dividing, rather than as a unifying, system. To this end, many participants urged greater education and media coverage of the complexities of federalism.
Crucially, it was emphasized that the discussion process should be gradual and undertaken in phases, with an opportunity to learn from other experiences of other states and the way in which they have addresses their own specific problems. It was agreed however that it is impossible to import or clone an entire system wholesale. Patience and flexibility are consequently crucial elements.
It was noted that there is a sense among some Iraqis that concerns about Constitutional issues may have added to the security problems of their country. Others suggested this might be a shield with which to cover other problems, with deadlines used to delay the process.
A meeting such as this is important as it takes for its basis dialogue and reciprocal respect. It is important not only to live together, but to have confidence in each other, to try to collaborate and to understand the positions of others. There is a need to avoid a maximalist approach - it is important instead to demonstrate a willingness to make concessions and compromise.
Even if processes are delayed and deadlines are not met, it is important to persevere. Clearly questions must be asked, but the process cannot be interrupted, it should simply be delayed, because the important thing is for the people to accomplish their mission.