Oh, cool, another part of Iraq wants out

Journalist Peter Schwartzstein is reporting that, in addition to the Kurds in the north and the Sunni Arabs in the north and west, people in the mostly Shiʿa region around Basra, in the south of Iraq, may be looking for more autonomy from Baghdad:

For decades, Saddam Hussein’s cadre of Baathists kept a tight lid on any dissent in the predominantly Shiite south. They siphoned off the region’s resources while brutally suppressing periodic uprisings. But freed now from the shackles of dictatorship and fed up with recent governments’ inability to address their needs, some Basrawis are looking to distance themselves from Baghdad.

“The best easy way to break up this endless conflict is through regions,” said Ramadan al-Badran, a Californian-Iraqi businessman and one of three locals spearheading a campaign for federalism. “Baghdad’s shown it can’t deal with the power, so give it back to the people.”

Basra controls an estimated 90% of Iraq’s actively producing oil fields, so it’s fair to say that whatever “Iraq” is going to be when the current conflict is all said and done, it can’t be anything if Basra isn’t part of it. And what is motivating Basra’s interest in autonomy? The fact that their oil is going to support a government that, surprise, isn’t competent enough to meet their basic needs:

“Iraq’s economy is Basra’s oil,” said Ali Abbasi, who owns a hardware store that is steps from the corniche that runs along the riverbank. “Is it reasonable that they take it all, but give us no electricity? They use our port, so why don’t they give us paved roads?”

Oh yeah? Well…actually, you have a point there.

The hope is that a federally autonomous Basra will be free from a lot of the corruption and bureaucratic paralysis that characterizes Baghdad. Since clearing out that corruption and paralysis is going to be key to eventually doing away with ISIS, maybe once the fighting is over Basrawis won’t be as keen on autonomy as they are now. But it’s becoming increasingly likely that the Iraq that exists 10 years from now, if it exists at all, will be a much looser federal arrangement than it is now or has been since the Ottoman Empire went belly up (when Basra also sought its independence from the rest of what became Iraq) and the country stopped being British Mandatory Iraq. Which is fine, maybe even preferable to Iraq as it is (intended to be) now, but you have to wonder how long even that will be able to survive.


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