Captain's Quarters Blog

« Primaries Offer Few Surprises | Main | NATO Chief: Members Not Pulling Their Weight »

September 13, 2006
Sistani Kills Federalism Plan

In a move that belies earlier reports that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani had withdrawn from Iraqi politics, the widely respected Shi'ite imam scotched a plan by Shi'ite political groups to transform Iraq into a loosely-knit federation of three autonomous states. The Shi'ite-controlled legislature will table the proposal indefinitely, and the third-ranking official in the government pronounced the plan dead:

The speaker of the Iraqi parliament said Tuesday that a controversial plan to partition the country into three autonomous regions is politically dead.

Mahmoud al-Mashhadani said in an interview that legislation to implement a concept known as federalism, which threatened to collapse the country's fragile multi-sect government, would likely be postponed indefinitely after a meeting of political leaders on Wednesday.

The federalism plan would create a Shiite region in southern Iraq much like the autonomous zone in the north controlled by the Kurds. Sunnis have generally opposed the plan, on grounds that it would leave them only with vast swaths of desert in the country's middle, devoid of the oil reserves in the other regions.

Curiously, given all of the press devoted to Sistani's complaints about his political isolation and his threats to give up on national politics, the Washington Post waits until its eleventh paragraph to report on Sistani's involvement in this decision. For a man whom the press had labeled all but superfluous a week earlier, Sistani showed some potent clout in this debate.

The Shi'ites had jealously viewed Kurdish semi-independence for years and eagerly pursued this proposal. With hardly any effort, Sistani swatted it down almost immediately. His pronouncement, as announced by Mashhadani, ordered the leading faction's politicians to stop considering the plan, and Mashhadani sounded happy to comply. He acknowledged that the country did not have a strong enough security apparatus to hold together in such a structure, and his allies quickly fell into line.

Iraqi's Shi'a have a different idea of federalism than its practice in the US. Their concept more closely parallels our Articles of Confederation, which survived for only six years before being replaced by our Constitution -- and even then, it took 76 years to ensure that the federal government would rule the individual states and not the other way around. That plan would create civil war between the three protostates, especially since the Sunnis would be left with no natural resources or stable industry. An independent Kurdish state in the north would provoke a Turkish response, and the Shi'ite state would inevitably gravitate towards Iran, defying the Najaf-based Shi'ism of Sistani and embracing the more activist Qom school that produced Ruhollah Khomeini and the current slate of mullahs in Teheran.

Sistani does not want to see Iran prevail and squash the recently-freed Najaf version of Shi'ism, and he doesn't want to see his rival Moqtada al-Sadr rise to the top of a new regional political structure. Sistani knows that the only hope for his moderate brand of Shi'ism to survive and to flourish is to support the secular and democratic government that holds the entire nation together as one. Only by combining resources can the nation see its way towards a modern and moderate polity, and only that will allow Iraqis to control all of their own resources and exploit them for their own benefit.

Sistani's back in the game -- and I doubt he ever really left.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 13, 2006 5:35 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry is

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Sistani Kills Federalism Plan:

» First Cup 09.13.06 from bRight & Early
... [Read More]

Tracked on September 13, 2006 6:14 AM

» Bill's Bites -- 2006.09.13 from Old War Dogs
The webmaster's blog-within-a-blog. Continuously updated and bumped, newest items at the top. Please click here to learn more about The Phoenix Project, then click here to see a selection of Old War Dogs merchandise. All sales proceeds go to support [Read More]

Tracked on September 13, 2006 8:24 AM

» You don't get promoted to Grand Ayatollah for noth from Vacuum Energy
Obviously the people of Iraq as well as the Grand Ayatollah have more common sense than the American media gives them credit for having. A plan to break up Iraq into three semi-autonomous regions is a really dumb idea, partly because some American li... [Read More]

Tracked on September 13, 2006 11:11 PM


Design & Skinning by:
m2 web studios

blog advertising


Proud Ex-Pat Member of the Bear Flag League!