Iraq: Diyala Sunnis Pursue Plans to Create a Semi-autonomous Region
In a sign of growing ties between Sunni Arabs and Kurds, Sunni Arab leaders in Diyala province have agreed to back a key Kurdish demand to resolve disputes over provinces claimed by Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen as they pursue plans to create a semi-autonomous region.
Nasrin Bahjat, a Kurdish member of the Diyala provincial council, said Sunni Arab leaders have promised to implement Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, which outlines steps that would ultimately determine whether a local administration or Baghdad governs the disputed territories, including regions of Diyala.
Sunni Arabs, who had long opposed the constitutional article and the Kurdish-backed idea of federalism, have declared that they want more autonomy from the Shia-led government in Baghdad in provinces like Diyala. Bahjat, who serves on a committee of provincial council members tasked with exploring federalism, said Kurdish leaders have advised the council on their bid to create a semi-independent region.
According to Bahjat, Diyala officials have pledged to implement the constitutional Article 140 about the disputed territories if their province gains autonomy from Baghdad.
“Sunni Arabs have promised to support implementing Article 140 that would decide the fate of the disputed Kurdish populated regions in Diyala province, such as the Khanaqin district,” Bahjat said. “And this is the primary condition of the Kurds.”
“It is true that this is a constitutional right, but the current situation of Iraq cannot afford such moves.”
The Iraqi constitution stipulates that one or more provinces can establish their own semi-autonomous regions by making a formal request to the council of ministers in Baghdad. The article requires that each province hold a public vote on becoming a region before the decision is sent to Baghdad.
Maysoon Damluji, the spokeswoman for the Sunni-secular Iraqiya bloc in Iraq’s Parliament, which supports Diyala’s bid for autonomy, told Rudaw, “The Diyala provincial council has used its constitutional right to seek autonomy and every province has the same right. There are great injustices carried out by the Iraqi government toward certain provinces.”
The Sunni province of Salahhadin in central Iraq declared it would seek autonomy in October which garnered angry reactions from Iraq’s Shia leaders. Damluj argued that if Diyala succeeds in gaining autonomy, Anbar province, a Sunni stronghold, will soon follow suit.
The minority Shia population of Diyala strongly opposes the provincial council’s bid for more autonomy.
Qusay Suhail, a leader from the Sadr Movement and deputy chair of Iraq’s council of ministers, told Rudaw, “It is true that this is a constitutional right, but the current situation of Iraq cannot afford such moves.”