The way some of our politicians here insist on implementing federalism annoys me and to some extent also confuses me, although federalism is stated in the constitution it is certainly not the time to activate the form of federalism that is being marketed by some Shia blocks in the parliament when the country is facing a lot of serious challenges and problems and has more critical steps to take than to form autonomous or semiautonomous regions to please a group of politicians or clerics.
And I also doubt that federalism of the type proposed recently can make the politicians who call for it achieve what they are looking for in it be that declared or hidden goals.
It's no secret that, leaving the Kurdistan part aside, the strongest supporter for federalism is al-Hakeem and his SCIRI. Al-Hakeem and his staff, most importantly his ambitious young son Ammar who lived most of his life in Iran and is the hottest candidate for leading the southern region in case it's formed, had been running an extensive PR campaign so to speak to persuade Iraqis in the 9 provinces south of Baghdad to endorse his project in establishing 'the federation of the center and south', this campaign had been focusing on the security issue and the SCIRI had been telling the people that if they wanted to be safe from Takfiri and Baathist insurgents and terrorists then the only way is through federalism.
This former argument does not seem to have solid basis on the ground since the Sunni insurgency in its various forms has had relatively little influence in the south and in fact the developments in the past few months show that instability in the south comes mostly from violence created by Shia factions rival to the SCIRI; in Basra there is the Fadheela Party militias, agents of Iran and outlaw tribes, in Kerbala there are the followers of cleric Mahmoud al-Hasani and in Diwaniya most recently the Sadr militias have been demonstrating their ability to create unrest as we saw in the deadly clashes that occurred only a week or more ago.
Anyway, I was told that this campaign isn't meeting substantial success in the centers of cities which made the Hakeems turn to the simple-minded people of rural suburbs using a tone that's much like "stop whining about lack of services! The decision is in your hands now, vote for federalism and you'll get the water, electricity and gas you need".
This reminds me of a story relayed to me by a friend who lives in the south, his brother was tying to get a certain job in the police department but his attempts failed. He was advised by someone to meet "Sayyed Ammar" and ask him to recommend him to the department. The guy was given an appointment to meet Ammar but on the day of the meeting and after waiting for several hours in the office he was surprised to learn that he and many like him were in fact invited to a speech for the young Hakeem about federalism!
I wonder here what makes al-Hakeem think that he and his party will be able to enjoy his intended Hakeemi Iraqia when almost all other influential Shia factions in that part of Iraq oppose his vision for one reason or another?!
And when I say for example that Sadr doesn't support the federation of the center and south it is not because he wants Mailiki's central government to have full sovereignty throughout the whole country but rather because he wants to control a bigger chunk of the county and does not want to see boundaries limit his ambitions and we have seen evidence for these ambitions in some moves Sadr made like in sending his militiamen to Kirkuk last year to fight the Kurds or in declaring his intentions to send a million armed men to Samarra to "liberate the shrines from the grip of Nawasib".
In this article (Arabic) we can get a clear sense of how Sadr and his followers look at al-Hakeem's version of federalism. The cultural advisor of Sad's office described the proposed federalism of the center and south as a precursor for "A new mass grave for the Shia because of the differences and maybe disputes in visions among the various factions within the community".
Technically the only group that is going to stand by federalism is the Kurds whose current state of relative independence takes its constitutional support from the instatement of federalism in Iraq's constitution but this Kurdish support alone isn't big enough to grant al-Hakeem permission to establish his state and even if it does, al-Hakeem will find himself in a very unpleasant position and this will also mean more unrest in the south that will be very difficult to control.
It's also important to note that Hakeem's policy doesn't have absolute support in the south even in his stronghold in Najaf, recently the advisory board of the city council voted against and blocked the suggestion of forming the "popular committees" which was originally proposed by al-Hakeem.
From a technical point of view and according to article 119 of the constitution either 1/3 of members of city councils or 1/10 of residents (Arabic) in concerned provincescan make the proposal which means a vote can be called for but there's absolutely no guarantee for the project to be approved because that will require a 2/3 majority vote.
I think this gives an idea of the size of obstacles and opposition al-Hakeem might face if a referendum is to b held over federalism in Najaf and other southern provinces.
Bottom line, the kind of federalism that can work for Iraq is one that does not have any connection to ethnic or sectarian roots and in my opinion the best formula to be used in the future is to turn individual provinces, with the exception of Kurdistan, into individual components of the federal state of Iraq and this idea already has decent support from many parliamentarians.