Forum 2015 Session 8: The Challenges of Keeping Iraq United

Date: 5th November, 2015
Venue: Rotana

  • Tanya Gilli, Former Member of Iraqi Parliament (Chair)
  • Brendan O’Leary, Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania, USA
  • Lukman Faily, Iraqi Ambassador to the United States
  • Farhad Alaaldin, Political Advisor to the President, Iraq

The Iraqi Constitution, ratified by a referendum in 2005 after a series of difficult negotiations between Shias, Sunnis, and Kurds, enshrines federalism and decentralisation as the basis upon which the post-Saddam Iraqi state would function. While prospects for this seemed very high in the mid-2000s, ill-conceived and discriminatory policies later proved to be major setbacks in establishing a united, federally administered Iraq.

A confederation with Baghdad represents a half-way house between amending the constitution and going for independence as it leaves the exterior structure of Iraq intact

Brendan O’Leary

At the moment, the Iraqi state does not have control of many Sunni areas and cities, such as Mosul, Fallujah and Ramadi. ISIS, Al Qaeda’s Iraqi offspring, has effectively managed to impose a de facto division between parts of the Sunni areas and the rest of Iraq. At the same time, the relations between Bagdad and Erbil are characterised by competition, mistrust and brinkmanship over oil exports and the final status of Kirkuk.

“We have the responsibility to address faulty narratives – conspiracy theories – we cannot accept that we have no influence on the way things go.”

Lukman Faily

As such, panellists will debate how and why Iraq reached this state of affairs after the ratification of the Iraqi Constitution, and suggest practical solutions for keeping Iraq united. Additional questions to consider include: Whether or not federalism and decentralisation are complementary to each other and if so, how? What lessons can be learned from the missteps and missed opportunities of the past? Are there any structural factors that hinder leaders from making good choices? Finally, what has been the role of international and regional stakeholders, including the U.S., EU, Turkey, and Iran, so far and how can they assist in keeping Iraq united?

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