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 Iraq’s Diyala province threatens to declare autonomy

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Iraq’s Diyala province threatens to declare autonomy  3.11.2011   

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November 3, 2011

DIYALA, Iraq, — Provincial council members in Iraq’s Diyala province have threatened to declare autonomy if the Iraqi government fails to respond to their demands, including an end to operations by army units from outside the province.

The demands were made by members from the Iraqiya party, which holds 17 of the 29 seats on the council in the volatile province north of the capital Baghdad.

The demand to send home army units from outside of the province is an apparent reference to Kurdish Peshmerga forces, which the Kurdistan Regional Government deployed to Diyala last summer to stem threats against                

Members of the Diyala provincial council with Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi.
Kurds in the province. The council members also called on the Iraqi government to release all innocent detainees and to stop transfering prisoners from the province to detention facilities in other parts of the country.

“The Iraqiya bloc in Diyala Provincial Council has submitted a memorandum to the Baghdad government that contains nine legitimate and legal demands to resolve all the problems of the province,” Suhad al-Hayali, a Diyala provincial council member from Iraqiya, told Al-Sumaria News.

“If the Baghdad government does not respond to our memorandum in three days, we will take all legal measures to declare the province an (autonomous) region in line with the constitution.”

In calling for autonomy, officials are threatening to create a federal state which would limit the federal government’s oversight and administrative powers in the province.

The threat by Diyala provincial council comes just a few days after the Salahaddin provincial council declared “administrative and economic” autonomy within a “unified Iraq.”

Iraq’s former dictator Saddam Hussein was born in a village in Salahaddin and the province was home to many high-ranking officials from his regime.

Both Diyala and Salahaddin are Sunni Arab-dominated provinces. Other predominantly Sunni provinces such as Anbar and Nineveh have said in the past that they would also consider declaring autonomy.

Iraq’s constitution allows one or more provinces to declare autonomy if the province’s residents vote for the measure in a referendum.

The autonomy bid by the Sunni provinces comes shortly after the Iraqi government declared that it had detained dozens of Baathists in the army and other state institutions on charges of plotting a military coup.

The central government recently ordered that dozens of professors be fired from Salahaddin province’s universities on the grounds that they were affiliated with the Baath Party.

The provincial administrations in all four provinces are dominated by Iraqiya, which is the second-largest parliamentary bloc in Iraq. Iraqiya’s leader, Ayad Allawi, was a top contender for the post of prime minister but lost to Nuri al-Maliki, who created a larger parliamentary coalition.

Although Iraq is no longer engulfed in the bloody sectarian conflict that gripped the country after the fall of Saddam’s regime in 2003, many politicians and observers have warned it could slide back into sectarian strife once US troops leave the country at the end of the year.

Last week, Iraqi Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani cautioned that Iraq could face a new round of sectarian and ethnic conflict once US forces pull out.

The Kurdistan Region is currently the only autonomous region in the country. It consists of the three northern provinces of Erbil, Sulaimaniyah and Duhok.

Some of the southern Shiite-dominated provinces such as Basra have also toyed with the idea of creating a federal state but have never put forth a formal proposal or a referendum.

Diyala province, a restive part of Iraq outside the Kurdish autonomous region of Kurdistan but home to many Kurds. The Diyala district, which includes a string of villages and some of Iraq's oil reserves, is home to about 175,000 Kurds, most of them Shiites.

In June 2006, the local council of Khanaqin proposed that the district be integrated into the autonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq.

During the Arabisation policy of Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, a large number of Kurdish Shiites were displaced by force from Khanaqin. They started returning after the fall of Saddam in 2003.

Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution is related to the normalization of the situation in Kirkuk city and other disputed areas like Khanaqin.

Kurdistan's government says oil-rich Khanaqin should be part of its semi-autonomous region, which it hopes to expand in a referendum in the future. In the meantime, Khanaqin and other so-called disputed areas remain targets of Sunni Arab insurgents opposed to Kurdish expansion and vowing to hold onto land seized during ex-dictator Saddam Hussein's efforts to "Arabize" the region.

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