- Iraqi Federalism and the Kurds: Learning to Live Together by Alex Danilovich
Alex Danilovich has provided a timely analysis of the development of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq, situated within the literature on how federal structures can serve as mechanisms to resolve conflicts in states divided by identity-based differences. The first two chapters — “Federalism as a Tool to Manage Conflicts and Associated Risks” and “Introducing Iraq’s Federal System” — lay the groundwork for Danilovich’s central argument, namely, that what has transpired in Iraq illustrates the “paradox of federalism,” whereby federal institutions designed to address differences within a nation and maintain its territorial integrity can simultaneously serve as the blueprint for that federal entity to become an independent state.
In the subsequent chapters, Danilovich examines this paradox. Chapter 3 deals with federalism and the Kurdish armed forces, Chapter 4 with the KRG’s international foreign policy, Chapter 5 (guest-authored by Francis Owtram) with the federalization of oil and natural resources, Chapter 6 with the “peculiarities of Iraqi constitutionalism that combines the principles of Islam and liberal democracy in one constitutional system . . .” (p. 13).
The first critique deals with this last chapter, where the “peculiarities” of Iraq’s constitution are derived from literature that focuses on the relationship between Sunni political Islam and democracy. Danilovich should have engaged more with the arguments he cited from Iraqi-American legal scholar Haider Ala Hamoudi, who contends that the Islamist language in the constitution was drafted to meet to the demands of the Islamist parties representing Iraq’s Shi‘i majority. These Shi‘i parties have differing visions of the role of Islam in public life—something that the author needs to have acknowledged when examining the Constitution and the judiciary. Although Danilovich mentions that the majority of those serving within judicial bodies are Shi‘a, he neglects to point out which parties they represent and whether, in fact, they act in a concerted manner.
While the author examines the incongruities in the Iraqi constitution, he fails to sufficiently contextualize how they emerged. He should have referred to the circumstances in which the constitution was written and adopted, how the drafting and public referendum on the document was a rushed process, how this process represented conflicting Kurdish and Shi‘i parties’ demands, and how the US exerted pressure [End Page 645] behind the scenes to hasten its completion. His examination of the Constitution fails to take this background into account.
The author primarily examines the Kurdish parties since 1991 and the establishment of the “no-fly zone,” which granted them de facto independence. He fails to go back in time and examine the 1970 establishment of the Kurdish Autonomous Region (KAR) under the Ba‘thist government. While by no means was this a federal arrangement, the issues the Kurdish leadership demanded back then and the Ba‘thist failure to meet those demands (e.g., the inclusion of Kirkuk under the KAR), are today salient issues. Events such as these inform how the Kurdish “old guard” views its current relationship with Baghdad, regardless of whether the state is led by Arab Sunnis or Shi‘a.
Danilovich lives in the KRG and works as a professor at the University of Kurdistan Hewlêr, which gives him a unique opportunity to observe events on the ground and interview key policy-makers in Erbil. He should have capitalized on this position to examine the next Kurdish generation, his own students, who will be the future policy-makers of the KRG and who have scant memory of life under Saddam Husayn. During my time in the KRG, I noticed a stark difference in visions between the old guard, who see a payoff to working within an Iraqi state, and the younger generation, who dream of independence and some of whom played a role in the Gorran (Change) Movement.
Iraqi Federalism and the Kurds, while well-situated within the political science literature on federalism, could have delved more into how historical precedents influenced Kurdish relations with Baghdad, and could have...