Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Iraq Proposes Changing Its Provincial Borders

In July 2013, Iraq’s parliament passed along a draft law to redraw the country’s provincial boundaries. The bill was proposed by President Jalal Talabani back at the beginning of 2012 to reverse all the internal changes made by Saddam Hussein. If passed it would dramatically change the internal contours of the country. Unfortunately, Iraq’s legislature is not known for its expertise. Many lawmakers are probably unaware of what the law would do to Iraq. It would mean many elected politicians would lose their jobs or get lower positions within existing governments. One thing the Iraqi elite is most protective of is their privileges. That means that while the bill is going through the motions there’s little likelihood that it will ever be passed.

In early 2012, Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani submitted a bill to modify Iraq’s internal borders. (1) The draft was based upon re-doing all of the boundaries changed by Saddam. It took until July 2013 for it to move out of committee. At the beginning of that month, Kurdish President Massoud Barzani visited Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad. The two made a number of promises to each other including cooperating on the border law. Like any major piece of legislation this one has its supporters and detractors. The Kurdish parties obviously support the bill claiming that it is part of Article 140 of the constitution, which is meant to reverse the Arabization policies of the former regime. A State of Law member said he was for the draft as well. Two parliamentarians from the Iraqi National Movement however came out against it saying that it would be wrong to go back in time several decades, while the other believed that the law would simply increase Iraq’s difficulties. Finally, a legal expert stated that the bill was not covered by the constitution, and that it would only cause conflicts between the parties and provinces. It sounded like the legislators were only talking about the idea of changing the boundaries of the country’s governorates. If they knew exactly how much would be altered the majority would probably reject it outright.

Iraq’s provincial boundaries in 1970 when the Baath were already in power, but Saddam was not the head of state (Dr. Michael Izady)

Iraq’s provincial boundaries in 1990 during the Gulf War (Dr. Michael Izady)

Iraq’s provincial boundaries today. Note that Baghdad is much smaller than it actually is on the majority of modern Iraq maps. (Wikipedia)

Iraq’s provinces pre-Saddam look little like the current ones. In 1970 before Saddam became the head of state there were 19 provinces not the current 18. Not only that, but Dohuk did not exist, it was part of Mosul, present day Ninewa. Anbar was Dulaim and cut in half by the Northern Desert. Muthanna was Samawa and only consisted of the area around that city. The southern part of Basra, the Zubayr district that borders Kuwait was part of the Southern Desert. Dhi Qar was known as Mutafiq and the southern portion belonged to Basra. The northern section of Muthanna, the Samawa, Rumaitha and Khidhir districts were part of what was then known as Samawa governorate. Najaf was much smaller, only consisting of the area around the city of Najaf. Babil was Hillah, and it and Karbala were larger extending into present day Anbar. Diyala on the other hand, was smaller with Kirkuk province cutting into its northern region. Salahaddin was Samarra, but smaller. Mosul governorate consisted of present day Ninewa and Dohuk, and part of northern Salahaddin. The two southern districts of Sulaymaniya, Chamchamal and Kala belonged to Kirkuk. That province was much larger extending into Salahaddin, Diyala, and Sulaymaniya. The only governorates that were roughly the same as today were Irbil, Qadisiyah, which was Diwaniya then, Maysan that went by Amarah, Wasit, which was known as Kut, and Baghdad. By 1990, Iraq had 18 provinces, and their current names, but the borders were still a little different. It is not known which map the bill is based upon, but if it really intends to reverse all the changes made by Saddam it would mean the elimination of several governorates, and the redrawing of many of the others. Not only that, but the provincial council of Dohuk would disappear, while those in Anbar, Basra, Muthanna, Salahaddin, Diyala, and Karbala would face possible cuts, and Najaf’s, Tamim’s, and Ninewa’s could be expanded. Elections would also have to be held in the new provinces of Northern and Southern Desert. The Kurdish Coalition claimed that it supported the draft, but it would mean that the Kurdistan Regional Government would lose a third of its territory, while Sunni and Shiite areas would add one province each. That would cause political and administrative chaos.

The idea of reversing Saddam’s border changes may seem like a good idea in theory, but in practice it would only add more problems to a troubled country. It’s doubtful that many parliamentarians have even looked at a map to see the transformation that would happen if the draft bill were passed. None of the ruling parties would want to give up seats in the existing provincial councils, and the Kurds would never agree to losing Dohuk although they would probably rule the expanded Ninewa. Iraq’s parties are not about to see any diminution of their powers. Once the details of the law become known there will be few who will support it. Like many major pieces of legislation, this one will simply sit in parliament to die a slow death.


1. Ibrahim, Haider, “Debate about Talabani’s proposal to demarcate provincial borders,” AK News, 2/21/12


Habib, Mustafa, “iraq’s new borders: cause for conflict or righting past wrongs?” Niqash, 7/11/13

Ibrahim, Haider, “Debate about Talabani’s proposal to demarcate provincial borders,” AK News, 2/21/12

Independent Press Agency, “Legal Expert: no cover for the enactment of the constitutional demarcation of provincial boundaries,” 7/22/13

Al-Tayyeb, Mouhammed, “Demarcation of province borders postponed,” AK News, 2/29/12

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