Saturday, 10 December 2011, 08:06 GMT
Salahadin insists on autonomous region

An Iraqi man talks with U.S. army staff about the Tikrit situation./ PRESS PHOTOb

The Kurdish Globe

Saddam Hussein's hometown wants vote as soon as feasible

Diyala provincial council also calls for establishment of an autonomous region.

The provincial council of Salahadin, the hometown of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, has decided to conduct an unofficial referendum there to learn the percentage of the province's residents who favor making Salahadin an autonomous region.

The council is currently copying the referendum sheet and will soon distribute it to Salahadin residents. Salahadin's administration firmly insists on making the province an autonomous region, similar to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, even though Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is strongly against it. PM Maliki, who believes in a strong central government, has made it clear on several occasions that establishing more regions and decentralizing Iraq will weaken the country.

However, government officials in Salahadin said the Iraqi Constitution allows them to make Salahadin an autonomous region once the majority of Salahadin inhabitants vote for that. "Making Salahadin an autonomous region is the decision of Salahadin people," said Salahadin deputy governor, Ahmed Abdul Jabbar Karim, adding, "The central government has deprived Salahadin province of basic services and issued a lot of unfair political decisions against the province."

Karim mentioned that a delegation from Salahadin's governorate met Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who is Kurd. "President Talabani supports us," said Karim.

The provincial council of Salahadin last October unanimously supported making the province an autonomous region after the dismissal of faculty members from the University of Tikrit and mass arrests in Salahaddin province. Last October, the Baghdad Ministry of Higher Education dismissed 140 faculty members from the University of Tikrit in Salahaddin Province. The ministry pointed out that "it was simply following the parliamentary directive on "de-Baathification." Later, Iraqi security forces started an operation in the central and southern provinces, arresting former members of the Baath Party and accusing them of plotting a coup against Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government after the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops at the end of this year.

The arrest came after Maliki received information from former Libyan interim leader Mahmoud Jibril, whose rebel forces obtained documents indicating that former Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi tried to support an attempt by Baath members to overthrow the Iraqi government.

The Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission said the upcoming referendum is unofficial but normal. The Salahadin governorate simply wants to judge the popularity of autonomy, said Abdulrahman Khalifa, head of IHEC media relations. But Khalifa said when it comes to the official referendum, it is the task of IHEC.

As Salahdin province prepares the unofficial referendum, sources close to PM Maliki said Maliki will soon secretly visit Salahadin province, and through dialogue and agreement will try to foil the effort for autonomy. Sources said the visit would not be announced ahead of time for security reasons. PM Maliki will also observe details on the implementation of basic services projects and discuss the major issues that Salahadin province suffers from.

As the crisis deepens in Salahadin province, Diyala's provincial council plans a vote on establishing the autonomous region. A member of Diyala's provincial council from Kurdistan bloc, Jalil Ibrahim, said Diyala council will discuss and then vote on autonomy as soon as next week. Ibrahim believes the majority of Diyala's provincial council will concur.

The pressure is mounting on Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki from Sunni provinces. Iraqi Kurds support any area in the country that declares autonomy. Kurds agree with decentralization of the system; they say it further strengthens their position in Iraq because Iraqi Kurdistan is recognized by the Iraqi Constitution as a federal region.