A few years ago, a talk of drawing a new Iraqi map was appeared that includes a clearly defined Arab Sunni region. However, this talk has been declined, and disappeared, to reappear from time to time, as required by the phase. And recently this call went up to the surface to increase the noise coming from the Iraqi arena, to raise the temperature of the scene, which is going through a critical stage under the process of push and pull between the demonstrators and the Iraqi authority, and Iran.
For the ninth day in a row, the debate continues in Iraq regarding the truth of what was reported by local media, as well as activists on networking sites, and a number of politicians, about a meeting held last week in the city of Dubai of UAE , and brought together a number of Iraqi politicians, including Parliament Speaker Mohammed Al-Halbousi and representatives of the Parliament and leaders of political blocs, described as representatives of “Sunni Arabs”, during which the so-called “Sunni Territory” project, which includes the northern and western provinces of the country, was re-proposed based on the fifth item of the new Iraqi constitution, which allows the province or several provinces to claim an administrative region within a federal union system , similar to the current Kurdistan region.
Although the project in its current sectarian style did not differ from a previous proposal with a sectarian dimension also adopted by various Iraqi political forces in 2013, at the height of the violations committed in the cities of north and western Iraq by the government of former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, but its presentation today, and with a high level of national speech through the Iraqi uprising, with which sectarian and territorial arguments have faded, is considered by Iraqi and political officials as “deliberate and intentionally by specific parties with an interest in igniting controversy and restoring sectarian sentiment within Iraq in disgusting manner.”
Historically, the Union of Sunni Forces was one of the most advocates of establishing a “Sunni Arab region” coinciding with the Kurdistan region’s call for a referendum on independence from Iraq in 2016. This Sunni political grouping headed by Osama Najafi decided to form a leadership council for 6 Sunni provinces and coordinate positions regarding the Sunni region, amid the blessings of some Sunni politicians for the Kurdish referendum, where the former parliamentarian, Najih al-Mizan , described it as “the necessity to make use of the event and get out of the cloak of the Baghdad government,” considering that the federal government that speaks in the name of the Sunnis represents the will of the Wilyat al-Faqih and Kurdistan represents the will of a people.
The Sunni forces believed that they had an opportunity to force the government of Haider al-Abadi to accept a “Sunni region” project that would achieve autonomy for their provinces and to alleviate the grumbling of the people of the provinces about the practices of the government and popular crowd groups. The move at that time reflected a growing dependence in the Sunni community on its hopes for the development of the Kurdish-Shiite dispute to find a “new federal formula” governing the power equation, and the Sunnis would be one of the three big players, but those hopes failed with the failure of the referendum project.
Experts link the timing of talk about the “Sunni region” and what is happening in Iraq, especially at the level of protests. They consider that attempting to stimulate the Sunnis at a time , is only another card that officials in Iraq are playing in order to influence the protests and direct their rush to other issues away from focusing on the government, officials, Iran and its supporters.
Here, this “Sunni” argument, for some of the followers, does not differ from another attempt aimed at weakening the ranks of the protesters, led by the Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr, even if it took a different path, through his call for a million demonstrations last Friday against the American presence in Iraq.
The project calls for annexing the northern and western provinces of the country, under the fifth item of the new Iraqi constitution, which allows the province or several governorates to claim an administrative region within the federal system of Iraq, similar to the Kurdistan region.
The Salvation Front led by Sunni politician Osama Al-Nujaifi saw in the Iraqi parliament’s decision to remove the American forces from Iraq targeting the unity of the country, confirming the old indications that the Sunnis in Iraq are mortgaging their political future with the American presence in their country.
The front, which was formed months ago, said that “what happened in the parliament session on the removal of foreign forces represents a new approach based on striking the national cohesion and trying to unilaterally take decisions that affect the whole people,” noting that “this dangerous approach will leave dire consequences” ,including the fragmentation of the country in favor of agendas that do not represent the will of the people, while calling for “reasonable people to remedy this in order to preserve the national unity that was seriously threatened.”
The Front believes that “the popular movement and the sacrifices of the youth of the demonstrations that started on the first of October and are still on the rise despite hundreds of martyrs and tens of thousands of wounded, all of that is fully consistent with the obligations of forming the Salvation and Development Front, and the solution map that I submitted early on about the resignation of the government and the implementation of the election law, and the formation of a new election commission, then a transitional government that does not participate in the upcoming elections, and its specific mission is to complete the required laws and refer those responsible for the killings that targeted demonstrators to the judiciary, then prepare for early elections under the supervision and participation of the International community after the dissolution of parliament. ”
The Front believes that “the repeated demands to establish the regions are a constitutional and legal right. As for what is rumored about calling for the formation of a Sunni region, the Front affirms that it did not raise this matter at all, because it clashes with its conviction about not contradicting the constitution, despite the Front believes that the demand to form the regions at the present time is not suitable, and there are no mechanisms that can facilitate its establishment in these circumstances, calling for “the exclusion of Iraq and its distance from any regional or international conflict, especially the American-Iranian conflict.”
Although the Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, Muhammad al-Halbousi, denied the existence of any such move, indicating, in statements to an Iraqi local TV station, that “there is no proposal related to forming regions”, adding, “We were and are and will continue to believe and work on the unity of Iraq, land and people.” However, the Iraqi politician from Salah al-Din Governorate, Najeh al-Mizan, told “al-Arabi Al-Jadeed ” that “the issue of establishing regions was raised in reality, but not the establishment of the Sunni region, as some promoted, but there is an idea that each of the provinces to be a region in the north and west of Iraq” that is, Nineveh is a region and Anbar is a region, and Salah al-Din is a region, and so on, and not All provinces in one region and under a sectarian address”.
Al-Mizan confirmed: “We worked on this project in previous years, as all signatures of members of the provincial councils in Salah al-Din, Nineveh, and even Diyala were signed. They were handed over to the Electoral Commission to complete the legal procedures, but the occupation of ISIS stopped this project.”
He considered that “the issue of converting provinces into provinces does not mean dividing Iraq, but rather an administrative organizational work, and this matter is stipulated in the constitution, and it has returned to the forefront at this time, after taking important decisions by political forces from one component, concerning ending the foreign existence in Iraq, without taking the opinion of the Sunni component, and even the Kurds.
He concluded by saying: “The presence of foreign forces in Iraq is very important, especially in order to maintain balance and prevent the transformation of Iraq into an Iranian province, and its presence is necessary in combating the rest of ISIS,” according to what he said.
Followers of the Iraqi issue believe that the issue of the Sunni region was raised the first time with the Iraqi parliament’s vote through its Shiite Arab members and the absence of a Sunni Kurd to remove US forces from Iraq, and that “American officials began hinting during their contacts and meetings with the Iraqis recently that American bases exist in Sunni areas , north and west of Iraq, and then they moved to the fact that the decision of the Iraqi parliament is not a complete Iraqi component, and illegal, and then went back to the scenes in 2003 and 2004 to individual dealings in Iraq on the basis of the components again, and hold meetings with Iraqi officials and politicians on the basis of sectarian representation and not their official or partisan representation . ”
Observers also see that some Sunni Arab political figures are beginning to wave that the option to go to the region is available if the alternative to the Americans is Iran, which will cause Iraq to be more isolated from its surroundings, considering that “several parties linked to Iran also have an interest in re-playing the Sectarian tendon, especially with the decline of its popularity in the south to its lowest level since the American occupation of the country.
They acknowledged that offering a Sunni region in the meantime, in addition of being a sectarian project, is “unrealistic and no appropriate at the present time, not on the one hand being ruined and destroyed cities and a third of its people displaced, but also because the regional, local and even international actors are not prepared for that, with a confused Syrian neighborhood, and Turkish debate about a safe area on its borders, as well as the weakness of the central state. They see this realization turning into a will embodied intellectually and practically by not colliding with international reality first. Second, by linking identity with the land and not with any cross-border intellectual, national, or religious factor, and accepting the secular federal model and dealing with the constitution according to the Kurdish model.
Omar Al-Naddawi, the Iraq Institute analyst at the Washington Institute, went further in his research entitled “The State of the Sunni Conflict in Iraq,” noting that Sunni Arabs lack a religious and political reference and are distinguished by the multiplicity of regional sponsors unlike the Shiites.
He points out that opportunities are declining in front of the fragmented Sunni Arab leaderships to present a unified vision of their role and future goals in Iraq, and it is time to give priority to issues related to governance and political settlement for the period after ISIS. Al-Naddawi adds, history testifies that the Arab Sunnis lack a central religious authority that can play the same role that the Najaf authority plays in the ranks of the Shiites.
Observers say. Judging the seriousness of the new – old region’s project in Iraq depends on the American position, and the extent to which the United States is prepared to deal with a development of this magnitude, especially in light of the potential for a decline in Iranian influence in the region against the background of Soleimani’s death.
Iraqi Studies Unit
Rawabet Center for Research and Strategic Studies