Regions and governorates in the
Iraqi federation
Empirical considerations
A note of caution
• Outsider ignorance about the raw facts of the
situation in Iraq
– Absence of statistics: World Bank data sheet
– Security situation and inability to collect data
• Are locals in a better position to fill in the
many gaps?
World Bank Iraq data at a glance
Iraqi diversity at a glance
(1987 government estimates)
Ethnic diversity
Religious diversity
Linguistic diversity
• Total Arab population 76 percent
• Large Kurdish minority, 19 % of the population, or 3,092,820.
• Turkomans and other Turkic-speaking peoples account for only 2 to 3 percent of the
• Previously a large Iranian population settled around the Shia holy cities of Karbala and An Najaf,
and the southern port city of Basra; this element was largely expelled by government decree in
1971-72 and 1979-80.
• At least 95 percent of population adheres to some form of Islam.
• Almost all Kurds, approximately 19 percent of population, are Sunnis, together with about 13
percent Sunni Arabs.
• Saddam Hussein government gave number of Shias as 55 percent but probably 60 to 65
percent is reasonable figure.
• Small numbers of Assyrians and Armenians, predominantly Christians. No more than 1 or 2
percent, concentrated mainly in the governorates of Nineveh and Dahuk.
• Yazidis
• A formerly extensive Jewish community is to all practical purposes defunct.
• Arabic official language and mother tongue of about 76 percent of population; understood by
majority of others.
• Kurdish official language in As Sulaymaniyah, Dahuk, and Irbil governorates.
• Minorities speaking Turkic, Armenian, and Persian.
Empirical considerations stemming
from ethnic diversity
• Which, if any, of these markers of diversity should the new regions
• Kurdistan expresses the ethnic cleavage between Arabs and Kurds.
Should the other regions also express cleavages or seek to cut
across them?
• Considering the difficulty of redrawing internal boundaries in
federations, should decisions reflect only those markers of diversity
that are important at present or those that are expected to remain
important into the future?
• Many Iraqis consider that sectarianism is a recent and temporary
phenomenon, should this affect the drawing of regions?
Local and regional traditions in Iraq
Some rooted in history
Some are rooted in social structure
Between the eighth and the twelfth centuries A.D., Baghdad was the flourishing center of a burgeoning
Arab civilization.
Najaf and Karbala’a are both high centers of Shi`a Islam.
Under Ottoman rule, Mosul, Baghdad and Basra were Ottoman wilayets (provinces).
The regional distribution of the tribes of Iraq
Some are rooted in recent administrative divisions, the governorates
Eighteen governorates (alwiya)
Administered by a governor appointed by the president.
Divided into districts (aqdhiya) headed by district officers (qaimaqamun);
Mayors headed cities and towns.
Municipalities were divided into several categories depending upon the size of local revenues.
Relatively asymmetrical – The population remains unevenly distributed.
Divided into subdistricts (nawahy) under the responsibility of subdistrict officers (mudara).
In 1987 Baghdad Governorate had a population density of about 950 persons per square kilometer and the Babylon
Governorate 202 persons per square kilometer, whereas Al Muthanna Governorate possessed only 5.5 persons per
square kilometer.
In general the major cities are located on the nation's rivers, and the bulk of the rural population lives in the areas that
are cultivated with water taken from the rivers.
Baghdad, the national capital, had special administrative status.
The mayor of Baghdad and the mayors of other cities were presidential appointees.
Note that At Ta’mim was the name that the regime of Saddam Hussein gave to Kirkuk
Empirical considerations stemming from
local and regional traditions
• Can the new regions build upon the administrative
infrastructure and local human resources that existed
prior to the establishment of a federal system?
– How much of these are still intact?
– Are there economic, social or other logics militating for the
joining of specific governorates into one bigger region?
• Does the relative asymmetry of the existing
administrative units raise concerns about the capacity
of some of them should they want to become regions?
The experience of Kurdistan’s
autonomous region
• Some history
March 1970 agreement for the creation of an Autonomous Region consisting of the three Kurdish
governorates and other adjacent districts that were determined by census to have a Kurdish
In early 1988, the Autonomous Region was governed according to the stipulations of the 1970
Autonomy Agreement.
It had a twelve-member Executive Council that wielded both legislative and executive powers
It had a Legislative Assembly that advised the council.
The Legislative Assembly had authority to ratify laws proposed by the Executive Council
It had limited powers to enact legislation relating to the development of "culture and nationalist customs of the Kurds" as
well as other matters of strictly local scope. I
t could question the members of the Executive Council concerning the latter's administrative, economic, educational, social,
and other varied responsibilities
It could withhold a vote of confidence from one or more of the Executive Council members.
Officials of these two bodies were either Kurds or "persons well-versed in the Kurdish language," and Kurdish
was used for all official communications at the local level.
Still, genuine self-rule did not exist in Kurdistan in 1988.
The central government reserved to itself the power to make all decisions in matters pertaining to justice, to
police, to internal security, and the administration of the frontier areas.
The Baath Party, through the minister of state for regional autonomy, continued to supervise activities of all
governing bodies in the region.
The minister of justice and a special oversight body set up by the Court of Cassation reviewed all local enactments
and administrative decisions, and they countermanded any local decrees that were deemed contrary to the
"constitution, laws, or regulations" of the central government.
Empirical considerations stemming from
the Kurdistan experience
Kurdistan’s experience illustrates the fundamental difference
between administrative and political decentralization, on the
one hand, and federalism on the other
– The guarantees and gains from self-rule.
– Does this militate in favour of the establishment of regions?
• Should Kurdistan become the gold standard for the
development of regions?
– No other ethnic regions: Are confessional/sectarian regions advisable?
– The possibility of a federation with variable geometry: The example of
Bosnia and Herzegovina
The FBiH is a
The FBiH has ten cantons
The RS is unitary
The RS has 63 municipalities;
the FBiH has 74

Regions and governorates in the Iraqi federation