Provincial and Central Government

There is an increasing tension between provincial governments and the central government in Iraq. The issues surrounding this tension are sensitive and go to the core insecurities of each of the major political factions in Iraq. Prior to the passage of the Provincial Elections Law, Iraq lacked a tradition of provincial governance and this impaired efforts to facilitate “bottom-up” reconciliation. Previous electoral boycotts also limited the participation of the Sunni Arab community in provincial governments.

Provincial Government Capacity

The Provincial Powers Law, ratified in March 2008, delineated powers given to the national government, and powers given to the provinces.  It created provincial councils with clearly defined power and structures, which made them significantly more effective.  In the wake of the 2009 elections, the new provincial councils have a much more clearly defined role in provincial politics, making the elections in 2009 particularly important.

As mandated by the law, an Iraqi provincial council functions similarly to an American state legislature.  The council is led by a Council Chair, and is overseen by a governor who is a member of a national council of governors which meets in Baghdad. 

Although constitutionally a federal state, Iraq's history of centralized government left it without a tradition of local and provincial governance. One of the key tasks of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) and the associated Local Governance Program run by USAID has been to develop governmental capacity at the provincial level. To that end, local Iraqis receive training in running provincial council meetings, managing provincial government staff, and drafting, executing, and monitoring provincial budgets. Building these capacities is important in enabling the Iraqi government to deliver public goods to the people at the local and provincial level. These measures are intended to foster “bottom-up reconciliation,” whereby people who were sympathetic to the insurgency  or else sitting on the fence come to terms with local governments. This is different from "top-down reconciliation," which involves major political deals at the national level.

National Government Capacity

Prime Minister Maliki has been slowly attempting to increase the power of the national executive of Iraq.  His State of Law Coalition made significant gains in the 2009 provincial elections.  The coalition ran on a platform of a strong national government, and won significant numbers of seats on provincial councils throughout Iraq.  This increased Maliki's influence throughout Iraq, strengthening the power of the national executive.  Additionally, Maliki supported the Sunni party known as Al-Hadba in Ninewah province, which elected mostly Sunni provincial council members in 2005.  This translated into a significant loss of influence for the Kurds in Ninewah, and significant gains in the province for Maliki and the national government.

A significant part of Maliki's success in elections can be traced back to Maliki's creation of Tribal Supprt Councils (TSCs) in Basra province in 2008.  Originally intended as a means to support ISF operations in clearing Basra of Jaysh al-Mahdi elements, Maliki expanded the TSC program to include councils throughout Iraq.  He promised the members of the council jobs and representation in Baghdad in exchange for tribal allegiance.  The councils included both Sunni and Shia tribal leaders. 

Creation of Semi-Autonomous Regions

The creation of semi-autonomous regions is particularly significant in security terms because regions are constitutionally guaranteed the power to raise and control internal security forces. Provinces do not have this power. A decision to create a semi-autonomous region could therefore have significant effect on the country's internal political power balance as well as Iraq's security environment.

Distribution of Hydro-carbon Revenues

The Iraqi constitution calls for implementing legislation concerning the distribution of revenues from hydrocarbon resources, which are considered the property of the Iraqi people. This legislation is crucial to defining the relationship between the central government and the provinces, especially if it provides mechanisms for credible commitments by the Kurdish and Shi'a blocs to continue sharing oil revenue in the absence of US pressure. The passage of legislation of the distribution of oil revenues has also been delayed in the Council of Representatives for some time; passage of this legislation has lagged behind progress on holding provincial elections and defining provincial authorities. 

Because the majority of Iraq's petroleum and natural gas deposits are located in the areas associated with the Kurdish and Shi'a Arab populations, many Sunni Arabs fear that the creation of semi-autonomous regions will mean that they will not get an equitable share of Iraq's oil wealth. This fear is exacerbated by the fact that the central government has failed to pass and implement legislation on the distribution of hydro-carbon revenues.