Iraq gives go ahead to Basra autonomy referendum

Iraq gives go ahead to Basra autonomy referendum
Iraqi electoral authorities have given approval to a petition by residents of the oil rich port city of Basra to hold a referendum on making it an autonomous region.
3 min read
18 August, 2015
An Iraqi man walks past security forces during a demonstration in Basra. [AFP/Getty]

The Independent High Electoral Commission in Iraq announced its initial approval on Monday of a petition signed by residents from the governorate of Basra, 550 km south of Baghdad, to hold a referendum to make the governorate an autonomous region, similar to Kurdistan.

"The central government has been informed to release the funds necessary to hold a referendum regarding the request to transform Basra from a governorate to an autonomous region," said a statement by the commission released on Monday.

     Demands to make the southern province an autonomous region have increased since 2012 in response to the central government's marginalisation of Basra.

"On 26 July 2015, a number of Basra residents submitted a petition to the Commission to form the autonomous region of Basra in accordance with article 4 of the regions law number 13 for 2008, which was signed by 57933 Basra residents whose names we checked by the commission against the governorate of Basra's electoral register," added the statement.

The Electoral Commission revealed that 11721 names on the petition did not correspond with the electoral register and 12 names were of deceased people, bringing the total of names that corresponded to the electoral register to 46212.

According to the 2008 regions law number 13, two percent of a governorate's voters need to sign a petition for procedures to transform the governorate to an autonomous region to begin, and the Basra petition was signed by 2.65 percent of voters, which is why it secured the Electoral Commission's initial approval.

The Commission had denied an earlier petition by Basra residents in April of this year because the names of signatories did not correspond to the electoral register in addition to lacking other legal requirements according to sources in Basra.

Adnan al-Basri, a Basrawi activist told al-Araby al-Jadeed that the majority of Basra's residents want the governorate to be an autonomous region to end "the oppression of the central government".

Demands to make the southern province an autonomous region have increased since 2012 in response to the central government's marginalisation of Basra, however all of the requests that were submitted during the premiership of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki were denied.

Basran legal experts and intellectuals explained the desire for an autonomous region as being chiefly due to the governorate's current lack of authority to approve development project without referring to the central government.

According to Murtada al-Basri, a legal expert, Basra is facing a whole host of problems including unemployment, power cuts and water shortages that it cannot deal with due to the governorate not having the legal authority to approve local projects.

However, activists from the governorate of Diyala, 55 km northeast of Baghdad, have accused the government of double standards in applying the law allowing the formation of autonomous regions.

Munther al-Mamouri, a political analyst, told al-Araby al-Jadeed that Diyala residents have submitted numerous petitions to turn their governorate into an autonomous region, all of which were denied by the Electoral Commission.

"Today the Commission has approved a request to form the region of Basra, which is proof of the government's double standards when dealing with Iraqi governorates," said al-Mamouri.