The Iraqi federal government in Baghdad certainly faces many challenges. Two of the most important challenges are:
- for some time, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has and continues to assert a constitutional right separately contract for oil and gas development and to market the oil and gas produced in the Kurdish Region; and
- the growing instability in Sunni controlled provinces due to demonstrations and insurgent activity based on alleged disenfranchisement.
The most recent move by the KRG to sell millions of barrels of oil to Turkey, independent of Baghdad, prompted Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki and his cabinet to draft a budget that provides the KRG with no funding from the federal budget unless the KRG sells 400,000 barrels per day of oil through “SOMO,” the Iraqi state oil marketing entity. As an alternative, a prorated deduction may be applied to the KRG’s portion of the federal budget proportionate to any shortfall in the KRG’s minimum required sale of oil through SOMO as determined by Baghdad.
In response to the issues experienced in the Sunni controlled provinces, the Prime Minister and his cabinet have proposed to carve out a number areas currently located in existing northern and western provinces to form new provinces. It is thought that the proposed adjustment in internal political boundaries will help to counter the waning authority of Baghdad over Sunni provinces and the Kurdish Region.
However, those who scratch the surface of Baghdad’s proposed actions may find only a veneer of authority and that the prospect for Baghdad’s proposals to be successful to be uncertain. Many observers justify the Kurdish Region’s current independent approach to the production and marketing of its resources as resulting from Baghdad’s seeming inaction and unreliability. The KRG often points to Baghdad’s lack of effectiveness in developing and passing a national oil law and to alleged delays of payments to the KRG from the federal budget as a catalyst for the KRG’s recent and past actions. In response, Baghdad blames the KRG’s alleged circumvention of Baghdad’s national policies for its actions.
The KRG targeted budget proposals still need to be approved by the Iraqi Parliament, which in many respects is quite fractured and not supportive of the current government. Even the president of the Parliament has been unsupportive of the government due to the recent arrest of a member of Parliament and a governmental crack down on demonstrators in Anbar. A handful of the home provinces of members of the Iraqi parliament are looking for similar semi-autonomous authority to that enjoyed by the KRG. Negotiations on all these important issues appear to be ongoing. The results of these negotiations may only help to focus the complaints on all sides.
The proposition to carve out portions of the disputed territories and Anbar province to create new provinces is fraught with particularly significant challenges. These challenges are legal as well as political. The legal and administrative authority over the areas within a province, including the disputed territories, lies with the local governments or “governorates.” According o the Law of Governorates Not Organized into a Region, the Governorate Council and Governor would have authority over such administrative and border changes. While a new law could be passed or new federal regulations promulgated, the constitution clearly states that the authorities not in the exclusive authority of the federal government rest in the provincial or regional governments. Because the authority to create provinces is not mentioned in the exclusive authorities of the federal government, Baghdad would be proceeding without certain legal foundation. Perhaps the government would reach out to its national security authority, which is exclusive. However, this not without political peril and would be stretching legal authority, almost certainly creating more instability and new security issues.
One must wonder whether the Sunnis would support breaking existing Sunni provinces into smaller, separate provinces thus diluting Sunni power and unity? Would minorities and Kurds in the northern disputed territories, having enjoyed security and prosperity, support breaking away and giving up the only stability and continuity available to date in Iraq?
It is important to note that the disputed territories face many challenging issues, mainly population demographics and border issues for which the government has not been able to provide a solution. These difficulties are compounded because there has not been an accurate census taken in Iraq since 1987. It truly is questionable whether these issues can be solved today by the various new proposals under consideration in Baghdad.
It is important to note that Baghdad’s proposed political boundary changes involving the Turkmen community of Tuz Kharmatu may be the only exception to the issues outlined above. This is because, under Baghdad’s plan, Tuz Kharmatu would be joined to Kirkuk, which has one of the largest Turkmen communities in Iraq. The relevant district council supports the joinder while the provincial government would certainly oppose such a move.
Almost any path the government takes would require support from the national parliament and from affected provincial governments. Even if all of the noted challenges were surmountable, it is uncertain whether adequate resolutions can be attained before the coming national elections in April.
Whether pursuit of Baghdad’s proposed budgetary and geographical political maneuvering will be successful or effective to enable Baghdad, the KRG and Iraq’s Sunni population to reach satisfactory resolutions to their issuesremains to be seen.
 Iraqi Cabinet regular session, January 21, 2014
 Law of Governorates Not Organized into Regions
 Iraqi Constitution, Article 115
 Iraqi Constitution, Article 110