Federalism is a nascent political development in Iraq, and one which is intrinsically linked with its recent history of political instability, war, and occupation by foreign powers. The invasion of Iraq in March 2003, and the subsequent toppling of the regime of Saddam Hussein, resulted in the occupation of the country by coalition forces.
In June 2004, the United States and its international allies created the Iraqi Interim Government as a temporary caretaker administration. The National Assembly elections of January 2005 enabled a 275 member transitional parliament to be formed. This body was given a mandate to write the new permanent Constitution of Iraq, and to exercise legislative functions until the new constitution came into force. The current Constitution of Iraq, approved by referendum on 15 October 2005, describes the country as a “democratic, federal, representative republic” and a “multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-sect country”.
Following the approval of the new Iraqi constitution in October 2005, a number of national and local elections were held successfully, although these events were somewhat marred by violence and allegations of corruption. Since 2004 all central governments formed in Iraq have been coalitions, bringing together different Iraqi political parties and ethnic groups.
The Republic of Iraq is democratic, federal parliamentary Islamic republic consisting of 19 governorates (also known as provinces). Four of these governorates (Duhok, Hawler, Silemani, and Halabja) comprise the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. The President of Iraq is the Head of State and the Prime Minister is the Head of the Government. The Iraqi legislature is the Council of Representatives, a unicameral body comprised of 325 members elected for four year terms. The President is elected by a two-thirds majority of the Council of Representatives. The President of the Republic appoints the Prime Minister from the majority coalition in the legislature. The Prime Minister in turn appoints the cabinet (known as the Council of Ministers), all of whom must be approved by the Council of Representatives.
Iraq is subdivided into regions and governorates. Regions are created from one or more existing governorates and governorates may join with existing regions to create new regions (for example, the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan). The 19 Iraqi governorates are divided into a total of 120 districts, which in turn are further separated into a number of sub-districts. The autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan maintains its own regional government (the Kurdistan Regional Government, KRG) and unicameral legislature, the Kurdistan National Assembly.
Maintaining security and territorial sovereignty has been the greatest challenge faced by the Iraqi government in the last decade and appears likely to remain the central governance issue for some time. The 2014 invasion and capture of large portions of Iraqi territory by the terrorist group known as ISIL demonstrated the difficulties of building a strong and effective federal governance structure under fragile security conditions.
The Forum advised Iraqi constitution drafters and parliamentarians on ways of implementing a federal system and built local research capacity in the principles and practices of federalism.
Members of Iraq’s Constitutional Drafting Committee, National Assembly and civil society groups acquired and strengthened their knowledge on federal systems and how these could be used to bring together divergent groups within a country and on issues linked to the country’s then recently-adopted constitution, such as power-sharing options or design of a coherent oil and gas regime.
The Forum developed public education materials in Arabic and Kurdish on federal systems and provided training on federal systems to Iraqi members of parliament, journalists and members of the Constitutional Review Committee. The Forum together with deans of law schools at Iraqi universities designed a foundation-level course on federalism for leaders of tomorrow’s Iraq. The Forum also provided video modules and a primer on federalism in Arabic.
Forum’s work in Iraq was funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the U.S. National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI). The grants amounted to a total of $2.6 million. The Iraq projects ran from 2005 – 2009.