Qubad Talabani, son of Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, believes the power of a centralized government in Baghdad should be “lessened,” and more autonomy given the 18 provinces that comprise Iraq. It’s a relatively new concept, the younger Talabani told an audience at the University of South Carolina, last week. It is an idea that will put his country on a governing fast-forward, and one in which Iraq’s neighbors are watching with particular interest, perhaps even concern.
I’ll get to the concerns as expressed by Talabani in a moment. Let’s first consider the idea and the current dynamics in Iraq.
According to Talabani, Iraq needs to form representative regional governments encompassing more than one province. “The country cannot again be ruled by a centralized authority,” he says. The Iraqi people have an inherent fear of a centralization of power, and a general mistrust of those outside their own communities.
Talabani points to his native region, Kurdistan – from which he serves as a representative to the United States – as an example of how this idea might be implemented.
“Iraqi Kurdistan [comprised of six provinces] has its own regional government, its own parliament,” he says. “Other parts of the country are looking at forming similar regions so they can govern themselves with as much autonomy as possible over their own affairs, thus reducing the powers of the central government. By reducing such powers, you will reduce the different communities’ insecurities because of the mistrust that exists today.”
He adds, “At the moment, Baghdad is the prize and everybody is fighting over it. We need to reduce the relevance of that prize so that we reduce the level of tension throughout Iraq.”
The mistrust and tension, Talabani says, is a part of Saddam Hussein’s legacy, pitting one community against the other, as well as instilling fear from cruelties committed by the former regime against all segments of the population.
“My own region, Kurdistan, was decimated by Saddam,” Talabani says. “He destroyed about 4,000 villages, killed about 200,000 people, and used chemical and biological weapons in over 250 incidences – primarily against civilians.”
Prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, most Kurds believed themselves to be the only victims of Saddam’s brutality. “But when the regime fell, we realized that Iraqi Arabs were also victims,” Talabani says. “We recovered hundreds-of-thousands of bodies in mass graves across the country, many of which were dedicated to children three to six-years-old. Most had been experimented on by the regime. I cannot describe the carnage and brutality in a way that you would be able to comprehend just how bad it really was.”