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Iraq Considers Devolving Power Instead Of Provincial Autonomy

BAGHDAD -- Several Iraqi politicians have suggested countering demands for provincial autonomy on the model of the Kurdish region in northern Iraq by granting more powers to the provinces, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports.

Walid al-Hilli, a member of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law parliamentary bloc, told RFI on November 9 that extending the powers of the provincial governments is preferable to having "weak" autonomous regions.

But he said that due to deep-seated traditions of central government control in Iraq it will take time to establish alternative forms of self-administration at the provincial level.

Adnan al-Danboos, a member of former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's Al-Iraqiyah bloc in parliament, told RFI that the way out of the problem created by some of the provinces clamoring for autonomy is to empower their local authorities.

He said the elimination of "stifling centralization" would be a convincing solution to calm the voices raised in those provinces.

Al-Danboos warned that the current climate of mistrust between Iraqi political factions is not conducive to creating more autonomous regions, such as the Kurdistan Regional Government.

In late October, the Salahuddin provincial government -- which is located in former leader Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit -- asked Baghdad to endorse its plans to declare the province an autonomous region.

In the spring, four predominanlty Shi'ite provinces in the south -- Basra, Maysan, Thi Qar, and Muthanna -- appealed to the central government in Baghdad to make them autonomous regions. Politicians from the predominantly Sunni province of Anbar have also called for their province to be given autonomy.

But Saad Muttalibi, a leading member of the Shi'ite-dominated Iraqi National Alliance, told RFI that the problem is not that the provinces don't have sufficient power, but rather that their existing governing structures are incompetent.

Muttalibi cited the predominantly Sunni Salahuddin Province, saying that its local government managed last year to spend less than 10 percent of its budget appropriations. He added that Baghdad was in fact the only province that was able to spend all the funds allocated by the central government.

Sheikh Shaalan al-Krayim, a parliament deputy from Salahuddin, told RFI that the central government invited a delegation from the provincial government to Baghdad to discuss the issue. He said the visit was postponed due to the break for the holiday marking the end of the hajj, but he expects it to take place within the coming days.

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