By Sardar Aziz
swiftly entered common vocabulary; however, this article will show that there
is yet no agreement on this term, meaning both theoretically and practically.
Decentralization is not the result of our thoughts or actions but a deeply
rooted system. We in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq are only hoping to replicate
or install this system. This article will attempt to lay out the necessary
steps to implement a decentralized system in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
Problems with the
The question of
changing the Kurdistan Region of Iraq into a decentralized political system is
revealing. It indicates that the region
is administratively, politically, economically and identity-wise multi-layered.
However, before we can discuss these issues, we have significant problems with
the concept of "decentralization". It is an imported and complicated
concept, which at present, it is being utilized as a tool to serve a power
rivalry; hence, we must be cautious about its limited and short-term meanings.
As with all other concepts, when one uses the term decentralization, the same
understanding, image and aims are not shared between the users of the term.
This difficulty forces the question; what does decentralization mean in the
Kurdistan Region of Iraq today? To answer this question, we must first have an
academic understanding of the term.
concept of decentralization is a part of the broader transfer of knowledge from
one location to another, in particular from the western world to the east.
The transfer of
concepts is a regular historical occurrence. German thinker Reinhart Koselleck
has dedicated much time to the issue of 'concepts'. If we use his method, then
we must understand 'decentralization' as something that will be used at a
specific moment, with a particular aim, as a result of a power struggle. (1)
Based on this,
'decentralization' as a concept must be dealt with carefully. Concepts are
different; they have unique histories, and one cannot understand them through
their simple definition alone. Therefore, linking the concept's simple definition and its history
provides a better understanding of 'decentralization' and its current meaning
in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
not merely a name or word. It is instead a concept that represents several
complicated processes within a governing system covering a range of areas including
geopolitics, justice, globalization, neoliberalism, and the nation-state.
However, the trouble with the concept, as with all others, is that it is not
ready for universal use and lacks meaning for local cultures and traditions.
Hence, we cant discuss 'decentralization' methodologically to reach a general
understanding of the concept. Prominent German linguist and historian, Reinhart
Koselleck, has developed a method for the history of concepts called
"Begriffsgeschichte". According to this method, we can use, what
Reinhart terms the 'deep established diachronic', on concepts, which
means, when we take into account the
path of conceptual development over time; how a concept separates from its
simple definition and starts a lineage that has layered the meaning of the
In light of this, we
can discuss the history of the concept but are unable to do this to a great
extent in Kurdish literature. The history of the concept of decentralization
has two distinct branches; before the arrival of the united states and after
The second problem
with the concept is that it suffers from a lack of meaning. Iranian thinker Mahmoud Saroolqalam explains that all
religious leaders understand each other better when they speak; in contrast,
when intellectuals and politicians converse they do not understand one another.
The reason for this is
that religious leaders often have a collective background. In contrast,
intellectuals and politicians do not have a similar collective history and thus
do not have a mutual understanding of terms and concepts that they use. The
same problem exists for us and can be applied to the concept of
several sources and meanings in history; an academic source and a source in
governance. This requires a quick explanation so that we can better present the
history and background of the concept. The process of forming a nation-state
has historically required the existence of a centre where power and symbolism
are concentrated. Göran Therborn
explains that capital cities provide a considerable part of state identity. (3)
The process of State
and nation-building is focused around the capital city. As a result, most
nations around the world have a centre in which power is amassed. France is one
of the most centralized states, where one can see centralized power in all
aspects of life and civilization. In France all train lines go to Paris, the
political system places the majority of power in the hands of the president
with parliament and local government generally weak. Some argue that it was
this centralized power structure in France that led to the yellow vest
emergence of decentralization is directly related to processes originating from
the State, the nation, the political system, identity, type of civilization and
security. As a consequence, the State becomes an organism, or a leviathan, that
maintains complete control of power and prevents other power centres from emerging
This centralized model
of State gradually changed in the 20th century, in particular as a result of
several events and phenomena. For this article, we will only discuss two of
these phenomena; neoliberalism and globalization.
One of the founders of
neoliberalism is the Austrian philosopher and economist Friedrich Hague. Hague
emerged as a prominent neo-liberal thinker in the 1980s. What is interesting
for us in Hague's theory is his aversion to the idea of central planning. The
origins of Hagues argument against central planning can be traced back to the
conflict between socialism and capitalism. Socialism, for example, is known for
its centralized model, which requires long term planning, among other features.
In contrast, a feature
of liberalism is that it views the State as an impediment to economic growth.
The State is bureaucratic, slow, obstructive to market competition, and
expensive among other negative features. This State was suited to the emergence
and growth of globalization, a phenomenon that worked to organize human society
around the globe. Globalization is a far-reaching phenomenon; however, for our
purposes, globalization has worked to combine markets and decentralized
governance at the heart of the nation-state. (6)
The consequence of
decentralized power was the growth of localism. The drivers behind localism are
many; for example, the gradual development of urbanism, the rise of
international markets, and the shrinking of the globe due to technology and
It can be argued that
these causes shifted the widely used centralized model of nation-states into a
more decentralized model. In short, the reasons behind the rise of localism can
be summed up in the following points:
First, the ability of
the nation-state to confront multinational corporations was limited.
Second, the cities
became international units. Originally there were city-states, which were
subsequently swallowed by states; however, today, cities, especially
metropolitan cities, are once again returning to dominance.
Third, those states
that have failed to assimilate the different identities in their jurisdiction
now find that the age of assimilation and ethnic cleansing hs passed. This is
particularly the case for a state like Iraq and the current situation of the
Middle East's Kurds. In this new age that has allowed for increased awareness
of identity, group interest and the strange notion of State, the age of
attempting to change the identity of groups, as some Iraqis are calling for,
Fourth, in the age of
globalization, businesses and non-governmental organizations are increasingly
calling for the dismantling of border restrictions that prevent the
distribution of products across the world. US, Canadian and other international
organizations in Iraq, such as US Aid, Canadian OIG and the world bank, are all
supporters of Iraqi decentralization.
Based on this
principle and as a result of all its international supporters, a new question
as entered international discourse; how do residents of a particular place,
location, region or city wish to be governed? This question forces us to ask
several other sub-questions; Does governance require moral, economic,
political, social, identity or philosophical principles? Furthermore, we can
ask how can these principles be met? And to what extent does centralized or
decentralized governance assist in this regard.
When we ask these
questions, we are forced to view the problems in the context of a political
system. If the nation-state is a system of unity, foundation and the breaking
down of differences, then decentralization means restricting the process of
assimilation and maintaining a limited theatre that recognizes the difference.
Decentralization in Iraq:
The new Iraq is post-dictatorship Iraq. Dictatorship is the highest form
of centralized governance where all powers of the state are concentrated in the
hands of a single person. Since 2003, the United States has been working on
building a new Iraq. Since the Second World War, the method of the United
States when attempting regime change in foreign states has been to replace
dictatorships with political and administrative systems that make the
concentration of power by a single individual difficult. Hence, why we see
federal models of governance in Germany, Austria and other places.
The same reason is behind the establishment of a federal model in Iraq
following the collapse of its dictatorship. Regardless, Iraq remains, to a
great extent a centralized state and a significant proportion of the country's
political sides view federalism and decentralization as a threat and not as a
suitable and required form of governance. (7)
As a result, Iraqi regions increasingly use decentralization as a
threat. The centre responds by opposing it at all means, for example, in the
case of Basra.
On the state level in Iraq, there is much talk of decentralization.
Experts across the world believe decentralization to be a solution to Iraq's
problems; however, within the country, there is great fear around the idea of a
decentralized system. As a result, there is much internal opposition to all
forms of decentralization including; federalism increased provincial powers and
any other kind that weakens the centre. While the Iraqi constitution has laid
the foundations for power to be centralized, in reality, Iraq is a structurally
centralized state. The Iraqi state fears that it will not withstand the
pressures of decentralization and will fail and break up. However, this paper
argues that the Iraqi state's obstructions to decentralization will in the end
only work to motivate demands for it. This is clear in the case of Basra and
the Iraqi Sunni population, among others.
Here, it is necessary to briefly reference that fearful nation-states or
nation-states that harbour fearful psychologies are often the states that are
most prepared to use violence to confront issues of identity. The most
prominent example of this is Sevres syndrome in Turkey.
Therefore, as was explained above, if governance requires an underlying
principle then for Iraq injustice, inequality, the division of the country's
natural resource, and differences in identity, culture and nationality prevent
a single governing motive from existing.
Does the Kurdistan Region of Iraq require decentralized
In 2019, MERI, an Erbil based think tank, divided the question of
decentralization in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq into two stages. First, the
establishment of centralized governance was a response to the requirement to
provide security and stability for the region. However, since achieving these
two things, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq has now reached the stage that
requires developing decentralized systems of governance. This is of particular
relevance as centralization has weakened governance in the region. (8)
For over 50 years, the Kurdish community in southern Kurdistan have been
governed by two polar administrations. These two administrations have not only
seen their respective zones of influence diverge in many areas; including shared
customs and history but have also become adversarial to one another. A fact
that was documented by a CIA agent who held meetings separately with the PUK
and KDP in the run-up to the Iraq War. The agent noted that each side had to be
approached as you would separate nation-states.
However, the two sides in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq are also similar
in many respects.
Can this division be a basis for implementing decentralized governance
in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq? Before answering this question, we must first
understand what decentralization is. In short, decentralization does not mean
increasing the centres of power in a given state. For example, if a given
jurisdiction divides into two or three centres of power, this does not mean
that decentralization has been achieved. From this perspective,
decentralization is a way of thinking. When a powerful individual or group
wants to accrue power, and another competing powerful individual or group wants
to divide power with it, this does not translate as decentralization. Instead,
this approach works to increase the centres of power, which ultimately serves
centralization and weakens decentralization.
Decentralization does not mean the removal of the centre. Instead, it
means the reorganization and redistribution of power between central
government, local government, and the regions. If what is meant by
decentralization in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq is the creation of another
power centre away from Erbil, then this is not decentralization. This is an idea
that I have noticed in other articles about decentralization in the Kurdistan
Region of Iraq. Especially when the old Kurdish Emirates is referenced to
justify the establishment of decentralization in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
This is a misunderstanding of decentralization.
Decentralization does not mean the existence of multiple centres;
instead, it means the removal of centralized administration, finance, politics
and decision-making. However, it must be understood that without a centre there
is a significant risk that local administrations will become disconnected from
one another. In the 21st century, we live in a connected world. This is the
principle behind China's one belt one road policy.
For further clarity, I will provide a summary of several features of
decentralization. it can be implemented in several areas; administrative
decentralization, political decentralization, financial decentralization,
economic and market decentralization. Based on this, decentralization does not
occur in the security, military, diplomacy or intelligence fields. If these
areas become subject to decentralized administration, then there is a crisis of
governance in the jurisdiction. Each of the four fields where decentralization
can occur have several features. For example, administrative decentralization
is considered the foundational element of decentralization (a reference to the
importance of decentralization as an administrative principle). Therefore, the
underlying meaning of decentralization is improving administration.
The purpose of administrative decentralization is deconcentration,
delegation and devolution, which allow for decision-making to be carried out
Deconcentration consists of the process dividing government between
different geographies instead of concentrating power in one location as
referenced by Sayar. (11)
This process can occur on several other levels, such as decentralized
management, the transfer of the work of government from central to local units
or local governments.
The process of devolution, which can be understood as the granting of
permissions, consists of the transfer of a part of the government's
responsibilities to an agent or location outside of government. It also
includes the transfer of the rights and ownership from central governments to
The process of delegation can occur in numerous areas, especially the
transfer of administrative responsibility. Further to this, working with
private enterprise and privatization can be understood as forms of
decentralization. Also, the process is known as PPP, which sees the private and
public sector work together under a specific law. The draft law to allow this
has already been prepared in the Iraqi parliament.
Therefore, in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, it remains unclear what
decentralization is and what it can present to the region's current state of
affairs. As is clear Nawshirwan Mustafa was one of the most prominent voices in
demanding decentralized governance in the region. When Mustafa formed the
Gorran Movement, he had a clear philosophy for the form of governance that the
movement would work to achieve. Mustafa wanted to see a loosening of Kurdish
central governance. Here, an explanation is required for the term
"loosening". In his Communist Manifesto Karl Marx explains "all
fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable
prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated
before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air". Therefore, what
is meant by the term "loosening" is the removal of solid obstacles,
the removal of barriers to change, and withdrawal of all excuses for continuous
power. "Loosening" is not fixed and does not have a final form.
Instead, a loose government continuously changes to meet the needs of the
people. Mustafa was against the political rivalries that existed between party
politburos and tribes and championed a parliamentary political system that
could continuously renew itself. He believed that a government could only take
the form required by its people when that government could be close to the
people it governs and listen and respond to their demands. Based on this,
Mustafa believed decentralization was a necessity for the Kurdistan Region of
If we return to the MERI discussion, then now is the time for the
implementation of decentralization in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq; however, it
is not yet being implemented. The issue of decentralization is being treated as
a short-term phenomenon, and traditionalists are not being given the space it
requires to develop, custom and interests. The question of decentralization is
not an occurrence that will come about through a set number of stages but is a
comprehensive multi-level process.
As mentioned above, there is still no single understanding of the term
decentralization. Therefore, what is initially required is the publication of
green and white academic articles by the government, so that its knowledge of
decentralization can be made clear.
The second stage, is that several areas need to be centralized,
especially the military and security fields, before the process of
decentralization can begin.
The third stage requires that a realistic timeframe is set in place for
the implementation of decentralization and steps set out for the application of
each of the four areas outlined above.
The fourth stage required that the electoral system in the Kurdistan
Region of Iraq changes to a mixed electoral system. Half of the officials
should be elected by the people while the other half can be chosen by the
political parties. This will allow for technocrats to enter into government as
technocrats usually find it difficult to get elected through a direct
It is essential also to reference the view in the Kurdistan Region of
Iraq that fears decentralization. However, before we discuss fear, we must
first discuss 'against'. It is perfectly reasonable for there to be a view that
is against the process of decentralization in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. One
of the prominent groups in the region that oppose decentralization is the
Kurdish nationalists. This group is reminiscent of the European Nationalists of
19th century Europe who believed in centralization, unification and unity among
other beliefs driven by nationalism.
This group feels pessimistic as the Kurdistan Regional Government does
not work on principles of nationalism. For example, when observing Kurdistan's
infrastructure, information systems, education, economy and culture, there is
little work being done in these areas to unite the region into one unit.
Inaction in this respect puts the existence of the region under threat,
especially if China's project in Iraq is achieved.
From this perspective, as unity has not been achieved in the Kurdistan
Region of Iraq, then in the same way as in Iraq, the lack of a single-centre
may cause the region to break up. This fear is justified as the principle
underlining the unity of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq was a government at the centre
that distributed salaries across its jurisdiction. As this centre falls into
crisis, so too does the unity it achieved. Of course, the existence of this
thinking does not mean that decentralization in Kurdistan should not exist. In
reality, before decentralization can be implemented in any area, thought and
cultural conditioning must first take place. Kurdish thinking and culture still
dictate that power should be concentrated around a single leader. Such an
approach only leads to a centralized power structure that may work successfully
in families, tribes and political parties, but struggles on the government and
state level. Centralization of government works against the principles of
speed, democracy, and local decision making, among other things. Another
feature of centralization is that it creates large states. Leopold Kohr
explains that difficulty arises for states when they are too big. (12)
How can Sulaimani become decentralized?
This question is the centre of much discussion in Kurdistan today. In
truth, this question is wrong. Sulaimani will only become decentralized when
the Kurdistan region of Iraq becomes decentralized. For if Sulaimani alone
becomes decentralized then what will come about is not administrative,
political and economic decentralization in the region but a dual centralized
model of governance. This model will usher in a bipolar system of
administration which, like any bipolar system, will be backed through the use
of force. This will become a form of power balance similar to that which is
seen in the international order. It is important to remember that it was this
system that existed in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq before the Kurdish
uprisings and did not provide any advantage to the people of the region.
Moreover, this power balance developed a dual administration model of
governance. In the region, this dual administration saw the existence of mirror
administrations that only differed on cosmetic issues. This balance of power
only caused problems for the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. It has allowed great
strides to be taken towards a system of hegemony, where one side is stronger,
more valued and dominant.
This side then uses both the carrot and stick method to maintain its
hegemony. This state is still in its early stages if it continues, it will
gradually become culturally accepted, as argued by Gamsci. (13)
If the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan aims to become the same as the
Kurdistan Democratic Party, then its first step is to create power. By power,
we do not merely mean the 70th force and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's
other military units. Instead, we mean the fundamentals of power in Kurdistan,
like in other places where the existence of power is based on several fixed and
Currently, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's aims appears to be for it
to be a counterbalance to the Kurdistan Democratic Party. If this is the aim in
any move towards decentralization, then in truth this is not decentralization.
It is merely an attempt to divide power in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq between
the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of
For the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to become genuinely decentralized then
the following steps should be taken:
Change the political, administrative and electoral system in the
Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The political system should be inclusive and
genuinely parliamentary. This will allow the talent within each political party
or movement to come out and will enable political parties to come together to
the economic system, the region must end its monopolization approach.
Monopolization is a direct obstacle to decentralization. If the central
principle of decentralization means sharing, then monopolization is a
barrier to sharing.
the electoral system, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq must move away from its
single constituency approach and adopt a multi constituency one. This
would allow voters to identify who their representative is.
and security forces must become independent of politics.
centre must renew itself on the principle of centralization. The centre
must become the unit that ties all other decentralized units together. In
a decentralized political system, the centre cannot be divided as it is
culture of individual city identity must be promoted so that citizens and
cities can become more connected, which allows for the development of a
more substantial national identity to develop.
Decentralization is understood globally as a term or system of
management. The rise of neoliberalism, markets and globalization has allowed
decentralization's influence to grow. The age of centralized power structures
in which matters of state are decided on without due regard for the desires or
needs of citizens. Decentralization occurs on several levels, but in general,
it consists of the devolution of power and eradication of a concentration of
power in the centre.
At the same time decentralization has geopolitical dimensions. After the
arrival of the United States in Iraq, decentralization has become a central
Iraqi value, which the country regularly takes steps towards. However, Iraq
remains unprepared on many levels for decentralization.
In recent years, a debate has erupted in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq
around the idea of decentralization for the regions political system. However,
the theoretical, civil, and policy work that would allow for its implementation
remains lacking. This short article has attempted to define decentralization,
identify the most advantageous form of decentralization for Kurdistan Region of
Iraq and recognize the most damaging form of decentralization for the region.
With this, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq is stepping into a new stage in its
1- Reinhart Koselleck, Introduction
[Einleitung], in: Otto Brunner/Werner Conze/Reinhart Koselleck (eds.),
Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe. Historisches Lexikon zur politisch-sozialen
Sprache in Deutschland, Volume 1, Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1972, pp.
2- محمود سریع القلم ٢٠٢٠ لماذا لا تصبح مجتمعاتنا ديمقراطية؟ https://www.akhbaar.org/home/2020/4/270228.html?fbclid=IwAR2M74QnfEDb0JMf9ivXkhWAZkJukF3cvNQ-_5-FCfGVDOr2CGhmO0F352Q
3- Göran Therborn ٢٠٠٦ Capitals and National Identity، European Variants، ECPR، https://ecpr.eu/Filestore/PaperProposal/26673996-3b0c-4ece-b8c6-e13b29169627.pdf
4- Andre Sapir 2019 France’s institutional
system favours rebellion against its leader, https://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2019/02/19/gilets-jaunes-la-france-a-un-systeme-institutionnel-qui-favorise-la-fronde-contre-son-chef_5425096_3232.html
5- Machan Tobor 1988 Beyond Hayek: A
Critique of Central Planning, FEE,
6- Geoffrey Garrett 2001 Globalization and
7- Ali Al-Mawlawi ٢٠١٩ Exploring the Rationale for Decentralization in Iraq and its
8- Meri, 2019 Decentralisation in the KRI:
A Policy Roundtable
9- Faddis, Sam 2020 The CIA War in
Kurdistan: The Untold Story of the Northern Front in the Iraq War.
10- Sylvain H. Boko ٢٠٠٢ Decentralization and Reform in Africa،SPRINGER
11- Sayer, J.A., Elliott, C., Barrow, E.,
Gretzinger, S., Maginnis, S., McShane, T., and Shepherd, G. The Implications
for Biodiversity Conservation of Decentralized Forest Resources Management
12- Kohr, Leopold, 1986 The Breakdown of
13- Gramsci, A. (1971). Selections from the
prison notebooks. New York, NY: International.