Iraq's Council of Ministers approved a bill that would turn Halabja district into the autonomous Kurdistan Region’s fourth province, but the decision has to be approved by the parliament to take effect.
“We talked with Baghdad and we were informed officially that the Council of Ministers has approved Halabja as a governorate," said Goran Adham, the mayor of Halabja.
He said the resolution was approved by majority vote at the council’s weekly meeting, but that three Iraqi ministers did not vote in favor, including youth minister Jasim Muhammad Jafar and transportation minister Hadi al-Amri.
According to law, the ministerial decision must be approved by the parliament to take effect. “We believe that since the Council of Ministers approved it the Iraqi parliament will approve it, too,” said Adham. “Several factions have vowed to support us,” he added.
He said his office was “in constant contact with the Council of Ministers and Kurdish MPs for this purpose.” Should the bill be approved, Halabja will take part in the Iraqi legislative elections, scheduled for April 2014, as a new governorate.
Safa al-Mousawi, the spokesman for the Election Commission, said: “We have not received any official directives to make preparations to treat Halabja as a governorate.”
“If we receive the decision in a timely manner to make preparations, then the election will be carried out in Halabja like in Sulaimani, Erbil and Duhok,” she stressed.
According to Mousawi the Election Commission has data on Halabja that would assist in paving the way for it to be treated like a governorate in the elections.
If the bill is approved, Halabja would become the 19th Iraqi governorate, and the autonomous Kurdistan Region’s fourth province.
Halabja, which was gassed by Iraq’s former regime on March 16, 1988, still suffers from the aftermath of the attack. It suffers from the highest number of birth defects in Iraq.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) approved Halabja as a new governorate in June 2013.
The latest ministerial decision comes a week after KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani delivered a letter from regional President Massoud Barzani to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad last Wednesday, demanding the Iraqi government complete procedures and raise the administrative level of Halabja to a governorate.
The Kurdish president has been one of the main advocates of turning Halabja into a province.
"The promise that I made to you has now come true and I hope there will be an administration that will make the people of the area happy," Barzani said in a congratulatory message after the ministerial decision was announced.
In an official statement, Barzani said that Halabja is a city that has suffered and sacrificed a lot and that, "their wounds should be healed."
All Kurdish parties unanimously supported and welcomed the decision of the ministers. On Tuesday, the Change Movement (Gorran) said that it stands by the decision, applauding Maliki for this historic step.