Sunday, August 14, 2005


This was originally published in The Guardian and reprinted by Guerrilla News Network.

Sunni Arab Leaders Reject Shia Calls For A Federal Iraq

Sunni Arab leaders today rejected Shia calls for a federal Iraq, saying the proposal would fracture the country along religious and ethnic lines.

The minority Sunnis, who were dominant under former president Saddam Hussein, condemned proposals for an autonomous southern region which would raise the prospect of an oil-rich fiefdom dominated by Muslim clerics.

With politicians battling to beat Monday’s deadline for agreeing to a new national constitution, Sunnis said plans to give the south a similar level of autonomy as that planned for northern Kurdish regions were unacceptable.

“We reject it wherever it is, whether in the north or in the south, but we accept the Kurdish region as it was before the war,” said Kamal Hamdoun, a Sunni member of the committee drafting the constitution. “The aim of federalism is to divide Iraq into ethnic and sectarian areas. We will cling to our stance of rejecting this.”

Sunni Arabs fear they will lose out on oil revenues if the country is split into federal zones, leaving them with the “sands of Anbar”, a vast, barren central province.

Sunni clerics used Friday prayers to urge followers to vote against any constitution likely to lead to Iraq’s break-up.

“We, in this country, don’t want federalism because we are a unified nation in this country and we feel that Iraq with all it’s elements is for all [of us],” Sheik Mahmoud al-Sumaidaie, of the influential Association of Muslim Scholars, told worshippers at Baghdad’s Umm al-Qura mosque.

Yesterday, the head of the Supreme Council for the Revolution in Iraq (Sciri), one of the main ruling parties, called for a “Shiastan” encompassing the Gulf oilfields and almost half of Iraq’s 26 million population.

“Regarding federalism, we think it is necessary to form one entire region in the south,” Abdul Aziz al-Hakim told a rally in the Shia holy city of Najaf.

The Sciri’s cleric leaders have strong ties to Iran’s theocracy and dominate the Shia bloc, which rules in coalition with the largely secular Kurds. Some analysts suggested the call for southern autonomy was a negotiating ploy to gain leverage for making Islam the main source of legislation.

“We were surprised with Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim’s declarations,” said Saleh al-Mutlaq, a Sunni member of the commission drafting the constitution. “Time is running out and such declarations should be much more calm. We don’t have time for such manoeuvres.”

Mr Mutlaq and other Sunnis had suggested that a decision on federalism should be delayed until a new parliament is elected in December. That parliament is expected to have more Sunni Arab members than the current one because many Sunnis boycotted last January’s election.

The incorporation of Sunni Arabs into the political process is seen as central to undermining the insurgency.

Some leading Shias today appeared to reject the notion of southern autonomy being written into the constitution.

“The idea is for federal regions in the centre and in the south, but it will not be decided until after the constitution is done,” said a Sciri member of the drafting panel, Saad Qindeel.

The Kurds have demanded federalism to maintain control over three northern provinces and also want authority over Kirkuk, from which thousands of Kurds were expelled by Saddam.

Government officials urged compromise after Mr Hakim’s speech. “Every group is saying that they have stands that they cannot abandon because they are ‘red lines’, but in the end everyone is going to make some concessions,” presidential spokesman Kamran Qaradaghi said last night.

US pressure to produce a constitution on time and rein in the extent of any Islamic identity of the state has been strong, with the ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, a prominent figure on the sidelines of the talks.

Just think, this country that the Emperor Chimp wanted to save from the evil Saddam and give democracy, actually used to run fairly smoothly and work.

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