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IRAQ - Sunnis Demand Control Of Iraqi Constitutional Panel.

Iraq's main Sunni Arab political bloc on May 2 demanded that it head a parliamentary panel to amend the constitution. Iraq's Parliament on May 3 began a normal session to discuss forming a committee to review the constitution, which the Sunni Arabs are to amend in order to take out a provision for federalism. But in a compromise formula now being worked out between the Sunni Arabs, the Shi'ite Arabs and the two co-ruling Kurdish parties, an exception will be made for autonomy in Iraqi Kurdistan.

It is said that Ja'fari was strongly advocating federalism, which the pro-Iran Shi'ite parties were urging so that their areas in the centre and the oil-rich south would have some kind of confederation with the Shi'ite theocracy of Tehran. That was strongly opposed by both the Sunni Arabs and the Kurds because such a move would lead to a partitioning and eventual dismemberment of Iraq. SCIRI, the Shi'ite party formed in Iran, was first behind this but later has lobbied against it.

Reuters on May 3 quoted a senior official of the Sunni Arab group, Iyad al-Samarra'i, as saying: "It's a matter of logic that the Iraqi Accordance Front heads the committee that will revise the constitution in Parliament because the demand of rewriting the constitution was a demand made by the Front".

Iraq's new Sunni Arab Parliament Speaker Mahmoud Dawood al-Mashhadani said in a nationally televised speech on May 2 that the new government's top priority would be ending widespread bloodshed in cities such as Baghdad. He said: "Not an hour passes without Iraqis being stricken by the killing of our sons and loved ones in Baghdad and other areas, by booby traps, kidnappings, assassinations, armed clashes, roadside bombs and other brutal terrorist attacks".

The London-based ash-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper reported May 2 that Iraqi insurgents met with US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad seven times but decided to break off contacts after progress was made towards forming a new Iraqi government. The newspaper quoted an Iraqi militant leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as saying that the talks with Khalilzad took place in Amman on Jan. 16 and continued later in Baghdad. According to the newspaper, the purported insurgent said representatives of more than 10 Iraqi resistance groups held talks centred on a US withdrawal from Iraq.

This confirmed Talabani's revelations to al-Hurra, in which the Kurdish president and PUK head insisted the Neo-Salafi insurgent groups were excluded. On May 2, Neo-Salafi insurgents launched new suicide attacks, killing at least 10 Iraqis and a US soldier. In the worst attack, a roadside bomb hit a convoy carrying Anbar province Governor Maamoun Sami Rashid al-Alwani. He escaped with minor injuries after the blast hit his convoy near Ramadi, 115 km west of Baghdad, but three of his bodyguards were killed and four were wounded. Coalition forces killed 10 insurgents and wounded one during a raid on a house used by guerrillas. The attack occurred about 40 km north-west of Baghdad, and did not lead to the capture of the al-Qaeda in Iraq official whom the forces were searching for.

Despite the continuing violence, a senior British official said Iraqi forces could take control of the country's security in two years. Reuters quoted the un-named official as saying: "It is perfectly credible to think in a two-year timescale that we could get to a position where essentially the Iraqis are totally responsible for all the security in Iraq".

In another development, two German men who had been taken hostage in Iraq in January were released, the German government said on May 2. It said Thomas Nitzschke and Rene Braeunlich were safe and in the custody of Germans in Iraq.

On May 1, al-Arabiya TV aired videotape of what it said was the body of former Prime Minister Muhammad Hamza al-Zubaidi, showing Iraqi men kicking and stepping on the head of the corpse. The US military reported on Dec. 5 that Zubaidi, 67, had died of heart failure three days earlier in an American military hospital.

Zubaidi, a Shi'ite, was a leading member of Saddam's Ba'thist dictatorship and led Saddam's forces in central Iraq during the initial stages of the 2003 US-led invasion. He was linked to the suppression of a Shi'ite uprising in southern Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War and was in charge of Iraqi forces in Kirkuk during the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Operations in Oil Diplomacy
Date:May 15, 2006
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