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KURDISTAN - Shi'ite-Sunni Quarrel On Federalism.

Shi'ite MPs are pushing ahead with legislation to provide a mechanism to carve Iraq into largely autonomous regions, angering Sunni Arabs who say Shi'ites should first follow through on a promise to allow federalism to be renegotiated. Allowing Shi'ite-dominated provinces to break off and form their semi-autonomous region has been a top priority of Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a Shi'ite party. Federalist provisions in the new constitution allow such regions to be created.

Sunni Arabs had been reluctant to support the charter. To win Sunnis over, Shi'ite MPs changed the charter so parliament could later decide whether to narrow those provisions. Now SCIRI MPs are backing legislation to define the process. Shi'ite MPs say the proposal would not set that process in motion, and that they are merely trying to meet a constitutional deadline for defining it. But Sunni leaders say the Shi'ites should first allow debate on amending the constitution. Dhafer al-Ani, a member of the Sunni bloc in parliament was on Sept. 8 quoted as saying the new proposal "is an obstacle to national reconciliation. This draft could be presented after amending the constitution".

Mutlaq says Shi'ite lawmakers should instead focus on the country's fragile economy and security, adding: "These people should take care of these things, not federalism. The government is disintegrating and there is no other power except the militias".

Hakim previously said he had no intention of changing the federalist provisions. But SCIRI MP Ridha Jawad Taqi insists that Shi'ites are still open to debating the provisions - suggesting it may be one or two years before anyone starts the actual process of creating an autonomous region. Taqi says: "Right now, we are making a mechanism and procedure for the Iraqi people in the provinces to make use of this right in the constitution".

Other Shi'ite parties in parliament favour a slower path towards federalism. Nasir al-Sa'di, a member of a bloc loyal to the radical mullah Muqtada al-Sadr, says he does not object to creating a mechanism for carving the country into regions. But he says it would be a long time before the country is ready to do that and should not happen until the "occupation" had ended, adding: "This is not the time to implement federalism". Hassan al-Shammari, a member of Fadhila, another Shi'ite party, is also cautious. Within the dominant Shi'ite governing coalition, he says, "there are many who still have reservations about activating federalism".

Parliament Speaker Mahmoud Mashhadani, an outspoken and controversial Sunni, on Sept. 6 warned: "Let's start talking the same language. We have three to four months to reconcile with each other. If the country does not survive this, it will go under".
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Publication:APS Diplomat Fate of the Arabian Peninsula
Date:Sep 11, 2006
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