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Shiites demand autonomy in Iraq

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Key Shiites Demand Autonomy in Southern Iraq as Deadline Nears

By REUTERS

Filed at 11:11 a.m. ET

NAJAF, Iraq (Reuters) - With four days left until Iraq's leaders have promised a draft constitution, powerful Islamist leaders made a dramatic bid on Thursday to have a big, autonomous Shi'ite region across the oil-rich south.

The head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) spelled out his demands to tens of thousands of chanting supporters in the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf.

But minority Sunni and secular opponents, as well as rival Shi'ite Islamists in the coalition national government, swiftly poured cold water on an idea that fueled fears about sectarian battles over oil and Iranian-style religious rule in the south.

Some saw it as a negotiating tactic ahead of a self-imposed deadline on Monday to present the draft to parliament; a top Shi'ite negotiator, who dismissed the demand made by SCIRI chief Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, said 16 points were still in dispute.

It was unclear whether the row -- and continued arguments over the extent of Islamic law -- would delay delivery of a text that Washington hopes can help quell the Sunni Arab insurgency.

The crucial issue is the nature of federalism and the quest for wording to satisfy Kurdish demands for continued autonomy in the north, Shi'ite hopes for some new autonomy in the south, and also address concerns among Sunni Arabs and others in the center that they not be left with a rump Iraqi state deprived of oil.

``If we can deal with that ... we should finish in the next few days so the draft will be ready on time,'' Bahaa al-Araji, a senior Shi'ite on the constitution drafting panel, told Reuters.

``If there were Shi'ite and Sunni regions it would simply entrench sectarianism and destroy the unity of Iraq.''

U.S. diplomats, active on the sidelines of talks on what is a vital project for American interests, have clear reservations about SCIRI's traditional ties to Washington's regional foe Iran and make plain they will not stand for clerical rule in Iraq.

SHI'ITE DEMANDS

Hakim, a striking figure in clerical robes whose long exile in Tehran make him a figure of suspicion for many Sunni Arabs, was backed up in his demands at the Najaf rally by the leader of the Badr movement, formed in Iran as the armed wing of SCIRI.

``They are trying to prevent the Shi'ites from enjoying their own federalism,'' Badr leader Hadi al-Amery told the crowd, which had gathered to commemorate the assassination two years ago by a car bomb in Najaf of Hakim's brother, the former SCIRI leader.

``What have we got from the central government but death?'' he said, recalling decades of oppression under Sunni-dominated rule from Baghdad, most recently by Saddam Hussein.

``We think it necessary to form one whole region in the south,'' said Hakim, a major force in the coalition that came to power in January's election, secured by U.S. military force.

But Laith Kubba, spokesman for Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, an Islamist from rival Shi'ite party Dawa, said: ``The idea of a Shi'ite region ... is unacceptable to us.''

``It's a bad idea,'' Kubba told Reuters.

CLERICAL BACKING?

Yet despite the initial cold shoulder, it may be significant that Hakim made his announcement hours after meeting Iraq's top cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in Najaf on Wednesday.

Though Sistani, who rarely appears in public, has typically made no comment, his backing could be vital and some political sources close to Islamist thinking say there is broader support, well beyond SCIRI, for the autonomy project in years to come.

Hakim again pressed for Islam to be ``the main source'' of law in the new Iraq, a proposal that alarms some women and minority groups who already accuse SCIRI of religious vigilantism. They mostly prefer a reference to Islam as ``a source'' of law.

If, as seems likely, the Islamists are unable to push their policies through in the broader Iraq, it could be tempting to enact them at least in an autonomous Shi'ite half of the nation.

Hakim and Amery's demands, by including central Iraq, went beyond a project floated around the southern city of Basra to merge three provinces into a new federal region.

The area from the holy cities of Kerbala and Najaf, south of Baghdad, to Basra has a mostly Shi'ite population comprising close to half of Iraq's 26 million people.

``We hoped this day would never come,'' said Saleh al-Mutlak, a leading Sunni politician. ``We believe that the Arabs, whether Sunni or Shi'ite, are one. We totally reject any attempt to stir up sectarian issues to divide Iraq.''

Other participants in talks on the constitution have said that they expect rules on how federal regions can be formed to be left vague in the draft and held over for later discussion.

That later discussion could well see more Shi'ite pressure to create an autonomous southern region in the years to come, with potentially great implications for control of the vast oilfields around Basra on the Kuwaiti and Saudi borders.

http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/international/international-iraq.html?hp&ex=1123819200&en=b933c30af5d19a23&ei=5094&partner=homepage

oh shit. :(

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Key Shiites Demand Autonomy in Southern Iraq as Deadline Nears

By REUTERS

Filed at 11:11 a.m. ET

NAJAF, Iraq (Reuters) - With four days left until Iraq's leaders have promised a draft constitution, powerful Islamist leaders made a dramatic bid on Thursday to have a big, autonomous Shi'ite region across the oil-rich south.

The head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) spelled out his demands to tens of thousands of chanting supporters in the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf.

But minority Sunni and secular opponents, as well as rival Shi'ite Islamists in the coalition national government, swiftly poured cold water on an idea that fueled fears about sectarian battles over oil and Iranian-style religious rule in the south.

Some saw it as a negotiating tactic ahead of a self-imposed deadline on Monday to present the draft to parliament; a top Shi'ite negotiator, who dismissed the demand made by SCIRI chief Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, said 16 points were still in dispute.

It was unclear whether the row -- and continued arguments over the extent of Islamic law -- would delay delivery of a text that Washington hopes can help quell the Sunni Arab insurgency.

The crucial issue is the nature of federalism and the quest for wording to satisfy Kurdish demands for continued autonomy in the north, Shi'ite hopes for some new autonomy in the south, and also address concerns among Sunni Arabs and others in the center that they not be left with a rump Iraqi state deprived of oil.

``If we can deal with that ... we should finish in the next few days so the draft will be ready on time,'' Bahaa al-Araji, a senior Shi'ite on the constitution drafting panel, told Reuters.

``If there were Shi'ite and Sunni regions it would simply entrench sectarianism and destroy the unity of Iraq.''

U.S. diplomats, active on the sidelines of talks on what is a vital project for American interests, have clear reservations about SCIRI's traditional ties to Washington's regional foe Iran and make plain they will not stand for clerical rule in Iraq.

SHI'ITE DEMANDS

Hakim, a striking figure in clerical robes whose long exile in Tehran make him a figure of suspicion for many Sunni Arabs, was backed up in his demands at the Najaf rally by the leader of the Badr movement, formed in Iran as the armed wing of SCIRI.

``They are trying to prevent the Shi'ites from enjoying their own federalism,'' Badr leader Hadi al-Amery told the crowd, which had gathered to commemorate the assassination two years ago by a car bomb in Najaf of Hakim's brother, the former SCIRI leader.

``What have we got from the central government but death?'' he said, recalling decades of oppression under Sunni-dominated rule from Baghdad, most recently by Saddam Hussein.

``We think it necessary to form one whole region in the south,'' said Hakim, a major force in the coalition that came to power in January's election, secured by U.S. military force.

But Laith Kubba, spokesman for Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, an Islamist from rival Shi'ite party Dawa, said: ``The idea of a Shi'ite region ... is unacceptable to us.''

``It's a bad idea,'' Kubba told Reuters.

CLERICAL BACKING?

Yet despite the initial cold shoulder, it may be significant that Hakim made his announcement hours after meeting Iraq's top cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in Najaf on Wednesday.

Though Sistani, who rarely appears in public, has typically made no comment, his backing could be vital and some political sources close to Islamist thinking say there is broader support, well beyond SCIRI, for the autonomy project in years to come.

Hakim again pressed for Islam to be ``the main source'' of law in the new Iraq, a proposal that alarms some women and minority groups who already accuse SCIRI of religious vigilantism. They mostly prefer a reference to Islam as ``a source'' of law.

If, as seems likely, the Islamists are unable to push their policies through in the broader Iraq, it could be tempting to enact them at least in an autonomous Shi'ite half of the nation.

Hakim and Amery's demands, by including central Iraq, went beyond a project floated around the southern city of Basra to merge three provinces into a new federal region.

The area from the holy cities of Kerbala and Najaf, south of Baghdad, to Basra has a mostly Shi'ite population comprising close to half of Iraq's 26 million people.

``We hoped this day would never come,'' said Saleh al-Mutlak, a leading Sunni politician. ``We believe that the Arabs, whether Sunni or Shi'ite, are one. We totally reject any attempt to stir up sectarian issues to divide Iraq.''

Other participants in talks on the constitution have said that they expect rules on how federal regions can be formed to be left vague in the draft and held over for later discussion.

That later discussion could well see more Shi'ite pressure to create an autonomous southern region in the years to come, with potentially great implications for control of the vast oilfields around Basra on the Kuwaiti and Saudi borders.

http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/international/international-iraq.html?hp&ex=1123819200&en=b933c30af5d19a23&ei=5094&partner=homepage

oh shit. :(

it all comes down to the oil

sunnis will do their best to fuck shit up cuse the shias have the oil regions

long time since those purple thumbs were the feel good story of the yr

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