Monday, September 25, 2006

Iraqi Parties Reach Deal Postponing Federalism

By Amit R. Paley, Washington Post Staff Writer
Washington Post
September 25, 2006

BAGHDAD, Sept. 24 -- Iraq's fractious political parties reached a deal Sunday meant to prevent the country from splintering into a federation of three autonomous zones until at least 2008.

The agreement forestalled concerns that the debate over federalism, a vague concept enshrined in the constitution but defined differently by various political groups, could cause the country's fragile multi-sect government to collapse.

Sunni Arabs had threatened to boycott parliament over a proposal, introduced by a Shiite Muslim group this month, to create a mechanism that could carve out a predominantly Shiite region in southern Iraq, similar to the semiautonomous Kurdish zone in the north. Sunnis adamantly oppose that plan, which would leave them with a central area devoid of the oil reserves in other regions, and have pushed for a full review of the country's new constitution.

Under the compromise reached Sunday, parliament will form a 27-member committee on Monday to review the constitution and then introduce the Shiite measure on creating federal regions the following day, lawmakers said.

The federalism law would not take effect for at least 18 months after it is enacted, the parliament members said.

The deal appears to have forestalled for now a political crisis over federalism, but lawmakers emphasized that the issue remains unresolved.

"We still need a miracle to save the country," said Dhafer al-Ani, a spokesman for the Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni bloc in parliament. "The process of sectarian cleansing is still going on, and the violence is not waning, and this may serve those proponents of federalism who want to make the people believe that living together in a unified country is not possible."

The measure is backed by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a powerful Shiite political party. But lawmakers from several other parties -- including the Iraqi Accordance Front, secular parties and the bloc of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr -- said they would vote against it.

Still, Humam Hamoudi, a lawmaker from Hakim's party, said he was confident the measure would pass by Oct. 22, the constitutionally mandated deadline for establishing a mechanism to create federal regions. He said votes from the Kurdish bloc and the Supreme Council would provide the simple majority needed to approve the law.

The Sunnis are lobbying to have a member of their sect named chairman of the constitutional review committee, which they hope will propose major revisions to the constitution. The charter, approved by voters last fall, was supported only reluctantly by the Sunnis on the condition that the federalism issue would be reexamined.

"The main issue is the union of Iraq -- that Iraq stays as one Iraq -- and this should lead to articles in the constitution that properly reflect that on the subject of finances, natural resources, oil, the army, police formation and language," said Alaa Makki, a leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, which is part of the Iraqi Accordance Front, when asked what the Sunnis hoped to change in the charter.

In other developments, Saddam Hussein's chief lawyer said Sunday that the former president's defense team would boycott his genocide trial "indefinitely."

"The court committed several violations of the law, and we will not just sit there gagged to give it legitimacy," said Khalil al-Dulaimi, the head of Hussein's nine-member defense team, according to the Associated Press.

The attorneys walked out of court Wednesday to protest a government attempt to remove the tribunal's chief judge, a move condemned by human rights groups and international legal experts.

Violence continued to rage across the country Sunday. At least 14 people were killed in attacks, including two car bombings that targeted Iraqi security forces, police said.

The U.S. military also announced that two Marines assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5 were killed Sunday in combat in volatile Anbar province.

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