Iraq Shiites use festival to call for regional autonomy

Iraq Shiites use festival to call for regional autonomy
September 9th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Iraq Shiites use festival to call for regional autonomy

Iraq Shiites use festival to call for regional autonomy
Media: AFP
Byline:Abdelamir Hanun
Date: 9 Sept 2006


KARBALA, Iraq, Sept 9, 2006 (AFP) - Pilgrims left the Shiite holy city of
Karbala Saturday after the peaceful end of a major festival where their
leaders reaffirmed controversial calls for an autonomous region like that of
the Kurds in northern Iraq.

Prominent Shiite leader Abdel Aziz al-Hakim used the celebration of the
birth of the Mahdi, a 9th century Shiite imam, to renew his call for an
autonomous Shiite region in central and southern Iraq -- something the
nation's once dominant Sunni Arab minority fears.

"Federalism will lead to stability and security in Iraq," Hakim told
worshippers during the main weekly prayers in Karbala Friday.

"Look at the example of federalism in Kurdistan, it is evidence of the
success of this system."

Hakim leads the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, one of
the most powerful parties in the ruling coalition.

"We support it strongly because it would keep dictatorship from happening
again -- all are entitled to enjoy federalism," he said.

Sunni Arabs fear that they will lose out if the Shiites are allowed broad
autonomy in the oil-rich south and the Kurds are allowed to extend their
existing autonomous region to incorporate the northern oilfields around

The issue is to be debated in parliament on Sunday with the first reading of
a draft law presented by the main Shiite bloc.

Sunnis have called for the debate to be delayed while they press their own
demands for amendments to the constitution.

Shiite politicians insist a fully federal system will not lead to Iraq
breaking up, but rather take some of the heat out of a bitter sectarian
conflict which has pushed the country to the brink of civil war.

The sensitivity of the issue was underlined by the government's decision
Thursday to ban the Arab satellite news channel Al-Arabiya for one month, in
part due to its coverage of the debate.

In Karbala, south of the capital, officials oversaw the departure of the
tens of thousands of pilgrims, providing scores of trucks to transport them
back to homes around the country, Governor Aqil al-Khazali said.

He added that the heavy security measures that ensured a peaceful conclusion
to the ceremony would remain in place for now.

In contrast to the relative peace further south, Baghdad saw a string of
bomb attacks on Saturday that claimed four lives, including two bystanders
killed in an early morning attack on a US patrol in the center of the city.

A car bomber also attempted to ram his vehicle into a police station in
Waziriyah, killing one policemen and wounding dozens.

A technician with the state-owned Sabah newspaper was shot dead on his way
to work in the capital.

Three US soldiers were wounded in a bomb attack in east Baghdad's Jadida

In the northern oil city of Kirkuk, twin blasts killed four people and
wounded 16.

The bombers detonated the second device as a police patrol arrived on the
scene of the first blast, killing one officer and wounding two, said
Lieutenant Colonel Akram Abdullah of Kirkuk police.

In ousted president Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, one civilian was
shot dead, police said.

South of Baghdad, authorities discovered the bodies of five people who had
been shot dead, four of them in the town of Suwayrah, which has become a
common dumping ground for victims of sectarian killings.

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