Iraqi lawmakers clash over autonomy law

Iraqi lawmakers clash over autonomy law
September 26th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Iraqi lawmakers clash over autonomy law

Iraqi lawmakers clash over autonomy law
Media: AFP
Byline: N/A
Date: 26 September 2006

BAGHDAD, Sept 26, 2006 (AFP) - Iraqi lawmakers met in a rowdy parliamentary
session on Tuesday to debate a draft law which could set in process the
division of their war-torn country into rival autonomous regions.

Kurdish and Shiite deputies tabled bills which would allow Iraqi provinces
to merge and form federal regions, provoking protests from a Sunni minority
that fears this could lead to the eventual break-up of the country.

The presentation of the more radical Kurdish version of the draft triggered
howls of anger from Sunni members, forcing speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani to
hammer furiously on the table with his gavel and demand silence.

"It is only a draft. Once debated it could be a law," he said. "One cannot
impose one's opinion on others under the dome of the parliament. You can go
on satellite television if you want to shout."

Lawmakers rejected the Kurdish version of the law, but completed a first
reading of a separate draft prepared by the majority Shiite parties.

The debate remained rowdy, however, and journalists were eventually ejected
from the chamber and live television coverage was suspended.

On Sunday parliament is expected to hold a second reading of the bill which
could be voted on by the end of next week, although the parties have already
agreed that it would not come into effect until 18 months after that.

In the meantime, lawmakers opposed to federalism hope to defeat it through
an amendment to Iraq's year-old constitution, but thus far an alliance of
Kurds and most Shiite parties appears to wield a clear pro-autonomy

If passed, the law would enable the leadership of Iraq's 18 provinces to
hold popular referendums to decide on whether to merge with neighbouring
areas to form super-regions with broad powers of self-rule.

This would consolidate the de facto autonomy of the northern Kurdish region,
which has its own parliament and has ruled itself for more than a decade,
and allow the Shiite provinces south of Baghdad to form their own breakaway

Shiite and Kurdish leaders see federalism as a protection against a return
to the persecution that characterised the centralised rule of ousted
dictator Saddam Hussein, who promoted the interests of his Sunni minority.

But many Sunnis fear regional autonomy would see Iraq's rich oil fields and
most fertile land falling under the control of their historic rivals and
leave Sunnis marooned in the arid wastes of the centre and west of the

Since March 2003, when a US-led invasion toppled Saddam, Iraq has fallen
into a bitter sectarian and ethnic conflict, as rival factions battle for
supremacy in the post-war power vacuum.

Iraqi and UN officials estimate that bomb attacks and the campaigns by
sectarian death squads kill more than 100 people per day, despite a massive
security operation and the presence of more than 141,000 US troops.

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