Sunni accuse Shiites of dirty tricks in passing controversial federalism law

Sunni accuse Shiites of dirty tricks in passing controversial federalism law
October 13th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Sunni accuse Shiites of dirty tricks in passing controversial federalism law

Sunni accuse Shiites of dirty tricks in passing controversial federalism law
Media: The Associated Press
Date: 12 October 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq_Sunni politicians accused Shiite lawmakers Thursday of using
dirty tricks to push through a new law on federalism, a landmark measure
that will transform Iraq by allowing Shiites to form a self-rule mini-state
in the south.

The dispute reflects the deep controversy over federalism, which top leaders
of Iraq's majority Shiites support but which Sunnis deeply oppose, fearing
it will tear the country to pieces and further fuel sectarian violence.

The passage of the bill has deepened feelings among some Sunni Arabs that
their voices are being ignored in the political process, where Shiite
parties dominate the government and parliament.

The vote on the law Wednesday was marred by a boycott by the Sunni bloc of
lawmakers, along with several Shiite parties, who also reject some specifics
of the bill.

The boycott delayed the vote for several hours as supporters tried to
convince the boycotters to attend and scrambled to make quorum _ 138 of the
275 lawmakers. The session was closed to the public, and after repeated
counts it was announced that 140 lawmakers were in attendance. The measure
was passed unanimously by a show of hands, with no count of the vote.

One of the main Sunni parties, however, accused the Shiites of fudging the
numbers, saying quorum had not been reached.

"The session was confused and turbulent. They claimed they met the quorum
but they did not. There were no more than 126 lawmakers," said Mohammed
al-Daimi, spokesman for the National Dialogue Council.

"We will raise an appeal against the process and seek an investigation into
the vote," al-Daimi said.

The federalism law sets up a system allowing provinces to join together into
autonomous regions that would hold considerable self-rule powers, a right
given to them under the constitution adopted last year in a national
referendum _ despite opposition to the charter among the vast majority of

Some Shiites want to create an autonomous zone in their heartland in the
south, much like the self-ruling Kurdish region in northern Iraq.

But Sunni Arabs fear it will split Iraq into sectarian mini-states, giving
Shiite and Kurds control over oil riches in the south and north, and leaving
Sunnis in an impoverished central zone without resources.

Some Shiite parties _ including the faction of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada
al-Sadr _ also oppose the measures for nationalist reasons or because they
worry that the largest Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic
Revolution in Iraq will gain on a lock on power in any southern mini-state.

The law included a provision that no regions can be formed for 18 months, a
concession to Sunni concerns. But critics fear that any steps toward
federalism now could wreck Sunnis' faith in the political process and push
them toward violence, if they feel that is the only way to stop what they
see as the dismemberment of Iraq.

"This resolution is a catastrophe for Iraq ... (It) will push Iraqis to kill
each other instead of reconciling with each other," said the Dialogue
Front's leader Saleh al-Mutlaq.

"There will be disputes over resources, wealth and borders between
provinces," he said.

The number of lawmakers who attended Tuesday's session could not be
independently confirmed, and doing so is made more difficult since
parliament has sometimes cut corners in procedure. When the voting took
place Tuesday, all hands were raised in favor, so they were not counted.

The headcount for quorum is done by parliament employees _ each one counts a
bloc, to which they are often sympathetic. Employees gave the Associated
Press differing accounts: Shiite ones said 140 lawmakers were present, while
Sunni ones said only 133. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they
were not authorized to speak to the press.

The boycotting parties _ including the Shiite Sadr Movement and Fadila party
_ hold 98 seats. The parties supporting the measure _ the remaining Shiite
parties, the Kurds and the secular Iraqi List _ have 170 seats. But many
were absent and some Iraqi List members joined the boycott.

During the session, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani _ the parliament president, a
Sunni Arab belonging to one of the boycotting parties _ announced that
quorum had been reached and called for a vote. He then left the chambers to
join the walkout, handing over his duties to his Shiite deputy, Khaled

Al-Mashhadani's spokesman, Muhannad Jabbar, said he had relied on the
parliament employees who do the counting.

Selim Abdullah, a lawmaker from the Sunni National Accordance Front, said
the Sunni bloc would seek to confirm how many lawmakers signed in at the
start of the session. But he said some lawmakers may have signed more than
one name.

Whatever the outcome, the wrangling underlined Iraq's deep sectarian
bitterness, with both sides demonizing the other _ sharpened by three years
of violence by the Sunni insurgency and the brutal wave of killings this
year blamed on Shiite and Sunni death squads.

Triumphant with the bill's passage, the Shiite SCIRI leader Abdul-Aziz
al-Hakim dismissed Sunni opponents of federalism as "Saddamists, Baathists
and Takfiris (Islamic radicals)."

Al-Mutlaq, of the Sunni Dialogue Front, meanwhile, said the votes of the
Shiite lawmakers shouldn't be counted anyway, suggesting they were really
loyal only to mainly Shiite Iran.

"They hold Persian citizenship ... and so don't have legitimacy to be
parliament members according to Iraqi constitution," he said.

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