Iraqi Parliament Passes Federalism Bill
By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA
The Associated Press
Wednesday, October 11, 2006; 11:47 AM
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The Shiite-dominated parliament Wednesday passed a law allowing the formation of federal regions in Iraq, despite opposition from Sunni lawmakers and some Shiites who say it will dismember the country and fuel sectarian violence.
The Sunni coalition in parliament and two Shiite parties tried to prevent a vote on a bill by boycotting Wednesday's session to keep the 275-seat body from reaching the necessary 50 percent quorum.
But the quorum was reached with 140 lawmakers, who voted on each of the bill's some 200 articles individually, passing them all unanimously.
The law includes a provision that regions cannot be formed for another 18 months, a concession to Sunni concerns.
The federalism law sets up a system for 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.
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 deeply oppose the federalism measures, fearing it will divide 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.
Critics also have warned that moves for federalism could fuel Shiite-Sunni violence.
"This is the beginning of the plan to divide Iraq," said Adnan al-Dulaimi, leader of the Sunni National Accordance Front, which boycotted the vote along with al-Sadr's party and the Shiite Fadila party.
"We had hoped that the problems of sectarian violence be resolved. We hope there won't be an increase in violence," al-Dulaimi said.
The head of the Shiite coalition that dominates parliament, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, praised passage of the bill and denounced Sunni opposition to federalism.
He said the law would be a "factor of unity in the face of the enemies of Iraq _ Baathists, Saddamists, criminals and Takfiris (Islamic radicals) .... who rejected federalism, just like before, when they rejected the constitution." Sunni Arabs largely voted against the constitution passed in 2005 because it outlined the federal system.
The law outlines a process for forming regions, requiring any province considering joining a region to hold a referendum, if a third of the provincial legislators request it.
In September, the Sunni parties agreed to allow the bill to be presented to parliament for a vote after reaching a deal with Shiite lawmakers that the law would not come into effect for 18 months and that a committee would be formed to consider constitutional changes sought by the Sunnis.
Still, the Sunnis tried to prevent the vote Wednesday, and Shiite parties accused them of breaking the agreement. During the voting, some lawmakers demanded that the provision putting off regions for 18 months be removed from the law to allow their formation immediately.
But in the end, the 18-month delay was grudgingly passed.
"We do not want to betray the agreement like (the Sunnis) did," Hadi al-Amiri, from the Shiite Badr Organization party, argued before the lawmakers.
Al-Hakim said the Shiite parties were ready to create two regions from the nine mainly Shiite provinces of southern Iraq.