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Iraqis Reach Temporary Compromise on Federalism

Iraq’s Shi’a, Sunni and Kurdish parties agreed on the formation of a committee to propose constitutional changes as a prerequisite to the establishment of a system of federal governance by region. As we discussed in a recent report (“Federalism Delayed Amid Sunni, Sadrist Opposition”), Sunni opponents of the autonomy plan argue that Article 142 of the Iraqi constitution provides that amendments to the constitution must be considered prior to the establishment of autonomous regions. The leader of the largest Sunni bloc as already declared that the committee’s proposals are nonbinding, and that he would not accept an autonomy plan that might endanger Iraq’s unity. Arguments also broke out between Sunni and Kurdish parliamentarians. Separately, British forces killed an important al-Qaeda leader in Basra, while local governments stepped up security measures in advance of Ramadan.

As reported in the Iraqi newspaper Al-Rafidayn, all major Iraqi factions agreed on the formation of a 24-member committee to study changes to the constitution and make proposals, especially as related to the issue of establishing a federal system of government. Of the 24, 12 were to come from the dominant Shi’a coalition, the ruling United Iraqi Alliance, five were to come from the Kurdish Coalition, and four from the Iraqi Accord Front, the largest Sunni coalition, with one member each coming from smaller parties which supported the proposal. Only the Iraqi National Dialogue Front, a Sunni party, refused to participate, and withdrew from parliament during the discussion. The NDF holds only four percent of the parliament’s seats, so its withdrawal does not itself undermine the process.

It is questionable how final the resulting proposals would be, as Adnan Dulaimi, the leader of the Iraqi Accord Front, was quoted in Al-Hayat as stating flatly that any proposals coming out of the committee were not binding on those parties, such as his, which had agreed to, and participated in, its establishment. Furthermore, the chairman of Regions Committee, Zafir al-Ani, also a member of Dulaimi’s Accord Front, resigned in protest, saying that he thought that the effort would lead to the division of Iraq and that he would not be associated with it. The agreement on a constitutional committee seems to have been accepted by many as a way to put the issue off rather than resolve it. Al-Hayat did quote Ani as saying that the Accord Front would “get into the details” of any proposal to make sure that it was not a threat to the country’s unity, suggesting a possible opening to compromise if the proposal were to be set properly. For his part, Abd al-Karim al-Anzi, a member of the Shi’a UIA, said that participating in the committee obligated a party to not withdraw from parliament over the issue and accept the final vote, although of course each party was free to vote against it.

Aside from the debate between the largest Shi’a and Sunni parties over the desirability of the federal autonomy plan, the most heated element in the debate was a charge by a member of Iyad Allawi’s National Iraqi List, Usama al-Najaifi, that Kurdish militias were engaging in ethnic cleansing in Mosul, attempting to change the demographics of the city, which is the capital of the Ninawa Province in northern Iraq. Kurdish members rejected the charge and demanded an apology, and the List’s parliamentary leader, Hamid Najid Musa, apologized saying that the Najaifi did not represent the party, and that the accusations were wrong.

There was a separate flare up, reported in Al-Hayat, which arose when Muhammad al-Dayni, leader of the National Dialogue Front, argued against the federalism plan by saying that the Kurdish provincial constitution made no mention of Iraq whatsoever. But Fu’ad Masum, a Kurdish parliamentarian, argued that the document to which Dayni referred was a draft of the provincial constitution which was being revised. Masum stated that the Kurdish constitution would recognize the federal Iraqi constitution as supreme.

In other news from the south of Iraq, British troops killed Umar al-Faruq, an al-Qaeda leader for southeast Asia, in a predawn raid on Monday. Aside from Faruq’a own operational importance, the killing was significant because Faruq had been previously captured and had then escaped from a coalition-run prison in Afghanistan last year.

Also from southern Iraq, Al-Rafidayn reports on special security arrangements taken by Iraqi police in the Province of Maysan in southeast Iraq. The article reports that the plan involves an increase in police patrols, extra security for high-rise buildings and areas in which families would congregate, and strengthening of checkpoints. During the Shi’a religious festival of Musa in August, commemorations went mostly well but at one location enemy snipers were able to kill 20 pilgrims, so security services will be watching for that threat. Ramadan is a Muslim holy month involving daily fasting and festive gatherings by night.

Updates on security-related developments in Baghdad and elsewhere in central Iraq are to come.