Sunday, January 18, 2009
Iran’s Surrogates Want Self Rule in Southern Iraq
The radical Shiites will remain the biggest threat to a unified and democratic Iraq. The ultimate goal is a Shiite theocracy like Iran and the Iranians will do everything they can do help make this happen. (Above photo is the most powerful Shiite cleric in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani.)
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Arizona Republic (Phoenix)
January 17, 2009
Shiite Council Seeking Self-Rule In South Iraq
By Hamza Hendawi and Qassim Abdul-Zahra, Associated Press
NAJAF, Iraq - The country's biggest Shiite party is hoping for a big win in elections across the oil-rich south to jump-start its campaign for a self-ruled region - a move that would transform Iraq and, critics say, give Iran its biggest prize since the ouster of Saddam Hussein.
To reach that goal, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council needs to win control of Najaf - which it wants as a future capital of an autonomous southern Iraq - when voters across the country choose members of ruling provincial councils Jan. 31.
But the Supreme Council faces strong opposition from other Shiite groups, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa party and followers of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Those groups fear regional self-rule, modeled after the Kurdish autonomous area in the north, would weaken Iraq, open the door to expanded Iranian influence and threaten the existence of the Iraqi state.
On Friday, a Shiite candidate for provincial elections was assassinated while campaigning south of Baghdad, underscoring fears that political rivalries will lead to a spike in violence ahead of voting. The slain candidate, Hashim al-Husseini, was a member of the Dawa Party and was running on the party's State of Law list for a seat on the Babil provincial council.
In Najaf, Zoheir al-Hakim, a senior Supreme Council official, predicted a comfortable win in this urban center of Shiite learning about 100 miles south of Baghdad.
"Creating a region in the south is our right by law and under the constitution," Hakim said. "Our loyal masses will take on anyone who tries to take this right away from us."
The council's campaign posters outnumber the competition in Najaf, dominating every available space in the heart of the city. The party has a hometown advantage: Najaf is home to the Hakims, a prominent family that has produced generations of top clerics and scholars and founders of the Supreme Council.
Even so, the large number of candidates, about 1,100 running for 28 seats, makes it difficult for any single party to take power alone.
Hakim and other Supreme Council officials say they will take concrete steps toward creating a self-ruled region after the election but that the timing would depend on how well they do in the balloting.
To transform a province to self-rule, one-third of the members of a provincial council must call for a referendum that requires the support of a simple majority of the voters.
The law also provides a second, more cumbersome method involving collecting two sets of signatures of voters in support of self-rule. Once enough signatures are collected, the paperwork goes to the prime minister who has two weeks to forward the proposal to the election commission, which in turn must schedule a referendum within three months.
Under the constitution, self-ruled regions enjoy significant powers. They can write their own constitutions, amend federal laws that conflict with local ones, open representative offices abroad and assume responsibility for internal security. The Supreme Council hopes to establish a self-ruled region encompassing all nine provinces south of Baghdad, but officials say they would settle for less if they don't win everywhere.
Nevertheless, Najaf is a must-win, largely because of its prestige among the world's Shiite Muslims.
The city includes the most venerated Shiite shrine: the tomb of Imam Ali, a cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad and the founding saint of the Shiite faith. The shrine and the Shiite seminaries draw pilgrims and students from throughout the Shiite world. It's also the home of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most powerful Shiite cleric and a close ally of the Supreme Council.
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America made its share of mistakes during our efforts in Iraq. One of them was not better understanding Islam's Sunni versus Shiite split.
Charles M. Grist