Sectarian and ethnic affiliation is emerging as the primary criterion for power-sharing in US-occupied Iraq, Omayma Abdel-Latif reports
Kurdish attempts to push for a federal solution which would give the Kurdish self-rule areas -- commonly known as Iraq's Kurdistan -- broader powers during the transitional period has been met with resistance from Iraqis across the political and religious spectrum.
Iraqi religious figures, both Sunni and Shi'ite, have rejected any attempts to divide the country into what they described as "federal entities". "We all belong to one country," Muqtada Al-Sadr, leader of the immensely popular Al-Sadr movement, told his followers during Friday prayers. "The north cannot be separated from the south because we are all Iraqis, the Arab is an Iraqi and the Kurd is an Iraqi," he said.
Other Sunni figures echoed the same message of opposition to any such plans. These comments came in the wake of a draft proposal titled "transitional law", which was submitted by the five Kurdish members of the US-appointed Iraqi Interim Governing Council (IGC). The proposal stated that the Kurdish self- rule areas should be made up of the four governorates of Irbil, Kirkuk, Dahouk and Sulymania, as well as the Kurdish areas in the Dyala governorate like Khaneqeen and Mendali, as well as the cities of Shaykhan, Sengar and Mekhemour in Mosul.
The draft proposal caused a stir among Iraqi political groups and IGC members. This week, the IGC appointed a ten-member subcommittee headed by Adnan Bachachi, the present chairman of the IGC, to discuss the draft proposal which pushes for more taxation powers and control over oil revenues. One IGC member told Al- Ahram Weekly on Tuesday that the council was struggling to reach a compromise with the primary aim of preserving the territorial integrity of Iraq.
In an attempt to diffuse the tension caused by the Kurdish request, Bachachi told reporters on Tuesday that the relationship between the Kurdish areas and the central government in Baghdad will be shaped and defined by Iraq's future constitution. "In principle, we have accepted the federalist principle, but the details have to be discussed and clarified during the writing of the Iraqi constitution which will be done by an elected body," Bachachi said.
Echoing the same view, US officials, according to the London- based Al-Hayat newspaper, stated that Washington wants to keep the status quo in Kurdistan until the transfer of power to an Iraqi government at the end of June 2004.
The Kurdish move coincided with the rise of ethnically-motivated tension in the city of Kirkuk between Kurdish groups and Arab and Turkman residents. In one incident this week, three people were killed and 31 injured during a demonstration. One protester explained that the confrontation took place when Kurdish peshmergas opened fire on Arab and Turkman protesters because they chanted anti-Kurdish slogans. Representatives of the Turkman and Arab residents in the city have called on the local officials to open an investigation into the incident.
Political analysts argue that while it would be difficult to ignore the political structures which have existed in the Kurdish areas since 1991, after the end of the Gulf War, any decision regarding the issue of the federalist system should be made by an elected government. Otherwise, the Kurdish move will more likely exacerbate tensions and potentially force sectarian affiliation to be the ultimate criteria for power sharing in the new Iraq.
"All the signs indicate that there is a strong trend which pushes Iraqis to organise and act politically along sectarian and ethnic lines," argued one observer. This argument was lent credence this week when Iraq's Sunnis, in a move to counter attempts to marginalise them from the on-going political process, formed the Council of Shura (consultation) for the Sunnis (Majlis Shura Ahal Al-Sunna Wa Al-Jama'a).
The council was formed last month and is made up of representatives from the various Islamist Sunni movements in Iraq. The council was the target of a US-led military operation this week when US forces raided the mosque of Ibn Taymyia in central Baghdad in search for weapons and Iraqi resistance elements. The raid took place during a meeting of the council members inside the mosque. The primary goal of the council, according to Mohamed Ahmed Al- Rashed, the group's spokesman, is to engage the Sunnis in the political process and try to achieve maximum political leverage.
In statements to the Arabic TV channel Al-Jazeera, Al-Rashed described the US-led raid on the mosque as sending a message to intimidate the council members and force them to disengage from any political activities. He explained that the Shura Council is an extension of the Sunni religious parties which are represented in the IGC through the Iraqi Islamist Party headed by Dr Mohsen Abdel-Hamid. Al-Rashid pointed out that the Council would agree to open a dialogue with "the Americans". He disclosed that there are already mediation efforts being carried out by Dr Adnan Al-Delimi, the head of the Iraqi Sunni Waqf (endowment) to press on the occupation administration to release more than seventy imams who have been detained without any specific charges.
Another Shura Council member insisted that the primary goal of such a body was not to exacerbate sectarianism and ethnic divisions, but aims to keep Iraq united and respect the rights of all its ethnic and religious groups.