Iraqi Parliamentary Groups Agree To Debate Creation of Federal Regions

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BAGHDAD, Iraq — Iraq’s fractious ethnic and religious parliamentary groups agreed yesterday to open debate on a contentious Shiite-proposed draft legislation that will allow the creation of federal regions in Iraq, politicians said.

The agreement came after a compromise was reached with Sunni Arabs on setting up a parliamentary committee to amend Iraq’s constitution, a key demand by the minority.

The committee will be set up today, and the federalism bill will be read to the body tomorrow, Sunni and Shiite politicians said.

The deal opens the way for Iraq’s Shiites, Sunni Arabs, and Kurds to move ahead politically and break a two-week political deadlock that threatened to sour relations further between the communities. If left unresolved, some feared that the deadlock could have further shaken Iraq’s fragile democracy and led to more sectarian violence.

The federalism bill calls for setting up a system to allow the creation of autonomous regions in the predominantly Shiite south, much like the self-ruling Kurdish region in northern Iraq. Sunni Arabs have said they fear the legislation will split Iraq apart and fuel sectarian bloodshed. The Kurdish north and Shiite south hold Iraq’s oil fields, while the predominantly Sunni Arab areas are mostly desert.

Sunni Arabs say that, before the bill can be passed, parliament must make headway to amend the constitution — a key demand that they made when they agreed to join Prime Minister al-Maliki’s government. Mr. Maliki is a Shiite.

One of the amendments that they seek would weaken the ability to set up self-ruling cantons.

It will take about a year to amend the constitution, and the legislation, even if approved, will take 18 months to be implemented, legislators said.

A representative from the largest Shiite coalition in the 275-member parliament, the United Iraqi Alliance, said a committee of 27 legislators will be formed to begin the process of amending the constitution and that the draft federalism bill would be read out tomorrow.

“That was our agreement,” an Alliance deputy, Hassan al-Shammari, told the Associated Press.

The head of the largest Sunni Arab group, the Iraqi Accordance Front, Adnan al-Dulaimi, confirmed the timeline.


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