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by Mohammed A. Salih

The Failed State of Iraq

(IPS) ARBIL -- Major differences continue to divide Shias, Sunnis and Kurds in their move to form a national unity government. Thorny issues are being dealt with simply by putting them aside.

About the thorniest of them are federalism and Kirkuk. Many leaders fear these issues could break the fragile togetherness any time.

With the new cabinet due to be announced soon, Kurds are warning against any move to end federalism or to declare Kirkuk a part of Iraq, and not of Kurdistan.

Oil-rich Kirkuk falls just outside the Kurdistan area. Kurdish leaders want it declared a part of Kurdistan within a federal structure that would give Kurdistan a large measure of autonomy. The Kirkuk issue is controversial because Kirkuk also has a large non-Kurd population. Many of them are Arabs moved there by the Saddam regime.

"Federalism has become a reality on the ground and cannot be changed," Firyad Rawandizy, Kurdish member of the Iraqi parliament told IPS.

Rawandizy's remarks came after leading Sunni Arab parliamentarian Zafer al-Ani said his main Sunni list of the Iraqi Accordance Front will seek changes to the constitution. These changes, he said, would seek to reduce the powers of the regions and prevent the creation of new autonomous entities.

"No one can change the key and fundamental issues in the constitution, and we will certainly confront any attempts to reduce our (Kurds') rights in that document," said Rawandizy. He said some Sunni Arab politicians were trying to restore Iraq's centralist ruling system.

Sunnis, who largely rejected the constitution in last October's referendum, believe it only paves the way for the eventual break-up of the country through vast powers devolved to the regions.

Control of oil is among the most contested issues. Sunnis want to stop Kurds and Shias digging for oil in their regions, saying that this must be within the central government's jurisdiction. Since the approval of the constitution, Kurds have launched two oil-drilling projects in the northern areas under their rule.

Disputes are intensifying now over control of Kirkuk with its large oil reserves. The Kurdistan government has demanded that the new prime minister take serious steps to resolve the fate of the ethnically mixed city.

"However, if he doesn't do so, we in the Kurdish list will take decisions so as not to allow letting go of Kirkuk," Rawandizy said.

The confrontation is growing amidst rising violence around the country since the February blasts at the Shia holy shrine in the predominantly Sunni city of Samarra, north of Baghdad. That incident sparked sectarian revenge on both sides, leading to the death of more than 700 civilians, according to some estimates.

This violence is leading to demands for a disbanding of the factional militias to end the current mayhem, and to give a new government a chance to govern.

"The unauthorized military formations are the infrastructure for civil war... and represent a serious threat to the stability of the country," U.S. ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters at a joint press conference with Kurdish leaders Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani in Arbil.

Iraq's leaders blame neighboring countries for provoking violence inside Iraq. They are warning of possible retaliatory measures against such interference.

"The neighbors can create problems for us and we can do the same to them, if things do reach this point. We do not want them to reach the point where we create problems for each other," President Jalal Talabani told the pan-Arab daily al-Sharq al-awsat this week.

A new government will face serious challenges both within and in its neighborhood. If these problems are not tackled quickly, it "could bring Iraq on the verge of real danger," Rawandizy said.

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Albion Monitor   May 20, 2006   (

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