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Shi'ites call for Basra to be mini-state

AP

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November 15, 2008

Two Shi'ite lawmakers have called for a referendum on turning the oil-rich province of Basra in southern Iraq into a mini-state.

The push signals a renewed effort by Shi'ites to grant regions self-rule in what would be a federalist system of government.

Sunnis oppose the idea, fearing it could lead to the country's eventual break up or isolate them from oil wealth concentrated in mainly Shi'ite and Kurdish areas.

Sheik Kheir-Allah al-Basri, a Shi'ite lawmaker from a small secular party, sought to ease such fears on Saturday, arguing that the push for autonomy is not a "secessionist motion".

Wail Abdul-Latif, another secular lawmaker from Basra, argued that granting regions more power would give Iraq's political process "more chances for stability."

He added that they have collected some 35,000 signatures from supporters in the region to press the electoral commission to hold a referendum on an autonomous region.

The idea of creating a federalist system in Iraq is expected to play a prominent role in the country's provincial elections, which are to be held before January 31, and the three largest Shi'ite parties have used the issue in their fight to win supporters ahead of the vote.

The largest bloc - the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council - strongly backs the creation of a nine-province autonomous region.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa Party and the movement headed by radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr both oppose the proposal, arguing it poses a threat to national unity.

The region of Kurdistan in northern Iraq already enjoys self-rule.

ę 2008 AP





:: Article nr. 48789 sent on 16-nov-2008 03:22 ECT

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Link: news.theage.com.au/world/shiites-call-for-basra-to-be-ministate-20081116-67st.ht
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