[JURIST] Iraq's National Assembly [official website] on Tuesday again postponed debate on a draft federalism bill [JURIST report] that would allow Iraq's 18 provinces to form strong governments with their own security forces. Parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani said Tuesday that the bill, supported by Kurdish and Shiite politicians and opposed by most Sunnis, would be debated at a later date. Tuesday's parliamentary session was delayed for two hours due to a lack of quorum, and legislative sources told the Iraqi VOI news agency that the decision not to proceed with debate on the federalism bill was the result of a joint decision by the main political parties [VOI report]. Debate on the measure has already been delayed twice [JURIST report], the first time due to Sunni opposition [JURIST report] to the proposal. Sunnis oppose the plan because it would leave them without access to Iraq's oil as most Sunnis live in the central and western provinces of the country where oil resources are limited. Earlier this month, lawmakers agreed upon an October 22 deadline for the Iraq parliament to define the rights and responsibilities of the provinces vis-a-vis the federal government. Some lawmakers are of the opinion that the constitution [JURIST news archive] should be amended before parliament discusses the possibility of relatively autonomous Iraqi provinces. The national charter approved last year generally enshrines the principle of federalism but intentionally left the details open to later legislative negotiation.
The decision to delay debate on the federalism bill comes one day after UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned [remarks; BBC report] of a "grave danger" that the country will succumb to a "full-scale civil war." Also Monday, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul expressed concern [AP report] that if Iraq adopted a federal system, the creation of autonomous Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish regions would lead to a break-up of Iraq and further instability in the Middle East. Reuters has more.