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Iraq parliament approves federalism bill despite Sunni boycott

[JURIST] The Iraqi National Assembly [official website] Wednesday approved a measure [JURIST report] that outlines how federalism could be implemented to divide Iraq into separate regions. The law is backed by Shiite majority leaders, but opposed [JURIST report] by Sunnis who fear that splitting areas of Iraq [JURIST news archive] would cause a civil war by increasing the sectarian and ethnic violence already troubling the country. The law was passed in a session of parliament which was boycotted by the Sunni-led Iraqi Accordance Front (IAF) [Wikipedia backgrounder] political party. Shiite parties were not united in the push for federalism, however, as the Fadhila Party [Wikipedia backgrounder] and supporters of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr [BBC profile] also refrained from voting.

Leaders from both the Shiite and Sunni factions agreed last month to delay any implementation of federalism until 2008. Under the law, for a province to become an autonomous region, one-third of provincial legislators must request the shift and the move would have to be approved by a popular referendum in the province. Members of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) [party website], the largest Shiite political party, have proposed merging 18 Iraqi provinces into one massive area [JURIST report], but Sunnis fear the Shiites will use federalism to grant the areas ripe with oilfields to ethnic Kurds and Shiites, leaving only the poor, desert areas to the Sunnis. Sunnis are pushing for amendments [JURIST report] to the Iraqi constitution [JURIST news archive] which would mandate the equal sharing of oil revenues on that land. Reuters has more. The Daily Star has additional coverage.

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