Iraq: autonomy on hold

From the LA Times, Sept. 25:

BAGHDAD – Iraq’s sectarian leaders stepped back from a simmering constitutional crisis yesterday, agreeing to wait at least 18 months before setting up autonomous regions that would shift power away from the central government.

During the cooling-off period, parliament will consider amendments to the constitution, providing a public forum for the divisive issue of autonomy.

he deal allows lawmakers to avoid a looming constitutional deadline that threatened to exacerbate the sectarian violence ravaging the country.

The breakthrough occurred the same day that a gruesome videotape of two dead American soldiers being mutilated was broadcast on Iraqi television.

The video, an expanded version of a clip that aired during the summer, purported to show the two soldiers killed in June in an area south of Baghdad.

The Mujahedeen Shura Council, a group linked to al-Qaida in Iraq, claimed responsibility for that attack, which was widely reported at the time. It said the deaths were in retaliation for a March raid in which U.S. soldiers allegedly raped an Iraqi girl and killed her and members of her family.

Though Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki yesterday appealed for an end to the violence a day before the official start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, bombings and assassinations claimed dozens more lives.

The military reported the deaths of two U.S. Marines in al-Anbar province yesterday, but did not release their names.

Two Iraqi police officers were killed and several officers and civilians were injured in a blast in the Rusafa neighborhood of east Baghdad. A second bomb targeting police in Elwiya killed a civilian.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Ali Shimmeri escaped an assassination attempt when a roadside bomb detonated as his motorcade passed in south Baghdad. There were no casualties.

The constitutional compromise leaves intact the goal of southern Shia Muslims and northern Kurds to create a federal system that would strengthen their hold on the vast oil resources of their two regions.

Sunni Arabs, who dominate in the resource-poor central and western provinces, would have time to seek constitutional changes to limit the impact of autonomy.

“I feel this agreement has ended a political crisis,” said Dhafir Ani of the minority Sunni bloc that opposed the federal system. “I think for us this deal is good but not perfect.”

More from DPA, Sept. 24:

A car bomb blast near a Christian church in Baghdad in the morning killed four civilians and wounded 14 others including four Iraqi policemen, witnesses said.

The explosion, apparently detonated via remote control, occurred while worshippers in the Church of the Virgin Mary attended Sunday mass. The neighbourhood where the church is located, in al-Kerada district, is largely Christian-dominated.

The policemen among the casualties were members of a security patrol employed to guard the church. No information was available as to the condition of the wounded, or whether the church was the primary target of the attack.

See our last posts on Iraq and the escalating sectarian cleansing.