Iraqi Prime Minister Criticizes U.S. Senate Proposal To Split Iraq Into Regions

Friday, September 28th 2007, 2:44 pm
By: News On 6

BAGHDAD (AP) _ Iraq's prime minister told The Associated Press on Friday that a U.S. Senate proposal to split the country into regions according to religious or ethnic divisions would be a ``catastrophe.''

The Kurds in three northern Iraqi provinces are running a virtually independent country within Iraq, while nominally maintaining relations with Baghdad. They support a formal division. But both Sunni and Shiite Muslims have reacted with extreme opposition to the U.S. Senate proposal.

The majority Shiites, who would retain control of major oil revenues under a division of the country, oppose the measure because if would diminish the territorial integrity of Iraq, which they now control. Sunnis would control an area with few if any oil resources. Kurds have major oil reserves in their territory.

The nonbinding Senate resolution calls for Iraq to be divided into federal regions under control of the three communities in a power-sharing agreement similar to the one that ended the 1990s war in Bosnia. Democrat presidential hopeful Sen. Joseph Biden was a prime sponsor of the measure.

``It is an Iraqi affair dealing with Iraqis,'' Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told AP on a return flight to Baghdad from New York where he appeared at the U.N. General Assembly. ``Iraqis are eager for Iraq's unity. ... Dividing Iraq is a problem, and a decision like that would be a catastrophe.''

The comments were al-Maliki's first since the measure passed the Senate on Wednesday.

Iraq's constitution lays down a federal system, allowing Shiites in the south, Kurds in the north and Sunnis in the center and west of the country to set up regions with considerable autonomous powers.

Nevertheless, ethnic and sectarian turmoil have snarled hopes of negotiating such measures, especially given deep divisions on sharing the country's vast oil resources. Oil reserves and existing fields would fall mainly into the hands of Kurds and Shiites if such a division were to occur.

So far there has been no agreement on a broader sharing of those revenues, one of the several U.S.-mandated benchmarks the government has failed to push through parliament.

On Thursday, Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite, said decisions about Iraq must remain in the hands of its citizens. And a spokesman for radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr demanded the al-Maliki government reject the proposal.

``We demand the Iraqi government to stand against such a project and to condemn it officially,'' said Liwa Semeism, the al-Sadr spokesman. ``Such a decision does not represent the aspirations of all Iraqi people and it is considered an interference in Iraq's internal affairs.''

A spokesman for Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Shiite spiritual leader, dismissed the proposal during a Friday sermon in Karbala.

``The division plan is against Iraq's interests and against peace in a united Iraq,'' Sheik Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalaei told worshippers. ``Any neighboring country supporting this project will pay the price of instability in the region.''

Biden argues that the U.S. has focused too much on trying to prop up a strong, central unified government in Baghdad.

But it is unlikely the Bush administration will alter its policies on Iraq as a result of the resolution. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday that the administration supports a federal Iraq, but it is a ``sensitive issue best left to the Iraqis to address at their own pace.''

Meanwhile, Iraqi police and witnesses said U.S. troops backed by helicopter gunships raided an apartment building at 2 a.m. Friday in a primarily Sunni neighborhood in southern Baghdad, killing 10 civilians and wounding 12.

The U.S. military said it was checking into the report.

An unknown number of people also were detained after the clashes between U.S. helicopters and gunmen in the Dora neighborhood's Sihha district, said a police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

Shaheed Abdul-Al, a 42-year-old metal worker who lives in the area, said his family was awakened by the sound of helicopters, heavy gunfire and bombing.

``We saw a big flash of light with the sounds of bombing from the direction of the (targeted) building,'' he said. ``We were horrified and still awake at sunrise.''

Ahmed Salim, a 16-year-old student who lives near the targeted complex, said he saw U.S. military vehicles through his window.

``When the Americans left, I and others rushed to the site where people were rescuing survivors,'' he said. ``I saw wounded and dead bodies.''

In violence north of Baghdad, at least six people were killed when four gunmen with full beards and wearing military uniforms barged into a busy cafe late Thursday as people were playing a popular game to celebrate the end of the dawn-to-dusk fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

The men arrived in a Russian-made military vehicle used by the Saddam Hussein-era army and opened fire, shouting, ``God is great,'' according to a provincial police officer who asked that his name not be used for fear of reprisals.

The six killed included three off-duty police officers. Eight others were wounded, the officer said. The attack occurred in Sadiyah, a town in volatile Diyala province.

Also Friday:

_ U.S. Spc. Jorge G. Sandoval, 22, was acquitted on charges he killed two unarmed Iraqis. He was convicted of a lesser charge of planting evidence on one of the bodies to cover up the crime. He was to be sentenced Saturday.

_ The U.S. military announced that American-led forces on Tuesday killed one of the most important leaders of al-Qaida in Iraq, a Tunisian named Abu Osama al-Tunisi who was believed connected to the kidnapping and killings last summer of American soldiers.