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The San Jose Mercury-News

A Divided Iraq Unites Against Partition Plan

Even US Embassy Opposes Resolution

Ned Parker and Raheem Salman

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraq's divided political leadership, in a rare show of unity, skewered a non-binding U.S. Senate resolution approved in Washington, D.C., last week that endorses the decentralization of Iraq through the establishment of semi-autonomous regions.Also on Sunday, the U.S. Embassy joined the Iraqi politicians - both Shiite and Sunni - in criticizing the resolution.

The measure's advocacy of a relatively weak central government and strong Sunni Arab, Shiite and Kurdish regions has touched a nerve in the Iraqi political arena, stoking fears that the United States is planning to partition Iraq.1001 05

"The Congress adopted this proposal based on an incorrect reading and unrealistic estimations of the history, present and future of Iraq," said Izzat al-Shahbandar, a member of secular ex-prime minister Ayad Allawi's parliament bloc.

He was reading from a statement also signed by Iraq's pre-eminent religious Shiite Muslim parties and the main Sunni Arab bloc.

"It represents a dangerous precedent to establishing the nature of the relationship between Iraq and the USA," the statement said, "and shows the Congress as if it were planning for a long-term occupation by their country's troops."

In the U.S. Embassy's highly unusual statement, it said resolution would seriously hamper Iraq's future stability.

The non-binding power-sharing measure was approved in Washington on Wednesday, and resentment appears to be building daily in Iraq. Approved by a 75-23 margin, it supports a "federal system" that would create sectarian-dominated regions.

The genesis of the resolution is the proposal by Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., and Council of Foreign Relations president emeritus Leslie Gelb. The pair have been advocates of dividing the country up along ethnic and regional lines.

Backfires in Baghdad

The federalization idea, backed by some Democrats, is one of many proposals floated in the United States, where the public has become disenchanted with the continuing violence in Iraq.

But whatever the intended effect by the Senate lawmakers to wade into the debate, the effort has backfired in Baghdad, where the resolution has been interpreted in light of Iraq's history of foreign occupation from the Ottoman empire to Britain and America. Iraqi political parties that have been deadlocked for months have rallied to defend the country's sovereignty and to defeat any effort by another country to shape Iraq's fate.

"We refuse the resolutions which decide Iraq's destiny from outside Iraq. This is a dangerous partitioning based on sectarianism and ethnicity," said Hashim Taie, a member of the Iraqi Accordance Front, the parliament's main Sunni representation.

Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's political supporters joined their rivals in denouncing the U.S. Senate's measure. "This project is the strategic option for the American administration in its failure to igniting a sectarian war inside Iraq," Nasr Rubaie said. "They started to search for a replacement, which is to divide Iraqi."

Federalism has long proved a charged topic for Iraq. The Sadrists still are seeking a strong national government. The Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, another large Shiite political faction, also has started to downplay the idea of further weakening an already frail national government.

Leery of American intervention, Rubaie said the powers of the provinces and regional blocs should be defined once the United States has pulled its troops out of Iraq.

Plays on worst fears

Joost Hiltermann, a Middle East expert at the International Crisis Group think tank, cautioned that the Senate proposal had played on some of the worst fears of Iraqis and other Arab states. "In Iraq and the Arab world, the word partition is an anathema associated with the worst aspects of imperialist policy," Hiltermann said.

Over the weekend, U.S. and Iraqi forces killed more than 60 insurgent and militia fighters in intense battles, with most of the casualties believed to have been Al-Qaida fighters, officials said Sunday.

U.S. aircraft killed more than 20 Al-Qaida in Iraq fighters who opened fire on an U.S. air patrol northwest of Baghdad, the U.S. command said.

Iraq's Defense Ministry said in an e-mail Sunday afternoon that Iraqi soldiers had killed 44 "terrorists" over the past 24 hours. The operations were centered in Salahaddin and Diyala provinces and around the city of Kirkuk, where the ministry said its soldiers had killed 40 and arrested eight. It said 52 fighters were arrested.

In a separate operation, U.S. forces killed two insurgents and detained 21 others during weekend operations against the Al-Qaida group.

The U.S. military also announced the death of a U.S. soldier killed Saturday in a roadside bombing and gunfire attack in eastern Baghdad. There were 62 U.S. military deaths in September, the lowest monthly toll since July 2006 when 43 U.S. soldiers were killed, according to a preliminary Associated Press tally.

Los Angeles Times staff writer Saif Hameed and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

© 2007 The San Jose Mercury-News

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