One Autonomy Deserves Another

At a rally in the Shiite holy city of Najef, south of Baghdad, senior Shiite leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, declared Thursday, August 11, that Iraq’s Shiite majority must be granted an autonomous federal state in the south. He issued his call as Iraqi politicians debated the wording of a new constitution, working against an August 15 deadline.

This was the first time a Shiite leader had publicly put into words the community’s aspiration for a self-governing state in southern Iraq.

His was not a lone voice. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iraqi sources report that on the day of al Hakim’s call, senior Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani ordered a secret ultimatum to be posted to Iraq’s Kurdish president Jalal Talabani, and the ruler of Kurdistan, Masoud Barzani, signed by the commander of the Shiite Badr Organization Gen. Hadi al-Ameri.

He addressed them as Kurdish rather than Iraqi leaders. The signature carried its own message: the Shiites are building a national military force, just as the Kurds are investing in their national peshmerga.

The sense of the ultimatum was a demand for parity in the new constitution, namely the language of the Shiite clauses must be identical to that of the Kurdish provisions, with the following exceptions:

The Sharia Muslim code must be defined as the source of the Shiite autonomous region’s legislation.

Its official language will be Arabic.

Saddam Hussein’s Baath party will be outlawed and its members, past, present and future, barred from holding government, public or security office in the Shiite federal state.

The Shiite army and security forces will not be subservient to the Iraqi federal army command.

A Shiite parliament and elected institutions will choose the federal state president.

The southern Iraqi oil fields will be owned and managed by the autonomous Shiite state. Just as the Kurds demand a 60% share of the “national wealth” in the north, with the remaining 40% shared out among Shiite and Sunni Muslim communities, so the Shiites claim a 60% share in the southern Iraqi oil, leaving 40 percent for the Iraqi republic.

General al-Ameri ends his letter to the Kurdish leaders by stating that if they fail to announce acceptance of Shiite conditions by August 15, the Shiites will implement them unilaterally.

According to our sources, Talabani has rejected the Shiite ultimatum on the grounds that it will lead to the collapse of central government in Baghdad and leave the Sunni Muslims high and dry. When this issue went to press, no Shiite reply had been received to the Kurdish rejection.

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