Iraq break-up resolution passes ...

From BBC:

The Iraqi parliament has approved a law allowing provinces to merge into regions which would enjoy a measure of autonomy.
The law is controversial as many Sunni Muslims and others fear it would lead to the country's partition.
The vote went through unanimously, but only 138 of the chamber's 275 members were present.
Absentees included the two biggest Sunni blocs and two of the factions that make up the big Shia alliance.
There were some confused scenes in parliament as the controversial bill was read through clause by clause.
There were many significant absentees. Two of the factions which make up the big Shia alliance - Moqtada Sadr's group and a smaller one called Al Fadhila - also boycotted the proceedings.
Spokesmen for these groups later said they were totally opposed to the federal region's law.
The Sunni group said they feared it heralded Iraq's fragmentation.
Some Shia spokesmen said they believed it would have a negative impact on the political process and on hopes for national reconciliation.
That's not really the whole story.

Yesterday I spoke with Raed Jarrar, an Iraqi analyst with Global Exchange, (you remember Raed -- he was the guy who was harassed trying to get on a plane in DC with a peace t-shirt that had Arabic lettering) and he predicted that this would lead to a whole new wave of violence and called the law's passage "shocking." Even the Speaker of the Parliament -- a Sunni -- had boycotted the meeting.

The law says that 18 months from now the country's 18 provinces can choose to form into between 3-18 federal regions (obviously the three Kurdish provinces would remain a block, so it's more like 3-16 regions).

Raed said that the danger is that it will set off a whole new round of violence -- "street fighting" -- between different groups vying to be in control of each provincial government in a year and a half when the decision is to be made. While we like to oversimplify the situation in Iraq -- imagining that there are nice, discrete sectarian groups -- that's not the case. There are factions and sub-factions and there might be bloodshed between, for example, different Shiite groups -- something we haven't yet seen.

Some additional context is that there's a sharp debate going on about Iraq's Constitution, with provinces heavy in oil interpreting a rather vague clause to mean that they can keep oil revenues in the local government instead of sending them to Baghdad. That means that having control over provinces with a lot of oil revenues is even more crucial and, given the level of corruption, a person in the right place in an autonomous province might end up as rich as Croesus.

The only potential winner is Iran, who, as Raed put it, "stand to get a government in Baghdad that's friendly to Tehran and a regional government that's extremely friendly.

BBC again:
But Abdulaziz Hakim, the leader of the biggest Shia faction, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, described it as a blessed day.
Raed wasn't sure, but believed SCIRI and some Sadrists sponsored the resolution. The measure passed by one vote.

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