"Autonomous Government of the South" Announces its Founding, with Tribal Support
AMER MOHSEN, Iraqslogger - July 30, 2007
The Lebanese al-Akhbar daily reported that a "semi-official" autonomous government was announced yesterday in Southern Iraq. The paper said that "over 40 tribal chiefs from the provinces of Basra, Nasiriya, 'Amara and Samawa" have signed an agreement announcing the birth of a "self-ruling government" in the Shi'a-dominated southern provinces; and released a statement signed by "the administration of the autonomous government of the South."
The new "government" elected 'Abd al-Muhsin al-Shalash at its helm, and announced its commitment to the Iraqi constitution "at the present time," adding that the "government" intends to amend the constitution in the future.
The newspaper did not add further details regarding the local support to the new council, or whether the founders of the "autonomous government" have links with the major political parties. But al-Akhbar pointed that the current constitution allows an Iraqi province (or a number of provinces) to form a "region," which, if approved by a popular referendum, would be acknowledged by the government and would be granted a large measure of autonomy, including a regional government and parliament. The paper said that the founding of the "autonomous government" may be a first step in entrenching "Iraqi federalism ... which, is (currently) applied solely in the Kurdistan Region."
In other news, Az-Zaman said that the victorious Iraqi soccer team, which was crowned as Asia’s champion yesterday, may not be able to return to Iraq and celebrate with the Iraqi fans, due to the lack of a "safe location" in the country to house the players.
The paper claimed that "the government is attempting to seize the victory achieved by the national team," and that Prime Minister al-Maliki "promised the players a safe location," that, according the paper, is "the Green Zone, which is bombarded daily." On the other hand, the Iraqi Sports Minister announced that there is no safe place to host the players and the celebrations, but that the ministry is trying to arrange a safe format for a victory celebration in Iraq, which will feature the national squad.
On a different front, the news site Elaph quoted a statement by Tariq al-Hashimi, leader of the Islamic Party, in which al-Hashimi asserted that the Sunni Iraqi Accord Front (IAF) will indeed withdraw from the government tomorrow (Tuesday,) adding that his coalition "has other options." The same report spoke of a meeting between IAF politicians and representatives from the Shi'a Fadhila party, which has also voiced strong criticisms against the government and its performance. Such meetings are usually linked with rumors claiming that an anti-government coalition may be formed, grouping next to the IAF, the Sadrist movement, the Fadhila party and 'Allawi’s "Iraqi List," which has been trying to form such a coalition for several months.
Meanwhile, al-Mada announced that a new round of mediations will be headed by the Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, in an attempt to reconcile the IAF with the ruling establishment and dissuade it from abandoning the cabinet.
Another news item highlighted by several papers today was the alleged conflict between the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Gen. David Petraeus. According to reports in the British media, the Prime Minister and the US General clashed over the decision, by the US Army, to recruit and arm Sunni tribes. At the end of a strained meeting, reports claimed, al-Maliki informed Petraeus that cooperation will not longer be possible between them and that he will ask the US administration to replace the General.
Sources in Maliki’s office and the US embassy denied these rumors, but al-Sharq al-Awsat quoted a Maliki adviser who said that some "tensions" did occur over the arming of Sunni tribes to fight al-Qa'ida.
Lastly, Pan-Arab al-Hayat published a report detailing life in a "besieged" neighborhood in Western Baghdad. Al-Shurta district, the paper said, has lost a large number of its residents due to the sniper fire that has been directed at the area from the neighboring districts, which are Sunni-dominated with a large presence of al-Qa'ida.
The paper added that the Mahdi Army is firmly in control of al-Shurta, and is currently recruiting its youth to fend-off an expected "invasion" by the extremist organizations that are targeting the district. Life has been practically paralyzed in Shurta, the report said, due to the sniper fire that has cost the lives of many residents, and forced many more to flee the neighborhood. The militias controlling al-Shurta have resorted to various means to retain a measure of safety in the district: cars and vehicles are prevented of entering the district, "under any pretext," in order to prevent car bombs. In order to protect residents from the sniper fire, the paper said, residents have attempted to build tall walls to shield al-Shurta from neighboring districts, and have also tried to use fire and smoke to reduce the visibility of al-Qa'ida snipers, to no avail.