Baghdad fumes over ‘federalism’ plan passed by US Senate

The Iraqi government on Friday firmly rejected a Bosnia-style plan approved by the US Senate to divide Iraq on ethnic and religious lines, saying Iraqis will themselves decide their future.

“The government and its Premier [Nuri al-Maliki] reject this vote,” said government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh.

“It is the Iraqis who decide these sorts of issues, no one else,” Dabbagh said on state-run Al-Iraqiyya television. “The Iraqi Parliament too should express its total rejection of this plan.”

The plan, touted by backers as the sole hope of forging a federal state out of sectarian strife, was approved by the US Senate Wednesday in a 75-23 vote.

The nonbinding resolution would provide for decentralizing Iraq in a federal system to stop the country from falling deeper into civil ear.

It proposes to separate Iraq into Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni entities, with a federal government in Baghdad in charge of border security and oil revenues.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on Friday condemned the resolution, saying it would complicate matters further in the war-torn country.

The Bosnia-style plan “would add new complications to the already difficult Iraqi situation,” GCC chief Abdel-Rahman al-Attiyah said in a statement. “Instead of calling for division, the causes that led to the current situation should be addressed. These include the [US-led] occupation, the sectarian and ethnic quota system, absence of law and security and the paralysed administration.”

The GCC groups Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

The chief of the oil-rich bloc warned that any plan to divide Iraq would also have a “detrimental impact” on regional and international stability.

Yemen also decried the US Senate plan, labeling it an “unprecedented flagrant interference” in Iraq’s internal affairs, according to a Foreign Ministry statement carried by the state-run Saba news agency.

A US air raid in Baghdad Friday killed at least eight people, medical sources said, while the Iraqi Army said it had killed 30 suspected Al-Qaeda insurgents north of the capital.

A medical source at Yarmouk Hospital in Baghdad said eight bodies had been brought in from a southern neighborhood after US helicopters targeted a building. A police source put the toll at 10, saying many were believed to be civilians.

The US military had no immediate comment.

It is the second time this week US forces have been accused of killing civilians in air strikes. US forces are investigating an attack in southern Iraq this week which local police said killed five women and four children.

In Washington, a military spokeswoman said the first US military unit – the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, some 2,200 Marines who were stationed in the western Anbar Province – scheduled to withdraw from Iraq under President George W. Bush’s plan to cut troop levels had left the war zone.

Fifty-nine US soldiers have been killed in September, according to the Web site which tracks military deaths, making it the least deadly month for US troops since July last year.

“What we found is that the current operations … managed to disrupt a lot of [militant] cells,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Rudy Burwell, a US military spokesman. “We were able to push them from Baghdad and pursue them. That’s what we attribute the lower casualties to.”

A senior leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq was killed in a US air strike in Iraq this week, a US military commander said Friday.

Brigadier General Joseph Anderson identified the man as Abu Osama al-Tunisi, a Tunisian described as in line to succeed Abu Ayyub al-Masri, Al-Qaeda in Iraq’s Egyptian leader.

“Abu Osama al-Tunisi was one of the most senior leaders within Al-Qaeda in Iraq,” said Anderson, the chief of staff of Multi-National Corps Iraq.

The general said the September 25 strike that killed Tunisi was a “significant blow” to Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which he said has been severely disrupted by US operations and may now be reassessing its position in Iraq.

He said his opinion was that Al-Qaeda would shift its forces from Iraq to Afghanistan, and try to expand its operations there.

A Syrian cleric who recruited foreign fighters traveling to Iraq to fight US-led forces was assassinated in the Syrian city of Aleppo Friday, an aide said.

Sheikh Mahmoud Abu al-Qaqa was shot dead after he emerged from Friday prayers, Ahmad Haidar told Reuters.

“A man fired several bullets into the sheikh’s chest. A crowd chased him and he was eventually caught. He is now with the authorities under custody,” Haidar said. – Agencies