- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 11, 2006

BAGHDAD — The most influential politician in Iraq issued a veiled warning yesterday to Sunni Arabs that Shi’ites would not allow substantive amendments to the country’s new constitution, including to the provision that keeps the central government weak in favor of strong provincial governments.

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said in an address in honor of the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha that provincial governments will remain strong in the constitution, which can be amended after the next government is installed.

“The first principle is not to change the essence of the constitution. This constitution was endorsed by the Iraqi people,” he said.

Sunni Arabs place great stock in their ability to change the constitution, one of the reasons Sunni politicians urged the minority to turn out in large numbers for the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections.

They want a stronger central government because the constitution now bestows most power — including control over oil profits — on provincial governments. The Shi’ites in the south and the Kurds in the north control most of Iraq’s oil. There are few oil reserves in central Iraq, where Sunnis live.

To win their support for the new constitution, which was approved in an Oct. 15 vote, Sunni Arabs were promised they could propose amendments to it during the first four months of the new parliament’s tenure. The new parliament is expected to be seated at the end of February. Amendments require two-thirds approval in parliament and a majority in a national referendum.

There was limited violence yesterday. A roadside bomb exploded next to a police patrol outside Samarra, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, killing two policemen, police said.

Iraqi police found seven bodies shot in the head, with their legs and hands bound, in a sewer in eastern Baghdad, police said.

Iraqis nationwide celebrated the opening of the three-day Eid al-Adha celebration Tuesday with visits to relatives, food and sweets. Lambs were slaughtered, and food was distributed to the poor.

Shi’ites and Sunni Arabs also called for an end to the bloodshed that has wracked Iraq since last month’s elections.

“This Eid is a happy day for all Muslims, especially Iraqis. But it comes after painful events that happened in Karbala and Ramadi,” said Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shi’ite.

He referred to the killings of more than 120 people in suicide bombings last week in the Shi’ite holy city of Karbala and at a police recruiting center in Ramadi.

Violence has increased since the Dec. 15 elections, with at least 498 Iraqis and 54 U.S. forces killed.

Mr. al-Jaafari said that despite the violence, Iraq had made significant advances in 2005, citing a large turnout in the elections as one of the biggest achievements.

Mr. al-Jaafari’s governing United Iraqi Alliance emerged with a large lead in the elections, far ahead of a Kurdish coalition and Sunni Arab groups, but without the majority it will need in the 275-member parliament to avoid a coalition.

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