- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 29, 2007

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s prime minister said yesterday that a U.S. Senate proposal to split the country into regions according to religious or ethnic divisions would be a “catastrophe.”

The Kurds in three northern Iraqi provinces are running a virtually independent country within Iraq, while nominally maintaining relations with Baghdad. They support a formal division. But both Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims have reacted with extreme opposition to the U.S. Senate proposal.

The majority Shi’ites, who would retain control of major oil revenues under a division of the country, oppose the measure because it would diminish the territorial integrity of Iraq, which they now control. Sunnis would control an area with few, if any, oil resources. Kurds have major oil reserves in their territory.

The nonbinding Senate resolution calls for Iraq to be divided into federal regions under control of the three communities in a power-sharing agreement similar to the one that ended the 1990s war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, was a prime sponsor of the measure.

“It is an Iraqi affair dealing with Iraqis,” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said on a return flight to Baghdad from New York where he appeared at the U.N. General Assembly. “Iraqis are eager for Iraq’s unity. … Dividing Iraq is a problem, and a decision like that would be a catastrophe.”

The comments were Mr. al-Maliki’s first since the measure passed the Senate on Wednesday.

Iraq’s constitution lays down a federal system, but ethnic and sectarian turmoil have snarled hopes of negotiating any measures. So far there has been no agreement on a broader sharing of the country’s oil revenues, one of the several U.S.-mandated benchmarks the government has failed to push through parliament.

On Thursday, Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a Shi’ite, said decisions about Iraq must remain in the hands of its citizens. And a spokesman for radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr demanded the al-Maliki government reject the proposal.

A spokesman for Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Shi’ite spiritual leader, dismissed the proposal during a Friday sermon in Karbala.

It is unlikely the Bush administration will alter its policies on Iraq as a result of the Senate resolution. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday that the administration supports a federal Iraq, but it is a “sensitive issue best left to the Iraqis to address at their own pace.”

Meanwhile, Iraqi police and witnesses said U.S. troops backed by helicopter gunships raided an apartment building at 2 a.m. yesterday in a primarily Sunni neighborhood in southern Baghdad, killing 10 civilians and wounding 12.

The U.S. military said it was checking into the report.

An unknown number of people also were detained after the clashes between U.S. helicopters and gunmen in the Dora neighborhood’s Sihha district, a police officer said.

Also yesterday, Army Spc. Jorge G. Sandoval, 22, was acquitted on charges he killed two unarmed Iraqis. He was convicted of a lesser charge of planting evidence on one of the bodies to cover up the crime. He is to be sentenced today.

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