'Don't meddle with fledgling constitution' warning in Iraq
THE most influential politician in Iraq issued a veiled warning to Sunni Arabs yesterday that the dominant Shiites would not allow substantive amendments to the country's constitution.
Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), said provincial governments would remain strong - at the expense of a weaker central government.
"The first principle is not to change the essence of the constitution," he said. "This constitution was endorsed by the Iraqi people."
Sunni Arabs want a stronger central government, whereas the constitution now bestows the most power - including control over oil profits - to provincial governments. The Shiites in the south and Kurds in the north control most of Iraq's oil, and there are few reserves in Sunni-dominated central Iraq.
To win their support for the constitution, approved by a referendum last October, Sunni Arabs were promised they could propose amendments to it during the first four months of the new parliament, which is expected to be in place about the end of next month.
However, amendments need a two-thirds majority in parliament and a majority in a national referendum.
Mr Hakim also said the United Iraq Alliance (UIA), in which the SCIRI is one of the two main parties, would name its candidate for prime minister within days. The UIA dominated last month's elections and few expect its nomination to be blocked.
Under the constitution, the biggest bloc in the assembly has the right to nominate the prime minister, although he or she must win parliamentary approval. Preliminary election results suggest the UIA will have nearly half the seats in the new parliament. Its two main candidates are expected to be the prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, and the vice-president, Adel Abdul Mahdi.
Violence has increased since last month's elections, with at least 498 Iraqis and 54 members of the United States military killed.
But Mr Jaafari said that, despite the violence, Iraq had made significant advances in 2005, citing the large election turnout as one of the biggest.
About 70 per cent of Iraq's 15 million voters, including large numbers of Sunni, participated.
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