Monday, August 06, 2007

Perspective: In Iraqi south, Shiites press for autonomy

Above: Protesters burn British and American flags in Basra in July. Located at the extreme southern tip of the country, Basra is Iraq's only port and the area contains the overwhelming majority of Iraq's proven oil reserves.\

When Najaf unplugged its power station from the national grid last week, it was a sign of provincial dissent over the unequal distribution of electricity. But it also indicates a new assertiveness in the south, as Iraq's regional leaders seek to wrest control from a central government in Baghdad paralyzed by political infighting.

Multiple visions for unifying the county's southern provinces are emerging. The Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), one of the most powerful Shiite parties, is leading the charge to form an autonomous "South of Baghdad Region."

But 45 southern tribal notables in Najaf last week signed their own pact that envisions creating "the self-rule government of the unified Iraqi south."

Regardless of which southern group wins out, Baghdad faces a formidable challenge that could mean not just the loss of electricity, but revenue from the region's ports and oil fields, and further fracturing along sectarian lines.

Read the rest at the Christian Science Monitor