Iraq rejects Basra's petition for autonomy referendum
Some politicians and inhabitants of Basra have demanded a referendum on whether the city.
Iraq's electoral commission said on Tuesday it had rejected a petition for a referendum on autonomy for Iraq's southern oil hub of Basra after supporters failed to get enough signatures.
Some politicians and inhabitants of Basra have demanded a referendum on whether the city and surrounding province might become a semi-autonomous region, similar to the status enjoyed by the Kurdish region in the north.
Their bid reflects discontent with the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, whom they accuse of failing to deliver basic services and prosperity.
According to the Iraqi constitution, any of the country's 18 provinces can hold such a referendum if it can muster signatures from 10 percent of voters. But Hamdiya al-Hussaini, an electoral commissioner, said backers had fallen short.
"There should be 10 percent of the registered voters in Basra province but it did not reach that number so we could not go ahead with it," she said. She said she would announce the exact tally at a press conference set for Wednesday.
Many inhabitants of Basra, which produces three-quarters of Iraq's oil, see themselves as marginalised by successive Baghdad governments both before and since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
But the movement for autonomy for Basra has powerful opponents. Big parties in Maliki's ruling Shi'ite coalition want a larger autonomous region that would cover the entire Shi'ite south of the country, and oppose separate autonomy for Basra. The prime minister himself favours a strong central state.
Autonomy campaigners accused Maliki's ruling Shi'ite alliance of blocking their campaign in the media and the electoral commission. Sheikh Mohammed al-Zaidawi, a tribal leader behind the motion, said: "We have presented an appeal to the federal court and we plan to conduct big protests in Basra."
Reuters Last Mod: 20 Ocak 2009, 17:25