Sunni cleric criticises Kurdish plan for Iraq

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The Independent Online

Sheik Mahmoud al-Sumaidaie told worshippers during a sermon at the Umm al-Qura mosque yesterday: "There are conspiracies being prepared to deny us our wealth and resources. We don't want a constitution that leads to the division of the country. We are hearing cries for federalism, cries of those who are not honest to this country."

The Kurds want a federal system to make sure they continue to govern themselves in the Kurdish heartland of the north, where they have enjoyed self-rule since 1991. Some Shias have also proposed a Shia autonomous region in the south. But many Sunni Arabs believe federalism is a first step to divide the nation. Most of Iraq's oil wealth is in the north and the mostly Shia south.

"I want to say to those who want to change the identity of our Islamic country that people of this country are brothers," Sheik al-Sumaidaie said. "Iraq will remain the country of all Iraqis, Sunnis, Shias, Kurds and Turkomans."

Iraq's parliament must approve the new charter by 15 August and present it to the voters in a referendum two months later. The constitution is considered crucial to putting together a broad-based government so the United States and the coalition can reduce their troop levels.

But Sunni members of the committee which is drafting the document are boycotting meetings until the government accepts demands for better security after the assassination of two colleagues.