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Iraqi Shi'ites Lay Down Basis For Autonomous Region

6 December 2004 -- Some 600 leaders from central Iraq's Shi'ite Muslim provinces announced plans to begin setting up their own autonomous region.

Representatives agreed at a meeting today in the holy city of Al-Najaf to set up a security committee for their five provinces and a regional council to stimulate the economy of their neglected region.

Iraq's provisional constitution recognizes the federal nature of Iraq.

Participants in the Al-Najaf meeting underlined the importance of holding elections on 30 January, and backed Shi'ite leaders' rejection of calls to delay the vote.

Shi'ites make up about 60 percent of the Iraqi population. They were oppressed under the former regime of Saddam Hussein, which favoured the minority Sunnis.