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Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim (file photo)
11 August 2005 -- As negotiations for a new constitution continue in Baghdad, Shi'ite leader Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim has called for Iraq's entire southern area to become one autonomous Shi'ite region under a new federal system.
Al-Hakim, head of the powerful Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), was speaking at a mass rally in the southern city of Al-Najaf, which Reuter reports was attended by tens of thousands of cheering supporters.
He said unity in the south is important if Shi'a are to protect their rights. Reuters noted that such an autonomous region would contain half the Iraqi population, and the rich oil fields around Al-Basrah.
"Regarding the central-southern region, we think that it is necessary to form one entire region for central and southern Iraq due to the common characteristics of the residents of these parts and the same unjust policies which were adopted against them," al-Hakim said.
In Baghdad, Laith Kubba, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, said the concept of a single Shi'ite region is "unacceptable."
The division of oil revenues and federal regionalism are two of the key subjects now being discussed at the constitutional talks by senior leaders in Baghdad.
Iraqi Committee Struggles To Make Constitutional Draft Deadline
For the latest news and analysis on Iraq, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The New Iraq".