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Iraq: rejection of Iranian system?

The drive towards federalism by Iraq's government, led by the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), has revealed a schism between Iran and its evangelical wing in Iraq.

Set up and funded by Tehran, SCIRI is now rejecting Iran's centralised theocratic political system in favour of a decentralised federal structure to accommodate some of Iraq's ethnic groups. While it has not fully recognised the rights of Turkomen and Assyrian minorities, the proposed constitution enshrines the right of internal self-determination for Iraqi Kurds - a demand advocated by Iran's various minority groups, including the Ahwazi Arabs. The Iraqi Constitution has opened the way for devolution as a method of internal conflict resolution in Iran, as advocated by the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran.

Nasser Ban-Assad, spokesman for the British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS) which works with representatives of Iran's Ahwazi Arab population, said: "SCIRI - a group financed an organised by Tehran - as the leading party of the Iraqi coalition government is embracing a political solution Iran's ethnic groups have long been arguing for: federalism and a fair redistribution of oil revenues.

"While the proposed constitution is not perfect, Iran's Iraqi allies recognise that a centralised Islamic Republic is not viable. However, in our opinion it does not go far enough to address the rights and concerns of Iraq's disadvantaged Assyrian and Turkomen minorities who represent a substantial proportion of the population.

"The Iraqi coalition is willing to allow the people of Iraq a vote on the Constitition, a right denied to the Iranians. We demand that Iran follows the lead of the Iraqi government and seek a federal constitution that devolves power to the country's minorities, who represent 50-60 per cent of the population."

The proposed constitution makes Islam the official religion. Article 2 of the Iraqi Constitution states that no law can contradict either the rules of Islam, the principles of democracy or the people's basic rights and freedoms. Article 5 states that "the people are the source of authority" for Iraqi law, confirming the supremacy of the democratic will. In contrast in Iran, Islamic law - as dictated by an unelected theocratic elite - reigns supreme and can override the democratic will of the people.

Article 4 of the proposed constitution states: "Iraqis are guaranteed the right to educate their children in their mother tongues, such as Turkomen or Assyrian, in government educational institutions, or any other language in private." This is a right denied to Iran's ethnic minorities, who are required to speak the official language of Farsi to gain employment in the civil service.

Kurdish and Arabic are classified as the languages of the state, which Turkomens and Assyrians claim demotes them to second-class citizens. Nevertheless, the proposed Constitution states that "the Turkomen and Assyrian languages will be official in the areas where they are located", a right denied to Iran's minorities.

Ban-Assad said: "Tehran will rue the day when it celebrated the fall of Saddam Hussein, for the democratic current in Iraq poses a greater danger to the regime's foundation than any of the Iraqi dictator's weapons.

"We fear that Iran may change alliegances to some of Iraq's more fundamentalist and disruptive Shia fundamentalist groups in an effort to undermine democracy. The Mahdi Army, once dismissed by Tehran, is now mobilising, prompting clashes with SCIRI. Is this a sign of Iranian-backed insurgency against a democratic Iraq?"