The highest Shia authority in Iraq Ayat Allah Ali Sistani continues to insist on holding early elections, while Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) and US occupation authorities in Iraq want to apply the agreement of 15 November, which installs a 36-member Iraqi National Council to run the country.  

But IGC member and spokesman of al-Daawa Party Dr Ibrahim al-Jaafari, has suggested a possible compromise for Sistani and the IGC through partial elections.

Speaking to Aljazeera.net al-Jaafari said: "We support any effort to give our people the chance to express themselves, and to have a say in selecting people who represent them".
 
"We are ready to grant our people this right, even through partial elections." he added.

But Toby Dodge Senior Research Fellow at Warwick University in the UK and expert on Iraq told Aljazeera.net that it would be dangerous to give one part of Iraq democratic elections while another remained under occupation or installed government.

"Let us keep in mind the very big demonstrations in Baghdad calling for democracy. What would they do with all those people in Baghdad. I think our friend in the IGC has misunderstood – I suspect deliberately- the support for the campaign for democracy."

Ibrahim Jaafari, member of the
Iraqi Governing Council (L)

Shia Rule

Partial elections would establish Shia rule in southern Iraq. Meanwhile, Iraqi Arab Sunni areas would be ruled by a US appointed council according to the 15 November agreement between IGC member Jalal Talabani and the US administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer.

Observers suspect the UN committee will soon send a fact-finding mission to Iraq to determine whether it is possible to hold early elections in the war-torn country.

But Dodge is cynical of suggestions of partial elections.

"I think what has been suggested (partial elections) is an attempt to buy Sistani off and then keep the status quo in Kurdish areas. Secondly, I think the UN would find it difficult to give that legitimacy, because why should the south be treated differently from anyone else just because one individual says so."

Dr Fadhal al-Rubai of the Iraqi National Alliance says that current Shia leaders may try to repeat unification efforts of the past.

"After the British occupation of Iraq in 1916, 21 leading Shia clerics signed a paper saying it was better for Shia to stay under direct British rule than to be under Sunni rule, while other Shia factions did not welcome the British occupation".

"But then the highest Shia authority Ayat Allah Muhammad Taqi al-Shirazi put in considerable effort and managed to unify Shia factions. His efforts paved the way for launching the anti-British occupation revolution of 1920. I think what Sistani is trying to do now is based on the same idea, he wants to unify Shia factions under his umbrella," al-Rubai said.  

Iraqi Kurds, and Shia may both
end up with self-rule

Possible Iraq break-up

Elections are due to be held in 2005 according to the Talabani-Bremer agreement. But the Shia may very well be democratically ruling themselves and could find themselves allied to the Kurdish insistence of a federal Iraq.

Considering the demands of the three major regions of Iraq, it is possible that the country breaks into three.

Iraqi Arab Sunnis want liberation, Iraqi Shia want independent rule – even under foreign military occupation, and Iraqi Kurds (who are Muslim Sunnis) want to keep Kurdish gains in terms of self-rule.

Observers say such a fate could leave the door open for the international community to positively consider the break up of Iraq into three minor states – Arab Sunni, Shia and Kurdish.

"I think that this is the logic of American plans to date. The IGC itself has been formed along explicitly ethnic lines so I will not be surprised by anything," Dodge said.

But the fact there is now only one dominant world power in the region means that Iraq’s neighbours may face steep challenges in getting their voices heard.

"The classic opponents of splitting Iraq into three minor states will be ineffective. Saudi Arabia does not favour a Shia state right on its borders, but it will be busy fighting terrorism. Turkey who publicly opposes any Kurdish state in the Middle East will not have the US support it enjoyed throughout the 20th century," said Iraqi journalist Khalil Abd al-Karim.

It is no longer needed as a shield separating the Soviet Union from Europe, or as a shield separating the Soviet Union from the oil-rich Middle East."As Iraqi journalist Khalil Abd al-Karim says".