Amid failed moves for a peace deal between the Iraqi government and insurgents through a national-reconciliation plan, the Shi'ite majority is pushing ahead to create a federal region for themselves in the country's south.
The move is hugely sensitive in light of the increasingly hard political positions taken by Shi'ite Iran and the conflict in Lebanon involving Hezbollah, the militant Shi'ite group.
"The prime minister's reconciliation project has failed, and so far no major insurgency group has endorsed it," Kurdish member of parliament Abdullah Aliawayi said.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had implicitly acknowledged the failure of his plan at a meeting with representatives of the major political parties, he said.
The 24-point plan announced by Maliki in June offered amnesty to insurgents other than those who had targeted civilians. It also included a plan to disarm militias. None of these things has happened, and insurgents still call the shots in Baghdad and other cities.
According to some official sources, more than 14,000 Iraqis were killed in just the first half of the year.
Outgoing British Ambassador to Iraq William Patey has warned of civil war in Iraq and a breakup of the country along sectarian lines. General John Abizaid, top US commander in the Middle East, has also warned of civil war if sectarian violence is not halted.
Many Iraqi politicians go further to say that the country is in civil war already.
"Iraq is now in a state of undeclared civil war," said Aliawayi, who attended a failed meeting of Iraqi factions in Cairo. "The visions of Sunnis and Shi'ites for the future of Iraq are too far from each other to be easily brought together in a joint program."
As more and more signs of the failure of the reconciliation plan surface, Shi'ite groups are speeding up efforts to carve a federal region for themselves.
Speaking at a ceremony at the holy city of Najaf last week, Iraqi Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, a Shi'ite, said Shi'ite politicians will raise the issue of federalism in parliament.
"We suggest continuing the establishment of regions," he said. "We are going to submit the project to the parliament in the coming two months." The government has failed to provide basic services, he said.
Shi'ite politicians claim that the constitution, which the Sunnis reject, allows them to create federal regions. Sunnis see the creation of federal structures as a prelude to partitioning of the country.
Many see a link between the deteriorating security situation in Iraq and the Shi'ite push for autonomy in the south.
"Certainly the current complicated political and security situation, in addition to economic factors, has been a key reason in driving Shi'ites towards demanding the establishment of their federal regions in the south," said Najdat Akreyi, national-security expert at Arbil's college of political science.
-Excerpt Of An Article by M. Salih, Inter Press Service