BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraq’s divided political leadership, in a rare show of unity, skewered a non-binding U.S. Senate resolution approved in Washington last week that endorses the decentralization of Iraq through the establishment of semi-autonomous regions.

The measure’s advocacy of a relatively weak central government and strong Sunni Arab, Shiite and Kurdish regions has touched a nerve in the Iraqi political arena, stoking fears that the United States is planning to partition Iraq.

“The Congress adopted this proposal based on an incorrect reading and unrealistic estimations of the history, present and future of Iraq,” said Izzat al-Shahbandar , a member of secular ex-prime minister Ayad Allawi’s parliament bloc.

He was reading from a statement also signed by Iraq’s preeminent religious Shiite Muslim parties and the main Sunni Arab bloc.

“It represents a dangerous precedent to establishing the nature of the relationship between Iraq and the U.S.A.,” the statement said, “and shows the Congress as if it were planning for a long-term occupation by their country’s troops.”

The non-binding power-sharing measure was approved in Washington on Wednesday, and resentment appears to be building daily in Iraq. Approved by a 75 to 23 margin, it supports a “federal system” that would create sectarian-dominated regions.

The genesis of the resolution is the proposal by Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Council of Foreign Relations president emeritus Leslie Gelb. The pair have advocated for dividing the country up along ethnic and regional lines.

The federalization idea, backed by some Democrats, is one of many proposals floated in America, where the public has become disenchanted with the continuing violence in Iraq.

But whatever the intended effect by the Senate lawmakers to wade into the debate, the effort has backfired in Baghdad, where the resolution has been interpreted in light of Iraq’s history of foreign occupation from the Ottoman empire to Britain and finally America. Iraqi political parties that have been deadlocked for months have rallied to defend the country’s sovereignty and to defeat any effort by another country to shape Iraq’s fate.

“We refuse the resolutions which decide Iraq’s destiny from outside Iraq. This is a dangerous partitioning based on sectarianism and ethnicity,” said Hashim Taie, a member of the Iraqi Accordance Front, the parliament’s main Sunni representation.

Shiite cleric Muqtada al- Sadr’s political supporters joined their rivals in denouncing the U.S. Senate’s measure. “This project is the strategic option for the American administration in its failure to igniting a sectarian war inside Iraq,” Nasr Rubaie said . “They started to search for a replacement, which is to divide Iraqi.”

Federalism has long proved a charged topic for Iraq. The Sadrtsts are still seeking a strong national government. The Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, another large Shiite political faction, also has started to downplay the idea of further weakening an already frail national government.

Leery of American intervention, Rubaie said the powers of the provinces and regional blocs should be defined once the United States has pulled its troops out of Iraq.

The U.S. E mbassy in Iraq was rankled enough by the Senate proposal to distance itself, issuing a statement Sunday distancing itself from the Democrat-led U.S. Senate.

Joost Hiltermann, a Middle East expert at the International Crisis Group think tank, cautioned that the Senate proposal had played on some of the worst fears of Iraqis and other Arab states. “In Iraq and the Arab world, the word partition is an anathema associated with the worst aspects of imperialist policy,” Hiltermann said.

Meanwhile Sunday, a preliminary military court hearing for a second U.S. army sniper accused in a case involving the murder of an Iraqi was postponed until November.

Sergeant Evan Vela is being prosecuted for pre-meditated murder in the May 11 shooting. He is also charged with planting a weapon on the man’s body, impeding an investigation and giving a false sworn statement. He confessed to the killing Thursday in the court-martial hearing of his fellow soldier Jorge G. Sandoval, who had been accused by prosecutors of helping in the murder.

Vela’s lawyers Thursday asked for a postponement because of the amount of classified material relevant to the case. They argued they needed security clearance and that the court hearing should be closed to the public. A new date was set for Nov. 10.

In eastern Baghdad, a U.S. soldier was killed by a bomb and small-arms fire, the military said.

Civilian deaths dropped to 884 in September , according to numbers obtained from the health ministry. It was the lowest death toll in Iraq since June 2006 when 887 civilians were killed. The U.S. military has announced that the death toll in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan has dropped dramatically compared with previous years, touting the dip as the fruit of having an additional 28,500 troops to Iraq. Several other lulls in violence were later shattered by bombings and attacks.

Staff writer Saif Hameed contributed to this report.

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