KARBALA, Iraq — Iraq's prime minister on Wednesday called on members of Saddam Hussein's now-dissolved Baath party to declare their rejection of the party in writing, and threatened prosecution if they do not.
Nuri al-Maliki called on Baath members to "announce their repentance and innocence" and to sign a document to that effect "in front of the relevant state agencies," in a speech in the central Shiite shrine city Karbala.
"If not, they are subject to ... legal prosecution," he said.
The remarks are just the latest part of the premier's anti-Baath drive.
Maliki announced in late October that 615 people had been arrested in a country-wide sweep of alleged Baathists, whom he said were targeting "state security and stability."
Arrests in Sunni-majority Salaheddin province prompted its provincial council to vote for administrative and financial autonomy, sparking a furious reaction from Maliki, who said the province would not be permitted to become a "refuge for Baathists."
According to Article 119 of the Iraqi constitution, "one or more governorates (provinces) shall have the right to organise into a region based on a request to be voted on in a referendum."
Thus, Salaheddin will not become autonomous unless the province's residents vote for that option in a referendum.
But if Maliki has his way, the Kurdistan region of north Iraq, which is made up of Arbil, Dohuk and Sulaimaniyah provinces, will remain the country's only autonomous region, at least for the time being.
"Choosing the moment is important. This is not the moment for federalism," Maliki said in his Wednesday remarks.
"It should be during stability and quiet and national unity," he said, adding that "it will be a disaster" if there are new federal regions now, and it "will not be to the benefit of any province if they go in this direction."
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