Baghdad: Iraq`s Shi`ite-led government said on Tuesday it had decided in principle to create three new provinces from contested parts of the country in an apparent attempt to address Sunni grievances and counter the expansion of the Kurdish self-rule region.
One of those provinces would be centred on Fallujah, a city overrun earlier this month by al Qaeda and allied insurgents after more than a year of protests there and in other Sunni cities against what they consider second-class citizen treatment.
Separate province status was not a major Sunni demand, but it could allow the area to receive increased federal funding.
The other two areas Tuz Khormato and the Ninevah Plain border Iraq`s northern Kurdish self-rule region. The former is a mixed city containing Arabs, Kurds, and ethnic Turkomen while the latter has a large Christian population.
A statement said the Cabinet had "agreed in principle to turn the areas of Tuz, Fallujah and the Ninevah Plain into provinces and the Cabinet will decide after the fulfilment of the necessary requirements." It did not give a reason for the decision.
Turkomen and Christians, many of whom fear absorption into the Kurdistan Regional Government, have been demanding separate province status for Tuz Khormato and Ninevah Plain for years. The Fallujah announcement however was unexpected.
Iraqi security forces have besieged Fallujah and are battling to take back the nearby city of Ramadi, parts of which are also held by militants.
Meanwhile, a car bomb exploded near a car dealership in Baghdad`s central al-Nahda area, killing five people and wounding 16 others, security and health officials said. They spoke anonymously as they were not authorised to talk to the media.
Also, the Justice Ministry said today that Iraq hanged 26 prisoners convicted of terrorism-related charges, all of them Iraqi nationals.
A statement posted on the ministry`s website today says that all the executions were carried out on Sunday. It says the suspects were found guilty of carrying out "ugly terrorist attacks" against the Iraqi people.
The statement quoted Justice Minister Hassan al-Shimari as saying those executed included Adel-al-Mashhadani, a former anti-al Qaeda Sunni leader in Baghdad who was sentenced to death in late 2009 for murder and kidnapping.