Tempers flared in the Iraqi parliament when Shi'ite lawmakers tried to force debate on designating autonomous regions in the country.

The Shi'ite lawmakers tried to discuss their proposal during a stormy session Thursday.

But they were cut off by the speaker of parliament, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, who said he had not seen the proposal.

The Shi'ites, who dominate parliament, want to establish an autonomous region in southern Iraq, modeled after the Kurdish north.

Sunni Arabs, who fear the proposal could split the country, are concentrated in the resource-poor central and western Iraq. 

Northern and southern Iraq are rich in oil. 

Iraq's constitution, which was approved last year, enshrines federalism and allows for the creation of autonomous regions.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.