Clock ticking on Iraq's constitution
Monday, August 15, 2005
Parliament scheduled a meeting for today to give negotiators time to agree on a draft.
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- With one day left to finish Iraq's new constitution, Sunni Arabs asked Sunday that the divisive issue of federalism be put off until next year so the draft can be completed on time, warning they would not accept provisions for federated states.
American officials applied pressure to resolve differences on that and other issues before today's deadline for parliament to adopt the constitution, and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said he was convinced the Iraqis would succeed.
Some politicians said the draft could be presented to the Shiite- and Kurdish-led parliament Monday over Sunni Arab objections. But that would further alienate that disaffected minority, undercutting the U.S. goal of using the political process to take the steam out of the Sunni-dominated insurgency.
"It looks like all the agreements are being made only by the Kurds and the Shiites without even asking our opinion," Sunni Arab official Saleh al-Mutlaq said Sunday. "I believe the draft is going to be presented tomorrow even if it is not finished, with or without our approval."
Parliament scheduled a meeting for 6 p.m. (9 a.m.) today to allow as much time as possible for negotiators to agree on a draft.
The main obstacle was the argument over federalism, which the formerly dominant Sunni Arabs fear could lead to Kurdish and Shiite Muslim regions splitting away from Iraq. But al-Mutlaq said there also was no agreement on 17 other issues, including the distribution of oil wealth.
Another Sunni official voiced objections over a Shiite-Kurdish deal to grant special status to the clerical hierarchy of Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority.
Also in Iraq
In violence, five U.S. soldiers were killed by roadside bombs over the weekend and another died in a shooting, the U.S. military announced. At least 11 Iraqis were killed Sunday in attacks across the country, police said.
Sunni Arab politicians asked that federalism be left out of the constitution until a new parliament is elected during a meeting with President Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani, leaders of the two major Kurdish parties and proponents of a federal system to protect the self-rule Kurds have had since 1991.
"We made a proposal to transfer federalism and the process of forming federal regions to the next National Assembly," Sunni politician Kamal Hamdoun said. "Legislation could be drafted on these two matters and a referendum could be held on them."
Hamdoun said the Sunnis received no response to their proposal, which the Kurds have rejected in the past.
He said other charter provisions that Sunnis objected to were recognition of the Kurdish language, dual citizenship and the role of the Shiite religious leadership.
"If there are points that we do not agree on, we will not sign any draft," Hamdoun said, adding that he didn't think Shiites and Kurds would push through a charter "if they are serious about the unanimity with us."
Since Shiites and Kurds have agreed on most constitutional issues, Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman said the drafting committee would present the draft to parliament Monday even if the Sunni Arabs objected.
Parliament could approve the draft by a simple majority, and the Shiites and Kurds together hold 221 of the 275 seats. However, that risks a Sunni backlash that could scuttle the constitution when it is put before voters in an Oct. 15 referendum.
If two-thirds of the voters in at least three of the 18 provinces vote "no," the charter would be defeated and Sunnis form a majority in at least four provinces. Sunni clerics are urging followers to vote against any constitution that could lead to the breakup of the country.
With the Sunnis standing fast, Shiite legislator Jawad al-Maliki, a member of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's Dawa Party, raised the possibility that the deadline could be pushed back.
"We might amend the interim constitution and extend the deadline by a minimum of two weeks" to allow time to win over the Sunni Arabs, he told The Associated Press.
That would require approval of two-thirds of parliament and the president and his two deputies. However, the United States was anxious to keep to the schedule and ratcheted up pressure on the Iraqis to meet the Monday deadline.
"The Iraqis tell me that they can finish it and they will finish it tomorrow," the U.S. ambassador said on ABC's "This Week."
Khalilzad also acknowledged the importance of getting Sunni Arabs to join in backing the document. "This constitution can be a national compact bringing Sunnis in, isolating extremists and Baathist hard-liners and setting the stage over time for defeating them," he said on CNN's "Late Edition."
Khalilzad told CNN that "a lot of American blood and American treasure has been spent here" -- a point that he had made "abundantly clear to my Iraqi interlocutors."
An American soldier was killed and three others were wounded in a roadside bombing Sunday while they were on patrol east of Rutbah, 250 miles west of Baghdad, the military said.
Three soldiers assigned to Three Task Force Liberty were killed and one was wounded in a roadside bombing late Saturday near Tuz Khormato, 100 miles north of the capital, the military said.
One soldier also was killed and another wounded in a bombing in western Baghdad on Saturday, the military said.
Elsewhere, a U.S. soldier was found dead of a gunshot wound Friday. The military said an investigation was under way and did not say where the soldier was found or if an attack was suspected in the soldier's death.
In the capital, a senior Iraqi Central Bank official, Haseeb Kadum, was kidnapped Sunday outside his home, police 1st Lt. Thaer Mahmoud said. The beheaded body of an unidentified woman was found in the violent southern neighborhood of Dora, Mahmoud added.
Thirty bodies -- two of them women -- were found Sunday in a grave south of Baghdad, Iraqi forces said. Iraqi commandos were led to the grave after interrogating insurgents detained in a raid earlier in the day, police said. Police estimated the victims had been dead about two weeks.
Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue, Sameer N. Yacoub and Omar Sinan contributed to this report.