Iraq battles to complete Constitution

As the Monday deadline for drafting Iraq’s Constitution inched closer, leaders of the war-torn country battled to complete the draft, delaying the special Parliament session called to consider the charter.

”The Parliament session has been delayed as the leaders are still in the meeting,” said Hiwa Osman, spokesperson to President Jalal Talabani.

A source in the communication department of the 275-member National Assembly said the delay was for two hours.

The delay occurred as leading politicians were locked in 11th-hour talks to thrash out the remaining disagreements over a final draft amid intense United States-led pressure not to play into the hands of insurgents by missing a key target date in Iraq’s political transition.

They included three Shi’ites — Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, former premier Iyad Allawi and prominent religious politician Abdel Aziz al-Hakim — and two Kurds, Talabani and the president of the Kurdish autonomous region, Massoud Barzani.

Iraq’s draft Constitution will be presented to Parliament on time on Monday, government spokesperson Leith Kubba told state-owned Iraqia television.

”The text will be presented to Parliament today,” said Kubba.

Kubba said each political group has presented its views, ”but they know that if they delay they can be losers if the draft is not ready today”.

”Everybody knows there are differences between political groups, but this is part of the constitutional gain,” he said when questioned about the hard-line stance taken by Sunni Arabs against federalism.

Iraq’s National Security Adviser, Muwaffaq Rubaie, also confirmed that the text will be presented on Monday.

”The overwhelming majority of the issues have been sorted out,” Rubaie told CNN. ”The draft will be presented in a couple of hours to the National Assembly.”

Under the country’s interim law, a Constitution is due to be drafted by August 15 and then put to a referendum in mid-October ahead of new elections in December.

The sticking points continue to be federalism, the role of Islam in law-making and a mechanism to distribute the country’s national wealth (mainly oil revenue) among the 27-million-strong population.

The ousted Sunni Arab elite remained firm in its opposition to federalism, but appeared open to compromise on the role of Islam, saying it could be ”a” main source of legislation and not ”the” main source.

Sunni Arabs fear that a federal structure involving a number of autonomous governments could leave them without a share of the country’s vast oil reserves, which lie largely in the northern Kurdish zone and the Shi’ite south.

On Sunday, US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad expressed cautious optimism, acknowledging that differences on federalism and Islam remained but adding that they had been ”considerably narrowed”.

Members of the drafting committee said the main obstacle was the hard-line stance being taken by Sunni Arab colleagues, many of whom were co-opted on to the committee after the disenchanted former elite largely boycotted January elections amid widespread support for, or fear of, insurgents.

”How the situation will be depends upon the Sunnis who are not even ready to talk about the principle of federalism,” said Kurdish member Mahmud Othman.

”There are also differences between the Shi’ites and the Kurds on religion, revenue-sharing and family law. I do not know how they will be sorted out.”

An initial agreement to share the oil revenues has been agreed, but the mechanism to distribute it remains to be formulated.

Sunni member Saleh al-Motlag said last week that oil revenues would be controlled by the central government and distributed on the basis of provincial populations.

Sunni member Hassib Arif al-Obaidi demanded more time.

”The drafting is still incomplete … the agreement is still not resolved, basic issues remain … Why do we have to stick to the deadline? We need more time … maybe till the end of the month,” he said.

But other committee members said the Kurds and Shi’ites — under heavy US pressure — were gearing up to finalise the charter before the deadline.

”We can still prepare the draft without the Sunnis,” Othman said on Sunday. ”All the groups elected in the National Assembly can come together and prepare the draft by Monday evening.”

Under interim legislation, if Monday’s deadline is not met then Parliament must be dissolved and new elections held, potentially delaying US plans for the political transition and an exit of foreign troops.

One scenario could see MPs voting in an amendment to the interim law so that the deadline can be extended, though an extension is unlikely given heavy US pressure to meet the target.

Even then, Sunnis could still scupper the new Constitution during the mid-October referendum.

The interim law stipulates the charter can be rejected by a two-thirds majority in any three provinces. At least three — Al-Anbar, Tamim and Salaheddin — are predominantly Sunni.

One the ground, nine people died in insurgent violence, four of them Iraqi soldiers. — Sapa-AFP

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Jay Deshmukh
Jay Deshmukh
Sudan Bureau Chief for Agence France Presse (AFP) based in Khartoum.

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