Iraqi Parliament Delays Constitution Vote
By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, Associated Press Writer 58
BAGHDAD, Iraq - In another dramatic last-minute
standoff, Iraqi leaders late Monday put off a vote on
a draft constitution, adjourning Parliament at a
midnight deadline in a bid for more time to try to win
over the Sunni Arab minority whose support is key to
ending the insurgency.
Negotiators representing majority Shiites, Kurds and
Sunni Arabs finished the draft on Monday and prepared
to submit it to parliament as the lawmakers convened
minutes before midnight. But they withdrew the draft
in the final minutes because of fierce resistance over
issues including federalism, which Sunnis fear could
cut them out of most of the country's vast oil wealth.
The 15 Sunni Arab members of the drafting committee
issued a statement early Tuesday saying they had
rejected the constitution because the government and
the committee did not abide by an agreement for
"We reject the draft constitution that was submitted
because we did not have an accord on it," said Sunni
delegate Nasser al-Janabi.
Although the statement was issued after parliament had
deferred a decision, it was significant because it
indicates the Sunnis can try to block any accord with
which they do not agree entirely. That could severely
complicate the discussions in the coming days.
The numerous remaining issues cast doubt whether the
Iraqis would be able to finish the document within a
few days since the various groups have widely
differing positions on all those points. Repeated
delays are a deep embarrassment for the Bush
administration at a time of growing doubts within the
United States over the mission in Iraq.
One Shiite negotiator cautioned it was "not possible
to please everyone." But the negotiator, Humam
Hammoudi, Shiite chairman of the 71-member committee
that struggled for weeks to try to complete the draft,
said "many things have been achieved in this
constitution and we hope it will be a real step toward
When the lawmakers convened shortly before midnight,
parliament speaker Hajim al-Hassani told them there
was strong interest in reaching unanimity on the draft
"so that the constitution pleases everyone."
"All these groups in the coming three days will try,
God willing to reach accord on some points that are
still disagreements," he said. "The draft constitution
has been received and we will work on solving the
He then adjourned the session without a vote.
Afterward, he told reporters that the main outstanding
issues were federalism, the formation of federal
units, problems related to mentioning the Baath Party
in the constitution, and the division of powers
between the president, the parliament and the Cabinet.
Washington had applied enormous pressure on the Iraqis
to meet the original Aug. 15 deadline but parliament
instead had to grant a week's extension, which they
again failed to meet.
The first deadline to adopt a constitution expired a
week ago, with Parliament voting to extend it for
seven days. The legislature supposedly had to disband
if the deadline was not met, but lawmakers said
nothing about that late Monday.
Shiites and Kurds have enough seats in parliament to
win approval for a draft without the Sunni Arabs. But
the Sunni minority could scuttle the constitution when
voters decide whether to ratify it in the Oct. 15
referendum. Under current rules, the constitution
would be defeated if it is opposed by two-thirds of
the voters in three of Iraq's 18 provinces. Sunni
Arabs form the majority in at least four.
In addition, an attempt by Shiites and Kurds to win
parliamentary agreement without the Sunnis could risk
a backlash within the community that is at the
forefront of the insurgency and undercut U.S. hopes to
begin withdrawing troops next year.
The Kurds demand federalism to protect their self-rule
in three northern provinces. Sunni Arabs oppose that,
fearing Kurds want to declare independence. Shiites
are divided, with factions supporting federalism
wanting to build a Shiite region in the south.
The showdown on the constitution came as violence
persisted in Iraq.
The U.S. military said two U.S. soldiers from Task
Force Liberty were killed Monday by a roadside bomb
during a combat patrol north of Baghdad, and two more
soldiers died when their vehicle overturned during a
military operation near Tal Afar. At least 1,870 U.S.
troops have died since the Iraq war started in 2003,
according to an Associated Press count.
President Bush defended the war in Iraq on Monday in
the face of growing skepticism, asserting that "a
policy of retreat and isolation will not bring us
safety" from terrorism.
"The only way to defend to our citizens where we live
is to go after the terrorists where they live," Bush
said in Salt Lake City in a speech to the national
convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Associated Press correspondents Bassem Mroue, Sameer
N. Yacoub and Omar Sinan contributed to this report.