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Iraqi Parliament Delays Constitution Vote

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20050822/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq Iraqi Parliament Delays Constitution Vote By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, Associated Press
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 22, 2005
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      http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20050822/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq

      Iraqi Parliament Delays Constitution Vote

      By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, Associated Press Writer 58
      minutes ago

      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
      consensus.

      "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
      stability."

      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
      remaining problems."

      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.
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