Iraq Constitution drafted in English
- Iraq: Constitution drafted by US in English, translated to
Constitution Said Vague on Some Points
By:Ellen Knickmeyer and Jonathan Finer
BAGHDAD, Aug. 22 - Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority and its Kurdish
allies moved Monday toward fundamentally reshaping their nation,
submitting a proposed constitution that would create a loose
federation with strongly Islamic national laws.
The draft constitution, sent to parliament just five minutes before a
midnight deadline, outraged negotiators for Iraq's Sunni Arab
minority, and Sunni constitutional delegates warned that civil unrest
could erupt if the charter becomes law over their objections.
"The streets will rise up," predicted Salih Mutlak, a Sunni delegate.
But the coalition of Shiites and Kurds, which holds a heavy majority
in parliament and could easily approve the constitution on its own,
agreed late Monday to postpone a vote for three days in hopes of
appeasing Sunni negotiators.
Sunni support for the constitution is seen as crucial to ending the
insurgency that continues to stage deadly attacks across the country.
Sunnis fear the proposed federal system would cause the breakup of
Iraq, but Shiite and Kurdish leaders said they intended to yield
little ground in their right to form separate federal states.
"There will be no central government like before," said Humam
Hamoudi, the constitutional committee chairman and a member of the
Shiite sect that was subjected to decades of repression under Saddam
Hussein's centrally controlled rule. "There will be decentralized
Hamoudi said the coming days would bring dialogue, but he
added, "there will be no changes in the articles or the details of
In Washington, the White House lauded the Iraqi government for
submitting a constitution and meeting the deadline requirement of a
U.S.-crafted interim law.
"We welcome today's development as another step forward in Iraq's
constitutional process," said a White House statement. "The progress
made over the past week has been impressive."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also praised the Iraqis in a
statement for their "statesmanlike decision" to use three more days
to build a national consensus.
Negotiators here described American officials as playing a major role
in the draft. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad shuttled among Iraqi
leaders, pushing late Monday for the inclusion of Sunnis in talks,
negotiators said. U.S. Embassy staff members worked from a Kurdish
party headquarters to help type up the draft and translate changes
from English to Arabic for Iraqi lawmakers, negotiators said.
The last night of talks took place on a day of power outages, blamed
on insurgent attacks, that also knocked out water service to Iraq's
capital. Meanwhile, roadside bombings on Monday killed two U.S.
soldiers in Baghdad and an Iraqi couple near the northern city of
Kirkuk. The mainstream Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party also reported the
killing of one of its leaders, Amer Abdul Jabar Ziayan, north of
In Pakistan, officials reported that 11 Pakistani workers had been
freed nine days after they were kidnapped in Iraq while traveling by
bus to Baghdad from Kuwait.
If no major changes are made, the draft constitution would officially
enshrine a sweeping transformation of Iraq that began 2 1/2 years ago
with the U.S.-led invasion and the overthrow of Hussein. The changes
would have enormous ramifications for Iraq's 26 million people, its
resources and relations with its neighbors, such as Turkey, who fear
the Kurdish north's move toward near-independence will heighten
revolts among their own Kurdish minorities.
The constitution as written would formalize and broaden the autonomy
enjoyed by the Kurdish north since creation of a U.S.-protected "no-
fly" zone following the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
The charter's definition of Iraq as a federal union also would clear
the way for a southern Shiite state made up of as many as half of
Iraq's 18 provinces, negotiators said. The Supreme Council for the
Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite religious party that is the
country's strongest political bloc and that has strong ties to
neighboring Iran, called for such a sub-state this month.
Sunnis fear they would be left with an impoverished, weakened state
in the west and center.
Negotiators said Monday that the draft would put Iraq's existing oil
production under control of the central government. But control of
new oil production would go to the south and north, where the oil is
produced, meaning revenue for the central government, and Sunnis,
would likely ebb within a few years.
"We gave a choice - whoever doesn't want federalism can opt not to
practice it," said Ali Debagh, a Shiite constitutional committee
member. He acknowledged that the Sunnis would be unlikely to accept
such a draft in a national referendum scheduled for October.
The draft constitution submitted Monday stipulates that Iraq is an
Islamic state and that no law can contradict the principles of Islam,
Opponents have charged that the latter provision would subject Iraqis
to rule by religious edicts of individual clerics or sects.
The opponents also said women would lose gains they made during
Hussein's rule, when they were guaranteed equal rights under civil
law in matters including marriage, divorce and inheritance. The draft
constitution says individuals can choose to have family matters
decided by either religious or civil law.
Supporters say a separate bill of rights would protect women, and
provisions of the constitution say no law can contradict democracy or
that bill of rights.
Khalilzad, speaking to CNN early Tuesday, called the proposed
constitution a "very good" draft that guarantees equal rights for
all. An American serving as adviser to the Kurds, Peter Galbraith,
disagreed that the charter protected women's rights and condemned
what he called the Bush administration's "hypocrisy" on that issue in
The Islamic law provisions would not apply in the Kurdish north,
Kurdish negotiators this week criticized Khalilzad, a Muslim who
helped draft a constitution last year as U.S. envoy to his native
Afghanistan, for allegedly supporting the Shiite push for a heavy
emphasis on religion in Iraq's new charter.
Both Sunnis and Kurds accused Khalilzad of pushing negotiators too
hard to make Monday's deadline, already extended once, and keep the
country on a strict timeline that calls for the October constitution
referendum and new national elections in December. The United States
has viewed the timeline as critical to its hopes of scaling back its
138,000 troops here by spring.
But negotiators credited Khalilzad on Monday with persuading Shiites
and Kurds to take more time to try to bring Sunnis into support of
Mutlak expressed shock at how close other negotiators seemed to have
come Monday at passing the draft without further consulting
Sunnis. ""Frankly, I don't trust them anymore," he said afterward.
"Congratulations on your constitution," Mutlak told Hamoudi, the
Shiite committee chairman, early Tuesday after the session. "Yours,"
Hamoudi said. Mutlak disagreed, grimly: "Yours."
Defeating the constitution in an Oct. 15 referendum would require two-
thirds of voters in three of Iraq's provinces to reject it. Sunnis
are thought capable of securing such a vote in at least two provinces
in a fair election. If the parliament had failed to submit a draft
Monday, it would have dissolved and elections would have been held
for a new assembly to try to devise a new draft. If the referendum
fails Oct. 15, it will trigger the same series of events.
Because of insurgent threats and boycott demands from their leaders,
the majority of Iraq's Sunnis stayed out of January national
elections that seated the current parliament and government. The move
greatly diminished their clout in the government and in the
constitutional talks. Many Sunni leaders said they recognize that was
a mistake, and have been mobilizing followers to vote "no" in
the constitutional referendum.
Special correspondents Omar Fekeiki and Naseer Nouri in Baghdad and
staff writer Robin Wright in Washington contributed to this report.
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