Iraq Forms Constitutional Committee

A Shiite cleric was chosen Tuesday to chair the committee drafting Iraq's new constitution, while a Sunni Arab and a Kurd will be his deputies as the government seeks a charter reflecting the country's ethnic and religious makeup.

Hummam Hammoudi (search), a deputy with the United Iraqi Alliance (search), said he will chair the 55-member committee, while Sunni Arab legislator Adnan al-Janabi (search) and Kurdish lawmaker Fouad Massoum (search) will be his deputies.

"I have been picked as the head of the committee," Hammoudi told The Associated Press.

The committee was chosen by consensus among the parties represented in the 275-member National Assembly and presented to the parliament speaker. A formal announcement was not made.

Hammoudi is a senior aide to Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim (search), leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (search), or SCIRI, the dominant party in the United Iraqi Alliance (search), which controls the largest bloc in the assembly. Al-Hakim also leads the alliance.

"Sheikh Hummam Hammoudi of the alliance list was elected as the president of the committee," Massoum confirmed, adding that he and al-Janabi were named deputies.

The assembly has just 17 Sunni Arab members after the minority group largely decided not to participate in January's elections, either in protest or fear of reprisal by insurgents.

Sunni extremists are believed to make up the core of the insurgency, adding urgency to calls for more inclusion of the minority in Iraq's political processes.

Shiites make up about 60 percent of the country's estimated 26 million people and the Kurds 20 percent. Sunni Arabs, who comprise about 20 percent, enjoyed decades of dominance under ousted leader Saddam Hussein's Baathist (search) regime.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's (search) interim government faces a tight deadline because it needs a new constitution drafted by mid-August and submitted to a referendum by Oct. 15. If approved, new elections must be held by Dec. 15, according to Iraq's transitional law.

Under the interim constitution, if two-thirds of voters in at least three of Iraq's 18 provinces reject the draft constitution, the National Assembly will be dissolved and new elections will be held.

During a recent visit to Iraq, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) said Iraq's government must move quickly to write a constitution that reflects the full spectrum ethnic and religious groups in Iraq.

Al-Hakim told the AP that Sunni Arabs should participate in drafting the new constitution.

"It is necessary to have an active participation in this period by all parts of the Iraqi people and among them Sunni Arabs," he said. "They should have a real participation and their points of view should be taken seriously.

Earlier this month, the National Assembly appointed a 55-member committee of legislators from Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish groups to draw up the charter, but the committee included only two Sunnis, including al-Janabi.

Concerns have been raised that the Shiite-dominated government and al-Jaafari, leader of the conservative Islamic Dawa party (search), may seek to turn Iraq into an Islamic state. The government has said it wants the constitution to reflect the Islamic character of Iraq, while the Kurds have threatened to reject any attempt to turn the country into a religious state.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani (search), Iraq's top Shiite cleric, wants to make sure the new constitution respects the country's Islamic identity.

Radical anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr (search), a Shiite with a large following, told an Iraqi television network Monday that "as long as Iraq is occupied we will not take part in drafting the constitution. We consider the Koran as our constitution."