BAGHDAD, Iraq – Framers of Iraq's new constitution said Wednesday they will meet an August deadline despite a move by Sunni Arabs (search) to suspend work after the killings of two colleagues. Some Shiites are pushing a proposal that could erode women's rights.
Vast gulfs remain among the positions of Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni members on key issues, including Iraq's identity as an Arab nation, the role of Islam and federalism, some committee members said privately.
Shiites want a greater role for Islam in civil law — a proposal that could erode women's rights in such matters as marriage, divorce and inheritance.
Under Islamic law, a woman inherits half of what a man would. Men also have the power when it comes to initiating divorces. Iraq has been operating under a secular 1959 civil status law that treated every person according to his sect.
"We reject the changes ... because some Islamic parties want to kidnap the rights of women in Iraq," said Yanar Mohammed (search), head of Women's Freedom in Iraq Movement. "We reject such attempts because women should be full citizens with full rights, not semi-human beings."
However, Mariam al-Rayyes (search), a Shiite member, said Islam will be the state religion and a "main source" for legislation in the constitution.
"It gives women all rights and freedoms as long as they don't contradict with our values," she said. "Concerning marriage, inheritance and divorce, this is civil status laws. That should not contradict with religious values."
Also Wednesday, Iraqis observed a government-sponsored moment of silence to honor victims of suicide attacks last week, the nation's first such memorial. Less than three hours before the noon ceremony, a suicide bomber blew himself outside an army recruiting center in central Baghdad, killing at least 10 people, police said. The center has been targeted multiple times, with a July 10 attack killing 25 and wounding 47.
The chairman of the committee drafting the new constitution told reporters that subcommittees dealing with specific articles would finish their work within the next two days and submit their reports for review.
Humam Hammoudi, a Shiite cleric, said he was confident the committee would finish the final draft by the end of the month so that parliament could meet an Aug. 15 deadline for approving it. The document then goes to a referendum by mid-October.
His optimism came despite a move by 12 Sunni Arab members to suspend participation in the committee to protest poor security after the assassination of two fellow Sunnis helping draft the constitution.
Committee member Mijbil Issa and committee adviser Dhamin Hussein al-Obeidi (search) were gunned down Tuesday as they left a restaurant in Baghdad's Karradah district. A bodyguard also was killed.
Issa was among 15 Sunni Arabs appointed to the committee last month; Sunnis form the core of Iraq's insurgency, and giving them a greater voice in preparing the constitution was seen as key to wooing them away from violence.
But two Sunnis quit the committee due to insurgent threats. Kamal Hamdoun, a Sunni member, said the 12 remaining members would meet Thursday with Sunni leaders to decide what to do. "Our membership has been suspended temporarily until tomorrow when we meet the committee that chose us," he said. "We don't have security."
At a funeral service for Issa on Wednesday, a hard-line Sunni cleric said the Sunnis agreed to participate in drafting the charter "under pressure from others," presumably including the United States.
"A constitution cannot be written under (U.S.) occupation," Harith al-Dhari said. "This is what Sunnis got from joining the constitution committee. Their members are being killed."
State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said concerns about the security of the Sunnis were understandable but that "we all look forward to the work of the committee continuing."
The three minutes of silence Wednesday honored the nearly 100 victims of a massive suicide bombing in Musayyib last Saturday and nearly 30 others, including 18 children and teens, who died July 13 in a suicide attack in Baghdad.
Observance was sporadic. State-run Iraqiya Television showed traffic at a standstill in parts of central Baghdad and along a main street in southern Basra. But officials in Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, said they were never notified of the commemoration.
In Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, more than half of the 41-member provincial council suspended participation in meetings Wednesday to protest the deteriorating security situation and poor public services.
Elsewhere, explosions were reported at two oil pipelines in central Iraq, police said. A blast early Wednesday hit a pipeline nine miles south of Samarra, linking the Beiji and Dora refineries; an explosion also occurred Tuesday at a crude oil storage depot 25 miles south of Baghdad, police said. Such attacks often mean more electricity shortages for Baghdad's 6.5 million people.