New Iraqi Constitution Due in Seven Days

Published August 16, 2005

| FoxNews.com

Iraqi lawmakers have been given a seven-day extension to finish up their work on a draft constitution before sending the document to the 275-member National Assembly for approval.

"Regrettably we were not able to reach a draft we could all agree on," said Barham Saleh, minister of planning and a former deputy prime minister.

Parliament adjourned after voting to extend the deadline until Aug. 22, acting on a request from Kurdish leaders. If an agreement on a constitution is reached then, Iraqis will vote around Oct. 15 to accept or reject the charter, leading to more elections in December for the country's first new government under the new constitution.

Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish framers of the charter had reached a tentative deal late Monday, resolving issues ranging from oil revenues to the country's name but putting off decision on the most contentious questions — including federalism, women's rights, the role of Islam and possible Kurdish autonomy.

The Shiites are demanding that Islam be the main source of legislation. That could affect the civil code, because Islamic law, or sharia (search), women might not receive the same share of inheritance and cannot initiate divorce.

"We should not be hasty regarding the issues and the constitution should not be born crippled," President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, said after the vote. "We are keen to have an early constitution, but the constitution should be completed in all of its items in a proper manner that appeals to all components of the Iraqi people so that the whole people interact with the whole constitution."

It was unclear if negotiators would reopen issues already resolved or focus only on those yet undecided.

In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) downplayed the significance of the delay and expressed confidence the Iraqis would reach consensus.

"I think we have to step back a little bit here and recognize that, yes, there was an August 15 deadline to complete the constitution. There was also a way for them to avail themselves of a few more days," she said.

"But what that says is that they are really committed to putting together a document that they believe in, a document that can be a foundation for a free and democratic Iraq for all Iraqis, and that they're determined to do that."

The issues of women's rights and self-determination, which the Kurds have demanded as a guarantee of autonomy and the right to secede someday, are ones vital to the success of Iraq as a democracy, observers said.

"Those are two tough issues and they really go to the heart of what that country's going to be like," former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger told FOX News. "If the new Iraq is going to go into the 21st century at all sensibly and begin to make a difference in terms of the Muslim world, they're going to have to face that women's rights issue and they're going to have to get it right … [they can't] go on treating them like second- or third-class citizens."

Officials said that agreements were reached on issues such as distribution of the country's oil revenues, the country's name and the issue of whether Iraqis could hold dual citizenship.

But even those issues remained unclear late Monday. For example, officials have said they were deciding on either the Republic of Iraq or Federal Republic of Iraq, and had ruled out the idea of putting any Islamic reference in the country's name

The National Assembly had been scheduled to convene at 6 p.m. (10 a.m. EDT) to consider the draft but that time was pushed back several times. The lawmakers had until midnight to reach agreement under an interim constitution.

"It's better to take a little more time and do it right," said Stuart Eizenstat, former U.S. ambassador to the European Union, who added that perhaps some sticking points, such as that of federalism, be postponed while other less controversial issues be voted on. "It does indicate you can't force these issues without a consensus," he told FOX News.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack stressed that it's vital that Iraqis have full and complete responsibility for the constitution writing and approval process and that they do whatever it takes to get it right.

"We think it's important for them to adhere to the process that has been laid out — that they, themselves, have laid out for this group drafting the constitution. So we've been supportive of their efforts and their efforts to meet their own deadline," McCormack said. "This is a product of, by and for Iraqi people. This will be a draft Iraqi constitution that ultimately will be voted on by Iraqis."

He said it's expected that the constitution may be revised over time.

"Democracy is not a single point in time, and these documents aren't immutable," McCormack said. "They're dealing with issues of federalism, the relationship and the rights of the provinces to the central government. They're dealing with issues of freedom of religion and freedom of worship. These are choices that the Iraqi people never had under Saddam Hussein.

"Democracy is a process. I expect that it will be a process in Iraq, just as it is in the United States and Eastern Europe and South America and other places around the world," he added.

The Bargaining Continues

The United States, which has pressured Iraqi officials to meet the Monday deadline, hopes the constitution will serve as a major step in luring Sunnis away from the insurgency so that American and other foreign troops can begin to go home next year.

Dan Senor, the former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority, told FOX News that Iraqis should be forgiven for a little bit of a delay, since they are still moving historically faster than fledgling democracies of years past. He also said that even if a document gets submitted on Monday it may not represent the final product.

"They can submit a draft, check a box and continue to work on it," Senor said.

"You're trying to pull together a lot of different people, a lot of different factions ... but I'm hopeful that when it's all said and done that they'll have a constitution that ultimately will be ratified by their government," added Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.

One option expressed during negotiations was to ignore Sunni objections, submit the document to parliament as planned and try to win over the Sunni public before an Oct. 15 referendum on the charter.

Sunni Arabs have asked that the issue of federalism be put off until next year. Shiites and Kurds are pushing for autonomous regions in the southern and northern parts of Iraq, but Sunnis fear the proposal could split Iraq.

Walter Russell Mead, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said even though the Kurds may be pushing for autonomy, they likely realize they're not going to get it.

"It's like bargaining in any other situation — you keep bargaining until you feel there's nothing else to gain," Mead told FOX News. "You make it look like you pushed as hard for the folks back home as you could.

"I think they are likely to settle for some kind of arrangement … the fact is, the Kurds can pretty much do whatever they want up there in the north," he added.

Kurds had suggested language giving them eight years within a unified Iraq and after that the right to secede. Shiites told them they should decide now whether they want to stay within Iraq. Sunnis rejected even the broad, general concept of federalism codified in the constitution at this time.

"I think that the seven days will be enough to agree on all the details regarding the federalism," Mouwaffak al-Rubaie, a Shiite and national security adviser told Al-Arabiya, "Democracy cannot be achieved in Iraq unless federalism is implemented, because Iraq has many ethnicities."

Sunnis also oppose other proposals endorsed by the Shiites and Kurds, including proposals for a special status for the Shiite clerical leadership and a formula for distributing oil wealth and dual citizenship.

But Shiites and Kurds dominate the National Assembly — as well as the constitutional committee — and could ram through the charter over Sunni Arab objections.

Sunnis — who boycotted the Jan. 30 vote for an interim parliament — could defeat the constitution in the national referendum. If two-thirds of the voters in three provinces vote against the constitution, it would be defeated. Sunni Arabs form the majority in at least four provinces.

"I think it may be about money at this point, to some degree," Mead told FOX News, adding that because the Sunnis live in the part of Iraq with no oil, they may be worried that too much federalism means more decentralization of money that may come their way; the Sunnis want a strong central government to ensure them an oil flow.

Sunni clerics have urged followers to vote against any constitution that could lead to the breakup of the country.

Terrorist Nabbed

In other news, the U.S. military announced Monday that Abu Zubair (search), also known as Mohammed Salah Sultan, was killed Friday by Iraqi Security Forces in an ambush in the northern city of Mosul.

Zubair was a known member of Al Qaeda in Iraq and a lieutenant in Abu Musab Zarqawi's (search) terrorist operations in Mosul who was being sought by coalition and Iraqi Security Forces for his involvement in a July homicide bombing attack of a police station in Mosul that left five Iraqi police officers dead. He was also suspected of aiding in homicide bomber attacks throughout the country.

When Zubair was killed, he was wearing a suicide device consisting of an explosive pack across his stomach armed with pellets, according to the U.S. military.

"Abu Zubair's death, as well as recent captures of terrorists in northern Iraq, is making a difference in coalition and Iraqi Security Forces efforts to disrupt terrorists operating in this part of the country," said Col. Billy J. Buckner, spokesman for the Multi-National Corps. "Terrorists are doing all they can to stop the rise of a free Iraq, but their bombs and attacks have not prevented Iraqi sovereignty and they will not prevent Iraqi democracy."

Meanwhile, in Khalis, 50 miles north of Baghdad, gunmen killed three people in separate shootings, including a municipal council member and his driver, police said Monday. Four others were wounded.

Police said gunmen killed three Iraqi soldiers and wounded three others at a checkpoint in Buhriz, 35 miles north of Baghdad.

In west Baghdad, an insurgent ambush killed one Iraqi soldier and injured another, police Capt. Talib Thamir said. A mortar struck the rear courtyard of the Interior Ministry on Monday, wounding five troops and three civilians.

In Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, the body of a government food program worker was found, police said. In the nearby village of Khirnabat, police said Monday a roadside bomb had killed one civilian the day before.

FOXNews.com's Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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