Published August 16, 2005
WASHINGTON – The Bush administration is trying to put its best face on the delay in agreeing on a constitution in Iraq, insisting "they are going to finish this."
In Baghdad, Iraqi leaders gave themselves another week to draft a new constitution, thereby raising questions whether Iraq's (search) factions were capable of compromise.
The postponement appeared to be a rebuff to U.S. officials, who were pressing for a deal, if even an incomplete one, to maintain political momentum in face of a deadly insurgency.
The Bush administration has invested an enormous treasure of capital and young American lives to push Iraq from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein to a hoped-for democratic future.
Bush had a statement issued that complimented "heroic efforts" by Iraqi drafters and "substantial progress" on preparing a constitution.
While Bush remained on a monthlong vacation at his Texas ranch, he issued a statement saying, "I applaud the heroic efforts of Iraqi negotiators and appreciate their work to resolve remaining issues through continued negotiation and dialogue. Their efforts are a tribute to democracy and an example that difficult problems can be solved peacefully through debate, negotiation and compromise."
Rice said at a State Department news conference, "I believe they are going to finish this."
She said it was only natural that compromises on difficult issues would take another week or so. "They have achieved a lot, and they have generated considerable momentum toward the completion of their constitution," she said.
The draft document that emerged from overtime negotiations in Baghdad put off key issues that the United States wanted to see resolved clearly and quickly.
The drafters had reached a tentative deal, resolving issues like oil revenues and the country's name but postponing decisions on the most contentious questions — federalism, women's rights, the role of Islam and possible Kurdish autonomy.
Larry Diamond, a Hoover Institution scholar who was an adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority that ran postwar Iraq, said, "We set ourselves up for political embarrassment by pressing so obsessively for this one particular deadline, and I think we need to listen more to our Iraqi interlocutors," he said.
Noah Feldman, an NYU professor who helped advise Iraqis on writing laws, said he would have been surprised if the Iraqis had agreed on a deal by the deadline. And he questioned the Bush administration's hands-on approach.
"We said absolutely, positively no extensions, and then ended up having to say, 'Well, O.K., some extension,"' Feldman said.
By contrast, the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, had predicted the constitution would be ready Monday. He was in the parliament hall Monday evening, apparently expecting to congratulate Iraqis for meeting the deadline.
The drafting of the constitution, even with U.S help, exposed deeper divisions and resentments among Iraq's ethnic groups than the United States had bargained for.
Especially worrisome to the United States were demands last week for a self-governing Shiite region. Politically, majority Shiites have been the ones to benefit most from Saddam's ouster and the ones who have worked most closely with U.S. advisers.