Iraqi constitutionalism (it's morning in Iraq, so tospeak)
SLevinson at law.utexas.edu
Sun Aug 14 22:06:24 PDT 2005
New York Times
August 15, 2005
Iraqis Consider Bypassing Sunnis on Constitution
By DEXTER FILKINS <http://query.nytimes.com/search/query?ppds=bylL&v1=DEXTER FILKINS&fdq=19960101&td=sysdate&sort=newest&ac=DEXTER FILKINS&inline=nyt-per>
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 14 - Iraqi leaders remained deadlocked Sunday over major issues in the country's new constitution, raising the possibility they would fail to meet the Monday deadline and push the country toward a political crisis.
With several questions unresolved, Shiite leaders said Sunday that they were considering asking the National Assembly to approve the document without the agreement of the country's Sunni leaders. Such a move would probably provoke the Sunnis, whose participation in the political process is seen as crucial in the effort to marginalize the Sunni-dominated guerrilla insurgency.
Shiite and Kurdish leaders said they were also considering giving themselves more time to reach a deal, though it was by no means certain that they could without amending the interim constitution, the law currently in force. That would require a three-fourths majority of the 275-member National Assembly.
If the deadline is not met nor the interim constitution successfully amended, the law appears to require dissolving the National Assembly and holding new elections. Shiite and Kurdish leaders said late Sunday that they were discussing that possibility, but said that they hoped to avoid it.
"That is the worst option, and we want to avoid it all costs," said Ali al-Dabbagh, one of the Shiite leaders charged with writing the new constitution.
The negotiations were stalled on a number of issues, including the role of Islam in the state, the rights of women and the distribution of power between central and regional governments. Issues that had seemed to have been settled, like the sharing of oil revenues, came unraveled.
American officials here have been pushing the Iraqis to meet the Aug. 15 deadline, arguing that any delay in the political process, devised to culminate in democratic elections in December, could risk strengthening the insurgency. A stalemate could also stall the Bush administration's plans to begin reducing the number of troops here as early as next spring.
The deadlock reflected a lack of consensus on basic questions underlying the nation's identity, a consensus which has largely eluded this country since it was carved from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire after World War I.
The disagreements run almost entirely along ethnic and sectarian lines, reflecting the deep divisions among Iraq's majority Shiites and the Kurdish and Sunni minorities.
The principal unresolved issue is whether to grant to the country's Shiite majority an autonomous region in the south. Shiite leaders are demanding that nine provinces in southern Iraq - half of the provinces in the country - be allowed to form a largely self-governing region akin to the Kurdish autonomous region in the north.
The leaders of Iraq's Sunni population staunchly oppose the Shiite demands, contending that if the Shiites and the Kurds were both granted wide powers of self-rule, there would be little left of the Iraqi state. The issue of Shiite autonomy is especially significant because the richest oil fields are situated in the extreme south of the country.
Indeed, some Sunni leaders say the Shiite demand for self-rule is largely a cover for hoarding the bulk of Iraq's oil revenues. On Sunday, an agreement on sharing oil revenues between the central and regional governments fell apart, with the Shiites demanding more control.
Under prodding from the American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, the Shiites agreed to hold off on their demands for regional autonomy, in exchange for a mechanism in the constitution that would allow them to achieve that autonomy later. Under the formula favored by the Shiites, provinces could set up autonomous regions if they secured majority votes of their people, the provincial assemblies and the National Assembly.
But Sunni leaders rejected that proposal, saying it would only slow down, but not significantly hamper, the Shiite drive for self-rule. While accepting Mr. Khalilzad's basic formula, the Sunnis said they would insist on two-thirds majorities in all the voting.
"If we accept federalism, the country will be finished," said Saleh Mutlak, a Sunni leader on the constitutional committee.
Late Sunday, after many hours of negotiating, some Shiite leaders said they were so impatient with what they described as Sunni intransigence that they began to threaten to ram the constitution through the National Assembly without Sunni support.
Theoretically, at least, that was possible. Sunnis constitute only about 20 percent of the population, and they hold virtually none of the seats in the National Assembly, in part because they boycotted national elections in January. If the Shiites and the Kurds united around the proposed constitution, they could probably secure enough votes for its approval in the National Assembly, and in the nationwide constitutional referendum scheduled for Oct. 15.
Under the rules agreed to last year, the Sunnis could defeat the constitution, but only if they could muster a two-thirds majority voting against it in 3 of Iraq's 18 provinces. The Sunnis are believed to constitute a majority in three provinces, but some Shiite leaders said they were untroubled by the prospect of a Sunni veto.
"The Sunnis have to find a two-thirds majority, and they can't," said Sami al-Askary, a Shiite member of the constitutional committee.
Pushing the constitution through without the Sunnis, though, would almost certainly bring a Sunni reaction. Sunni leaders suggested that they could back out of the political process altogether, raising the prospect of a Sunni boycott of the Oct. 15 referendum and the Dec. 15 elections.
American leaders fear that failing to bring the Sunnis along into the political process would only further intensify the insurgency, which is already attacking American forces an average of 65 times a day here.
As the Aug. 15 deadline approached, it was difficult to differentiate between credible threats and high-stakes bargaining. There were suggestions, for instance, that the Shiite leadership itself was not unified on the federalism question. One of the Shiite leaders, Abdul Aziz Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic revolution in Iraq, who was expected to attend a meeting of the top political leaders on Sunday night, surprised many when he failed to show up.
Among the other questions still unresolved are the role of Islam in the state, including a proposal by the Shiites to include a political role for the Shiite religious leadership in Najaf. The power granted to Islam in the new constitution could affect the rights of women, particularly if Islamic law is allowed to govern marriage and family disputes.
Iraqi leaders have still reached no agreement on the city of Kirkuk, which is divided among three ethnic groups but claimed by the Kurdish regional government. The Kurds are pushing for a timeline to reverse decades of Saddam Hussein's "Arabization" policy that would require the repatriation of tens of thousands of people.
Also on Sunday, the American command announced the deaths of five American soldiers, all from roadside bombs. In the bloodiest attack, a bomb killed three American soldiers on patrol on Friday in the city of Tuz, north of Baghdad. A fourth soldier was wounded.
On Sunday, another roadside bomb killed an American solider and wounded three others near the western town of Rutbah. A fifth American soldier was killed Saturday by a roadside bomb in western Baghdad, and another was wounded.
The propaganda war continued as well. In a statement posted on the internet, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia warned the Sunni clerics against urging their faithful to take part in the referendum on the constitution. The warning appears to be a reaction to the fact that many Sunni preachers, in contrast to the elections in January, are urging Sunnis to vote this time.
"Be informed that this conspiracy is to get America out of the logjam that it fell into," the statement reads. "We in the Al Qaeda organization will manifest the backsliding of all who call for the writing of the constitution and arbitrating on other than God's laws."
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