As had been widely predicted, Iraqis have failed to produced a draft constitution by the Aug. 15 deadline. -- AP characterized the Iraqi parliament's 11th-hour vote to extend the deadline by seven days as "a strong rebuff of the Bush administration," whose representatives (especially Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad) have been pushing hard. -- Squabbling drafters could not even "agree even on what they disagreed on," Bassem Mroue reported. -- The Financial Times (UK) characterized U.S. pressure on Iraqis as "intense." -- In a leader for its Tuesday edition the Times of London was philosophical. -- The Times called the delay "neither surprising nor disastrous," and said that deliberateness was needed, since "every phrase and every clause will have long-term binding influence on the politics, democratic development, and human rights of a country." -- This view may please Times owner Rupert Murdoch, but it is dubious in the extreme. -- Much more probable is that Iraq's constitution will be another still-born child of the ill-conceived (and criminal) project that was the neoconservative-inspired U.S.-U.K.-led invasion in Iraq. -- Its phrases and clauses are likely to be overtaken by events in the burgeoning civil war now underway in the Land of Two Rivers, with the entire document relegated to the history books without ever having become a matter for concern to the tormented people of Iraq, increasingly obliged to attend to the difficulties of surviving from one day to the next....
IRAQIS FAIL TO AGREE ON CONSTITUTION, RECEIVE MORE TIME TO RESOLVE CONTENTIOUS ISSUES
By Bassem Mroue
August 15, 2005
BAGHDAD -- Iraqi leaders failed to meet a key deadline Monday to finish a new constitution, stalling over the same fundamental issues of power-sharing -- including federalism, oil wealth, and Islam's impact on women -- that have bedeviled the country since Saddam Hussein's ouster.
Just 20 minutes before midnight, parliament voted to give negotiators another seven days, until Aug. 22, to try to draft the charter. The delay was a strong rebuff of the Bush administration's insistence that the deadline be met, even if some issues were unresolved, to maintain political momentum and blunt Iraq's deadly insurgency.
"We should not be hasty regarding the issues and the constitution should not be born crippled," said Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite, after the parliament session, which lasted a bare 15 minutes. "We are keen to have an early constitution, but the constitution should be completed in all of its items."
Al-Jaafari's statement came after an apparent deal late Monday on all but two key issues fell apart, according to several Shiite politicians.
The Shiites said the unresolved issues were women's rights, which is inextricably tied to Islam's role, and the right of Kurds to eventually secede from the country. But al-Jaafari said the key stumbling blocks were distribution of oil wealth and federalism, another, broader way of stating the Kurdish autonomy issue.
The confusion over outstanding issues -- as well as negotiators' seeming inability to agree even on what they disagreed on -- left unclear whether they will now reopen talks on all issues or just focus on a few.
The Bush administration downplayed expectations as the deal appeared to falter. "You don't always get it right the first time around," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington.
Nevertheless, the last-minute decision to postpone the deadline raised serious questions about the ability of Iraq's varied factions to make the necessary political compromises.
Television cameras were at the ready as parliament convened late Monday to consider any final, undecided issues and debate the entire charter. In a sign of Washington's close involvement, the American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, was in the hall as parliament gathered. He wore a broad grin, apparently anticipating a vote on the charter.
As the session was about to start, electricity went out for about three minutes. When lights came back on, Khalilzad, al-Jaafari and others were surrounded by their bodyguards -- an indication of the persistent threat of violence in Iraq.
Afterward, the U.S. ambassador blamed the setback partly on a three-day sandstorm that prevented delegates from meeting. "We recognize that . . . Iraqi leaders determined that a seven-day extension was needed to resolve remaining issues and to fine tune the language of the draft to avoid errors," he said. "I have no doubt that Iraq will have a good draft constitution completed in the coming days."
Even if negotiators do produce a constitution in the next week, the wide divide over issues such as federalism, oil revenues, and Islam's role are unlikely to dissipate. The majority Shiites also have a stake in federalism, hoping to create an autonomous region in the south as Kurds have in the north -- both areas rich in oil. Minority Sunni Arabs oppose federalism, while showing some willingness to compromise.
Saleh al-Mutlaq, a Sunni member of the constitutional committee, told state-run Iraqiya television: "We still have our reservations regarding federalism, but that was not the only reason for the postponement, because there were big points of disagreements, not between us and others but between the others themselves."
Sunni Arabs are believed the biggest supporters of the insurgency that still wracks the country, causing Washington to push hard for their demands to be addressed to lure them from the fighting.
The impasse left open the possibility that Iraq -- a patchwork of Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis put together as a nation by the British after World War I -- could still tumble into a civil war.
It also blunted the rapid progress toward democracy that Iraqis have accomplished so far, from the vote last Jan. 30 that installed the nation's first elected government to the efforts to share power among the Shiite majority, the strong Kurdish group and the smaller, disgruntled Sunni Arab faction.
If agreement on a constitution is reached, however, 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.
Kurdish leaders were the ones to propose the deadline extension, and their demands in recent weeks have stymied consensus.
The 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.
The issue of women's rights was just as complicated and undecided, falling under Shiite demands that Islam be the main source of legislation. Under Islamic law, or sharia, women might not receive the same share of inheritance and cannot initiate divorce.
In contrast, officials had said that agreements had been reached previously 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 Jaafari said oil revenues were still up for grabs. And even the name was unclear: Officials have said they were deciding on either the Republic of Iraq or Federal Republic of Iraq, but had ruled out the idea of putting any Islamic reference in the country's name.
--Associated Press reporters Qassim Abdul-Zahra, Sameer N. Yacoub and Omar Sinan contributed to this report.
Middle East & Africa
IRAQI LEADERS EXTEND TALKS ON CONSTITUTION
By Steve Negus
Financial Times (UK)
August 15, 2005
BAGHDAD -- Iraqi leaders charged with writing the country's post-war constitution on Monday admitted they had failed to reach final agreement on a text and extended the deadline for the document by a further week.
Hachim al-Hassani, speaker of the Iraqi parliament, said the constitutional committee had made progress towards agreeing the document, but had failed to conclude a final text in time for Mondays deadline.
We have reached agreements on many topics, Mr al-Hassani told a special midnight session of parliament. Some matters are still pending. Despite all efforts, we have not been able to reach agreements that please everyone.
Iraq's parliament voted to defer the deadline for the draft constitution, negotiations over which have been dogged with differences over federalism and the role that Islam should play in determining the state's law.
Parliamentarians passed a resolution amending the Transitional Administrative Law, or TAL, which governs the drafting process, extending the deadline for completing the document from August 15 to August 22.
Had the amendment not been passed, the TAL would have required parliament to be dissolved and new elections to be held.
Some Iraqi legislators had earlier suggested that an incomplete document might be offered for a vote, with key points filled in later.
The meal is not quite ready. Maybe we will serve it half-cooked, Ali al-Dabbagh, a parliamentarian with the Shia Dawa party had said before Monday night's vote.
Iraqi leaders have been under intense pressure from Washington to produce a draft on time, with Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. ambassador to Iraq, declaring in a televised interview on Sunday that he had made "abundantly clear to my Iraqi interlocutors" that "a lot of American blood and American treasure has been spent here."
Iraqi politicians had issued dozens of conflicting statements before Monday's deadline as to whether the three main ethnic and sectarian groups, the Shia, Kurds, and Sunni Arabs, had been able to overcome longstanding disputes.
Even if the predominantly Islamist Shia bloc and the secular-learning Kurds were able to overcome their differences, however, it was unclear how the demands of Sunni legislators who oppose enshrining the principle of federalism in the document could be met.
It remained unclear last night how much progress had been made in resolving these key outstanding issues dividing the Shia, Kurds and Sunni Arabs.
Some Kurds, for whom enshrining federalism in the constitution is a primary concern, had earlier suggested that a draft might be pushed through without Sunni support.
According to Iraqi legislators, Shia-Kurdish disagreements included the powers of the central government, the distribution of oil resources, the rights of women, the role of Islam, and whether or not the Kurds should have the right to self-determination, or secession, if the central government violated the constitution at a later date.
On the role of religion Mr Jalal al-Din al-Saghir, a Shia member of the drafting committee, said earlier legislators had agreed on language that would establish Islam as "the basic source of legislation," and "no law should contradict its tenets and principles".
But many Kurds fear such language might open the door to rule by conservative Shia religious law.
--Additional reporting by Dhiya Rasan, Awadh al-Taiee and Demetri Sevastopulo.
NATION-BUILDING IN IRAQ
** Drafting a constitution for a divided nation was destined to be difficult **
August 16, 2005
The last-minute haggling, disagreements and delays in submitting a draft constitution to the Iraqi parliament were neither surprising nor disastrous. Drawing up any constitution is difficult, as every phrase and every clause will have long-term binding influence on the politics, democratic development, and human rights of a country. For those 71 members of the Iraqi constitutional drafting committee, the task was doubly challenging: not only do they have to reconcile widely divergent views on Iraqs political, social and economic future and the all-important question of Islams role in national life; they must also work out a basis for nation-building in a country that has been an independent and democratic unitary state for less than two decades in the past 400 years.
To many Iraqis, and also many outsiders, the delays have been troubling. They have weakened the authority of the Shia-led Government of Ibrahim Jaafari, encouraged the violent insurgency of terrorists exploiting the drift in Baghdad and called into question the timetable for elections in December to choose a permanent government and a program for recovery. The Americans, especially, urged Iraqs political leaders to end their bickering and agree a constitution [sic] by yesterdays deadline. For unless there was at least political will to create a government of national unity, hope that the U.S. could start reducing its troop strength in Iraq was unrealistic.
Two issues have been particularly fraught: the degree of autonomy for Iraqs three ethnic and geographic regions; and the place of Islam in the State. Both lie at the heart of other vexed issues: control and distribution of oil wealth, the rights of minorities and the position of women in society. The Kurds and the Shias, who, thanks to the Sunni boycott of the January elections, make up the vast majority of the National Assembly, wanted a federal structure that grants considerable autonomy to the three regions. Both the Kurdish north and the Shia south are rich in oil and wanted to keep much of the income for themselves -- though the Shia, set to dominate any administration, were wary of depriving the central government of vital finances. The Sunni, by contrast, wanted a unified structure with constitutional guarantees for their interests and national control of oil income so that funds can be allocated to Baghdad and the poorer Sunni central region.
The place of religion was, if anything, more vexed. Many Shia leaders, with ominous backing from Tehran, wanted an essentially theocratic state in which Shia Islam played a dominant role and where all laws were based on Sharia. The Sunnis bitterly disputed this, though few advocated the secularism of Saddams early days, and the Kurds and religious minorities such as Christians opposed Sharia being anything more than an element of national law. An immediate point of contention was the legal and social status of women, with the demands for equality by urban educated women strongly resisted by the Shia Establishment as well as by some women in the south. The challenge is to ensure that one faction does not hijack the debate.
Compromise was elusive, especially as each group faces intense factional pressure. Extending the deadline would awkwardly prolong the interregnum. But it was better to reach consensus than to railroad an anxious and resentful Sunni minority into a flawed, unsustainable agreement.