Exactly what happened on the evening of Aug. 22 in Baghdad at the Iraqi National Assembly is still unclear. -- An account published in the Times of London described "stunned confusion" when the parliament was dismissed minutes before midnight without a vote, and suggested that Sunni threats to invoke unleash full-fledged civil war had stayed the hands of Kurds and Shiites who had enough votes to win a vote on the draft constitution. -- "Sunnis threatened to derail the draft constitution should it make it through parliament with the issues of contention unchanged," Catherine Philp reported. "'All the history of Iraqs problems is contained in this constitution -- racism, sectarianism, and secession,' Hussein Shukur al-Falluji, a Sunni delegate, said. 'If they pass this constitution, then the rebellion will reach its peak.'" -- An AP report described the "deep embarrassment" for the Bush administration as "the head of Iraq's constitutional drafting committee said Tuesday he did not think the three additional days lawmakers said are needed for the three main factions to agree on the draft charter would be sufficient to achieve a breakthrough. . . . The 15 Sunni members of the drafting committee issued a statement early Tuesday saying they had rejected the proposal because the government and the committee did not abide by an agreement for consensus. They said agreement on the document was still far off." ...
SUNNIS THREATEN CIVIL WAR AS IRAQ CONSTITUTION DEADLINE EXTENDED
By Catherine Philp
August 23, 2005
BAGHDAD -- In a dramatic midnight turnaround, Iraqs ruling Shia pulled back from threats to force the new constitution through parliament, putting off a vote to buy more time to win over Sunni Arabs who had threatened civil war if it was passed.
Shia and Kurdish leaders had agreed to a draft constitution laying out plans for a federal system that would transform the Iraqi state into a loose federation of regions with a weak central government.
Sunni leaders reacted with fury at the proposition, claiming that it would inflame the insurgency and trigger civil war and vowed to defeat the charter at a national referendum later this year unless demands for federalism were dropped.
But Shia leaders, determined not to miss the deadline, presented the draft to parliament minutes before midnight. To loud applause, the speaker announced that the deadline had been met. Then to stunned confusion, he dismissed parliament without a vote, calling for three more days of talks between political leaders. But as the events of the evening sank in, it remained unclear what could be done to win over the recalcitrant Sunnis.
Moments after parliament was adjourned, Sunnis issued a statement rejecting the draft because a consensus had not been reached. If it passes, there will be an uprising in the streets, Saleh al-Mutlak, a senior Sunni negotiator, said. He added that further blockage of a deal could trigger elections to a new interim assembly, a scenario that most parties -- particularly the Shias -- wish to avoid.
Even after printing their final draft, Shia and Kurd leaders had continued trying to win over the Sunnis, but officials said the sticking points had been federalism, the mechanism for allowing regions to devolve and deBaathification -- the banning of former regime figures from public office.
Sunnis vehemently opposed attempts by the Shias and the Kurds to carve out their own powerful federal regions, fearing they could be left high and dry while the oil-rich North and South go their own way. They also fear that deBaathification could keep their minority out of official positions.
The new delay will come as a bitter disappointment to Washington, which had exerted heavy pressure on the factions to reach an agreement and dropped its opposition to a strong role for Islam, leading to accusations of a sell-out. The Bush Administration badly needs to demonstrate political progress in Iraq to counter growing domestic opposition to the costly military occupation.
The Administration hoped that involving Iraqs Sunni minority in the constitutional drafting process would help to bring it back into the political mainstream and sap the violent insurgency.
But that prospect looked remote last night as Sunnis threatened to derail the draft constitution should it make it through parliament with the issues of contention unchanged. All the history of Iraqs problems is contained in this constitution -- racism, sectarianism, and secession, Hussein Shukur al-Falluji, a Sunni delegate, said. If they pass this constitution, then the rebellion will reach its peak.
We will not be silent, Soha Allawi, another Sunni Arab member of the drafting committee, said. We will campaign to tell both Sunnis and Shias to reject the constitution, which has elements that will lead to the break up of Iraq and civil war.
The Shias would have faced little difficulty ramming the constitution through a parliament they control, but almost certainly backed off because the Sunnis could defeat the draft in Octobers scheduled referendum. If two thirds of voters in at least three provinces reject the document, the constitution will fail. The Sunnis have such a majority in three provinces and have started a vigorous no campaign.
The draft was also said to reflect a Kurdish and American compromise over Islamic law. Islam is a main source for legislation and it is not permitted to legislate anything that conflicts with the fixed principles of the rules of Islam, it read.
But it also apparently insists that all laws must respect democracy and human rights. a phrase insisted on by America.
Kurdish leaders said that they backed the agreement, saying that the provision on federalism was enough to satisfy their demands for guarantees that they would retain the broad autonomy they already have in the North.
The Kurds and the Shias also agreed to distribute Iraqs oil and other natural wealth according to the needs of the central Government and the provinces. The status of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk will be determined by the end of 2007.
Last nights deadline was the second after negotiators failed to agree last week, to the disappointment of the Americans. Parliament then voted to extend deliberations by a week.
3 DAYS INSUFFICIENT TO RESOLVE DISPUTES OVER IRAQI CHARTER
August 23, 2005
The head of Iraq's constitutional drafting committee said Tuesday he did not think the three additional days lawmakers said are needed for the three main factions to agree on the draft charter would be sufficient to achieve a breakthrough.
The draft was submitted to parliament just minutes before the expiry of the midnight deadline on Monday by the bloc composed of Kurds and Shiite Arabs.
But lawmakers quickly deferred a vote on it because of the fierce Sunni Arab resistance, and parliamentary speaker Hajim al-Hassani said it would take another three days to iron out "pending differences."
No date was set for another parliament session and a vote on the proposal, after which it will be put to the voters to ratify in a referendum by Oct. 15.
The 15 Sunni members of the drafting committee issued a statement early Tuesday saying they had rejected the proposal because the government and the committee did not abide by an agreement for consensus. They said agreement on the document was still far off.
Despite the failure to finalize the proposal for a second time in two weeks, government spokesman Laith Kubba put a positive spin on proceedings, saying they demonstrated the democratic nature of the drafting process.
"After a long discussion, this is the best we could get. The Iraqi people can accept or reject this new constitution. This is a new experiment." Laith Kubba told journalists on Tuesday.
"The process should be completed," Kubba said.
But Saleh al-Mutlaq, one of four top Sunni negotiators, said more than 20 issues still divide the sides.
"This constitution will divide the country," al-Mutlaq said after the midnight session.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the major issues blocking a deal were federalism, purging the Baath Party and the issue of whether by majority or two-thirds some of the officers of the assembly should be elected.
Sunnis -- who dominated Iraqi society under Saddam -- oppose decentralization, fearing it would cut them out of the country's oil wealth and leave them powerless.
Kurds demand federalism to protect their self-rule in three northern provinces. The Sunnis have accepted Kurdish self-rule but oppose any extension of federalism as proposed by the biggest Shiite party, fearing that would also lead to the disintegration of Iraq.
Repeated delays are a deep embarrassment for the Bush administration.
Washington had applied enormous pressure on the Iraqis to meet the original Aug. 15 deadline but parliament instead had to grant a week's extension, which they again failed to meet.
Humam Hammoudi, head of the constitutional drafting committee, told reporters Tuesday that he did not expect three days to be sufficient to solve all the outstanding issues. "We may find some formula to postpone some matters," he said.
But if no compromise can be reached on the Sunni demands, "we will turn it to the Iraqi people to say yes or no," he said.
Hammoudi said a federal structure was critical to maintaining democracy in Iraq.
"With all this oil income the central government will turn into, whether we like it or not, a dictatorship," he said. Sunni leaders have threatened to order their followers to vote "no" in the October referendum on the new constitution unless their objections are addressed.
In Samarra, a Sunni-dominated city 95 kilometers (60 miles) north of Baghdad, hundreds of people lined up Tuesday in front of voter registration centers.
"We came here . . . to register our names and we should not commit a mistake as we did before," said resident Hameed Hassan. Sunnis boycotted the January elections for the National Assembly, giving them much reduced political influence compared to the Kurds and Shiites.
Adnan Latif, head of the center, said that about 5,000 voters had registered so far.
But in the city of Najaf, the seat of the Shiite clerical hierarchy, celebrations broke out after the draft constitution was presented to lawmakers. Crowds carrying Iraqi flags streamed through the city center and a number of police vehicles took part in the impromptu celebrations.
The constitutional draft declares that Islam is "a main source" of legislation. It states that no law may contradict Islamic and democratic standards or "the essential rights and freedoms mentioned in this constitution."
The draft "guarantees the Islamic identity of the Iraqi people" but also "guarantees all religious rights" and states that all Iraqis "are free within their ideology and the practice of their ideological practices."
The text also declares both Arabic and Kurdish as official languages, bringing Kurdish to an equal status nationwide. Shiites and Kurds have enough seats in parliament to win approval for a draft without the Sunni Arabs. But the Sunni minority could scuttle the constitution when voters decide whether to ratify it in the October referendum.
Under current rules, the constitution would be defeated if it is opposed by two-thirds of the voters in three of Iraq's 18 provinces. Sunnis form the majority in at least four.