Continued civil strife between the Badr Organization (or Badr Brigade, as the militia associated with SCIRI was formerly known) and Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army formed the background for an Iraqi constitutional process that appeared close to collapse Friday as Sunnis refused all further participation in negotiations, Oliver Poole of the London Telegraph reported.[1] -- AP reported that George W. Bush called Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, who as the brother of assassinated Shiite leader Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim is a leading Shiite power broker, in a desperate attempt to head off the announced attention of Shiites and Kurds to proceed with Sunni support.[2] -- In an apparent response to Bush's call, a compromise on the mechanism of establishing a federal system is being offered, but since Sunnis reject federalism in principle there would seem to be little prospect of agreement. -- (The AP article includes a useful review of the ways in which the Shiites "have bedeviled the Americans over the constitution issue since the early weeks of the occupation," as Qassim Abdul-Zahra puts it.) -- According to a later AP piece from the same reporter, some Shiites are now claiming "progress" on the federalism issue but intractable differences over de-Baathification. -- It was impossible to confirm this, however: "Efforts to contact Sunnis for comment were unsuccessful because negotiators were not answering their phones."[3] -- U.S. national security guru Anthony H. Cordesman, a resident scholar at CSIS, offered a very pessimistic analysis of five fundamental flaws of the draft constitution and concluding that it "may well be more of a prelude to civil war than a step forward."[4] ...


By Oliver Poole

Telegraph (London)
August 26, 2005

Original source: Telegraph (UK)

The credibility of Iraq's political process was in danger last night as parliament again failed to vote on a draft constitution which a Sunni politician said was "fit only for the bin."

The government had earlier announced plans to bypass parliament in an attempt to push through the document.

But as the final hours ran out before the deadline for approving the constitution, Hajim al-Hassani, the speaker of the parliament, appeared to overrule the country's leaders by insisting that negotiations would continue today, meaning that the deadline would be missed for the third time.

The impression of growing crisis in Iraq was reinforced when a new front erupted in the violent rebellion, with Shia Muslims fighting each other with guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the prime minister, made an emergency television appeal for peace and sent two police commando units to Najaf where the fighting had started.

Throughout the day in Baghdad, politicians bickered over how to proceed with the constitution without driving the country to civil war.

As night fell, the government's official spokesman, Laith Kubba, announced that a final version of the document had been decided and compromise reached on three issues, although he did not say which. Sunni leaders said that no consensus had been reached.

Hussein al-Falluji, a Sunni member of the drafting panel, said: "If this constitution continues to include federalism, it should be put in the bin and done again."

The chances of the parliament convening declined by the minute. Kamal Hamdoun, a Sunni negotiator, said the Shia politicians -- the dominant force in the national assembly -- had not turned up for a meeting.

"They are acting according to the law of force instead of the force of law. We call on all Iraqis to vote No in the constitutional referendum."

Shia politicians made clear that they did not see any need for the parliament to vote. The draft is to be put to a referendum in October.

The drafting began amid the optimism engendered by January's successful elections, when Iraqis turned out to vote in defiance of bombers and gunmen. But U.S. hopes of establishing the first secular democracy in the Arab world have foundered on ethnic and religious divisions.

Gunmen opened fire yesterday on a convoy of cars used by the president but Jalal Talabani was not in it. Four bodyguards were wounded.

In what appeared to be an attempt to inflame sectarian tensions, the bodies of 37 Shia soldiers, killed with a single bullet to the head, were found in a shallow river south of Baghdad, the latest of several such grim discoveries. Police said they had been stripped to their underwear.

The minority Sunnis, who were the masters under Saddam Hussein, are implacably opposed to the federal nature of the constitution. They fear that it will place oil wealth in the hands of the Kurds in the north and the Shia in the south.

The constitutional vacuum drew in another opponent of federalism, the firebrand Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who was responsible for two uprisings in the south last summer but who has since been quiet.

At least 12 people were killed as his Mahdi Army militia clashed with members of the Iranian-linked Badr Brigade in six cities and a Baghdad suburb. Sadr has now formed common cause with the Sunnis, fearing that federalism will play into the hands of Iran.

The Badr Brigade is the armed wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which dominated the elections. It wants the southern states to become a semi-autonomous region with partial control over its revenues and security.

The speed of the violence underlined that even a "defeated" militia such as Sadr's still has a formidable arsenal and that the security forces are nowhere to be seen when the fighting starts.

Armed clashes broke out in British-controlled Basra before dawn but later subsided. In Amarah, where British troops are also stationed, Sadr supporters were reported to have killed five people when they mortared Badr Brigade headquarters.


By Qassim Abdul-Zahra

Associated Press
August 26, 2005

BAGHDAD -- Prodded by President Bush, Shiite negotiators today offered what they called their final compromise proposal to Sunnis Arabs to try to break the impasse over Iraq's new constitution, a Shiite official said.

Bush telephoned a key Shiite leader, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, on Thursday to urge consensus over the draft, Abbas al-Bayati told the Associated Press.

The Shiites were awaiting a response from the Sunnis, al-Bayati said.

He said the concessions were on the pivotal issues of federalism and efforts to remove former members of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated Baath Party from public life, adding: "We cannot offer more than that."

There was no comment from Sunni negotiators. But in a sign of public opinion within the Sunni community, the country's Sunni vice president said the current draft was written only by Shiites and Kurds and is "far from the aspirations of all Iraqi people."

"We are trying to put forward the views of others," Vice President Ghazi al-Yawer, a former Iraqi president, told Al-Jazeera television Friday. "We want this constitution to maintain the unity of Iraqi soil and give rights to all Iraqis."

Al-Bayati said the Shiites had proposed that the parliament expected to be elected in December be given the right to issue a law on the mechanism of implementing federalism. He gave no further details.

The constitution provides for a federal state, one in which provinces would have significant powers in contrast to Saddam's regime in which Sunnis dominated a strong central government.

The charter will allow any number of provinces to combine and form a federal state with broader powers. The Sunnis have demanded a limit of three provinces, the number the Kurds have in their self-ruled region in the north. The Sunnis have publicly accepted the continued existence of the Kurdish regional administration within its current boundaries.

But without limits, Sunnis fear not only a giant Shiite state in the south but also future bids by the Kurds to expand their region, as they have demanded. That would leave the Sunnis cut off from Iraq's oil wealth in the north and south.

Al-Bayati said it will be up to the next parliament to set a timetable for the work of the Supreme National Commission for de-Baathification.

The Sunnis had insisted that the issue of dividing Iraq into federated regions be deferred until after the December parliamentary election. Many Sunnis boycotted the Jan. 30 election for the current parliament, which is dominated by Shiites and Kurds.

Sadoun Zubaydi, a Sunni member of the drafting committee, said the Sunnis would have to see the fine points of the Shiite proposal first. If the proposal does not make concessions on the principle of federalism but only the mechanism, this would not meet Sunni demands.

"Our position is that both the principle and mechanism should be deferred," Zubaydi told the AP. "Our policy is decentralization, but not political federalism with borders, division of resources, etc. That is separatism, not federalism."

The issue of federalism is complex, and some key Sunnis have taken a harder line against it than their negotiators. Some Sunni clerics have also condemned as anti-Islamic parts of the document their own negotiators have accepted.

"Don't follow constitutions of the infidels," influential Sunni cleric Sheik Mahmoud al-Sumaidaei told the congregation Friday at the Umm al-Qura mosque. "We don't want a constitution that brings the curse of separation and division to this country."

Al-Bayati and fellow Shiite negotiator Ali al-Adeeb, a Shiite member of the committee drafting the charter, said Bush telephoned al-Hakim after Shiites said the negotiations were deadlocked and the draft submitted Monday to parliament should go to the voters in the Oct. 15 referendum as is.

But bypassing the Sunnis would risk a backlash among the community at the core of the insurgency and which the Americans want to encourage to join the political process.

Al-Adeeb said U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad had also appealed to Iraq's powerful Shiite clergy, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to help resolve the standoff.

The White House confirmed that Bush made the call prior to the midnight Thursday deadline, but said there would be no comment on the latest compromise proposal.

Bush's call "reflects . . . that this is an Iraqi process and that the United States is here to help them," said White House spokesman Trent Duffy said. Bush had urged that a consensus be found on the draft of a constitution.

With no sign of progress Thursday, Shiite officials said they believed talks were at a standstill and there was no legal requirement anyway to have parliament vote on a draft that was approved Monday by the Shiites and Kurds.

Following Bush's call, parliament speaker Hajim al-Hassani announced officials would try again to reach unanimity Friday.

Al-Adeeb said al-Hakim told Bush the Shiite bloc was made up of several groups "and they might reject the constitution if the article on the Baath Party is removed."

That appeared to be a play for time to allow consultation with al-Sistani, who wields vast influence among Iraqi Shiites and whose tacit endorsement enabled al-Hakim's Shiite Alliance to win most of the 275 seats in January's election.

Shiites suffered under Saddam and hatred for the party runs deep. Al-Hakim himself lost many close relatives to Saddam's purges. A move by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite, to quietly reinstate some former Baath members in the security services cost him considerable Shiite support, and his party fared poorly in the election.

Al-Sistani and the Shiites have bedeviled the Americans over the constitution issue since the early weeks of the occupation. The Bush administration wanted a constitution written as quickly and in 2003 suggested a panel of Iraqi legal experts draft it.

But the powerful al-Sistani decreed that no constitution written by unelected officials was acceptable, and the Americans dropped the idea.

U.S. officials then wanted the document written by an assembly whose members would be chosen in a series of regional caucuses. Al-Sistani objected to caucuses and that idea was dropped.

It is ironic that the Americans are urging the Shiites, who suffered terribly under Saddam, to make concessions over the purging of his allies. That suggests the Bush administration is eager for some kind of constitution as a sign of progress at a time of growing disaffection within the United States over the Iraq war.

The United States, hoping to lure Sunni Arabs away from the insurgency, had pressed the Shiites and Kurds to accept 15 unelected Sunni negotiators on the drafting committee last spring to ensure that the pivotal community was represented. Sunni Arabs form the core of the insurgency.

On Friday, about 5,000 people, some carrying Saddam's picture, rallied in the mostly Sunni city of Baqouba to protest the draft constitution. The rally was organized by the Iraqi National Dialogue Council, a Sunni group whose spokesman is a constitution negotiator.

Sunni Arabs said federalism, especially al-Hakim's demand for a Shiite mini-state in the south, remained the major obstacle. But they said the Kurds were unwilling to budge on that issue in order to protect their own self-ruled region in three northern provinces.

"Federalism is now the core issue. In light of Kurdish intransigence it makes it difficult to hope for a compromise," said Sadoun Zubaydi, a Sunni member of the drafting committee.

Sunni Arabs fear that federalism will lead to the breakup of Iraq and deprive them of oil wealth, concentrated in the Shiite south and the Kurdish north. Kurds and the majority Shiites bitterly recall decades of oppression at the hands of Saddam's Sunni-dominated dictatorship and believe federalism is the best way to prevent a repeat.

Although the constitution requires only a simple majority in the referendum, if two-thirds of the voters in any three of Iraq's 18 provinces reject it, the charter will be defeated.

Sunni Arabs are about 20 percent of the national population but form the majority in at least four provinces. Sunni clerics have begun urging their followers to reject the charter in the referendum if Sunni interests are not served.

If voters reject it, parliament will be dissolved and elections held by Dec. 15 to form a new one. The new parliament then starts drafting a new constitution.

--Associated Press correspondent Slobodan Lekic contributed to this report.


Breaking News


By Qassim Abdul-Zahra

Associated Press
August 26, 2005,1280,-5235867,00.html

BAGHDAD -- A Shiite negotiator reported progress Friday in constitutional talks with the Sunni Arabs and Kurds on federalism but problems on the proposal to ban members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party from public life.

Negotiator Jawad al-Maliki said the issue, known here as "de-Baathification," was especially difficult because it was something "we cannot drop."

"We will not be easy with this point at all," al-Maliki said. The Sunnis were being tough in defending the rights of former Baath party members, he said, and "it is regrettable to us that the Sunnis and the Baath are in the same pot."

The progress came after Shiite negotiators, prodded by President Bush, offered what they called their final compromise proposal to Sunnis to try to break the impasse over the draft constitution, a Shiite official said.

Bush telephoned a key Shiite leader, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, on Thursday to urge consensus over the draft, Abbas al-Bayati told the Associated Press.

Al-Maliki said there had been progress on the issue of federalism after Shiites guaranteed that the parliament to be elected in December would take up the issue first.

Efforts to contact Sunnis for comment were unsuccessful because negotiators were not answering their phones.

The constitution bans Saddam's party and "its symbols" and grants legal status to a committee responsible for purging Baath members from government and public life. Sunnis dominated party ranks.


Outside View

By Anthony H. Cordesman

United Press International
August 26, 2005

Original source: UPI

WASHINGTON, DC -- Three deadlines on Iraq`s draft constitution had come and gone by Friday and there remains disagreement over its content. From what has been reported to date, however, it may well be more of a prelude to civil war than a step forward.

The first and most important problem is that it does not seem to offer the Sunnis strong incentives.

It seems likely to create a kind of federalism that will meet Shi'ite and Kurdish needs, and allocate oil revenues and government funds in ways that favor them, rather than provide incentives to the Sunnis in terms of reconstruction, dealing with the loss of the privileges they had under President Saddam Hussein, and compensating for losses during the insurgency.

Even if the Sunnis involved in helping to draft the document can be persuaded to accept it, this will be a major problem. The majority of Iraqi Sunnis are not yet committed to the political process, and the end result seems to offer little incentive to insurgents to become part of the political process -- other than the threat things will be even worse if they do not. Rather than an "inclusive" document, it is more a recipe for separation based on Shi'ite and Kurdish privilege.

At best, the way the drafting has been handled is almost certain to aid the insurgents in the short run -- justifying their arguments that Shi'ites and the national political process cannot be trusted.

The second problem is the real world meaning of federalism. As reported so far, the constitution would also create Shi'ite and Kurdish federal zones.

This could have several effects:

-- Create a de facto system of government where the Arab Sunnis, Turkomans, Christians, and others in mixed areas would lose power and privileges relative to the Arab Shi'ites and Kurds.

This raises major issues about the future of mixed areas like Basra, and Baghdad -- where Shi'ites have already asserted power by pushing out some top Sunni officials. One key question is how Baghdad will be defined by legally and in terms of the actual allocation of money and power.

Another key question is what this means in terms of state industries, utilities, and infrastructure which may fall heavily into the Shi'ite areas.

It also raises serious questions as to whether any federal constitutional protections will really function once the Arab Shi'ites and Kurds have power in the their own areas. Any federal "rule of law" may well be weaker than local rule.

-- Strengthen religious Shi'ites, since the creation of Shi'ite federal areas inevitably favors religious Shi'ites over the more secular and nationalist Shi'ites and mixed families. It also allows for "local" interpretation of the constitution's text on the role of Islam, as well as the extralegal enforcement of Shi'ite custom and practices.

This can interact with strengthening Shi'ite militias and "morality police." It also is likely to provoke the Sunni Islamist extremists and insurgents that see Shi'ites as near apostates -- further dividing Iraq's Arab population.

The third problem is the impact on the Iraqi military, security, and police forces and Iraqi government employees.

The election produced serious fears of Shi'ite purges of the Iraqi civil service, government jobs, and all the branches of the military forces. Any form of federalism that favors Arab Shi'ites and Kurds will make these fears much worse.

The whole process could also act to divide the Iraqi military, security, and police forces along ethnic and sectarian lines and undermine the loyalty of the Sunnis in these services who serve the nation, not federalism based on ethnic and sectarian divisions.

The fourth problem is the impact on the rest of the Iraqi political process.

It is hard to imagine that the way the constitution has been handled will not lead to a major Sunni effort to block ratification in three Sunni-dominated provinces -- followed by a Shi'ite-Kurdish reaction to oppose this.

This is likely to polarize politics even further in the constitutional referendum, followed by a similar polarization in the election of a new government if this proceeds on schedule.

If ratification fails, there will be a serious risk that the Arab Shi'ites and Kurds may react by ignoring the TAL and ratifying it by majority. If it succeeds, it can lay the groundwork for years of ethnic and sectarian division.

One further problem is the impact on the more national and secular parties. It is difficult to see how crossover or mixed parties can succeed in elections when ethnic and sectarian divisions become more important.

Again, it must be stressed that more changes and compromises may still occur, and the practical politics of implementation may be more inclusive. So far, however, the efforts to "spin" the constitution into a success seem more hollow than real.

The process may almost meet an artificial deadline, but it does seem to be more of a problem than a solution.

(Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the CSIS.)