George W. Bush, for whom strong leadership means hewing to a pre-determined narrative line for as long as possible and never admitting a mistake, defended the legitimacy of the political process he has imposed on Iraq despite the obvious fact that it has broken down, leaving Iraq a more fractured society than at any time of its 73-year history as a sovereign nation.  --  "Of course there's disagreement. We're watching a political process unfold," Bush said Sunday, AFX reported.[1]  --  He called for "all Iraqis" now to "actively engage in the constitutional process by debating the merits of this important document" in order to make "an informed decision on Oct. 15." --  The Guardian (UK) reported that the 15 Sunni Arab members of the constitution committee had rejected the constitution and in a joint statement "urged the Arab League, the United Nations, and international organizations to intervene to block the document," and said that for Iraq to proceed in the teeth of their opposition represented an "historic gamble."[2]  --  The London Times reported that Abdul-Nasser al-Janabi, a member of the Sunni delegation on the constitutional committee, was calling the draft constitution "illegitimate" and that Ghazi al-Yawer, Iraq's Sunni vice president, failed to attend the announcement ceremony, claiming he was "sick." ...

1.

News & Analysis

BUSH DOWNPLAYS IRAQI RIFTS ON CONSTITUTION

AFX
August 28, 2005

http://www.forbes.com/home/feeds/afx/2005/08/28/afx2194126.html

< CRAWFORD -- U.S. President George W. Bush downplayed opposition to Iraq's draft constitution from the country's Sunni Arab minority, but a senior US diplomat said the rift could spell trouble.

Days after making a personal appeal to Iraq's majority Shiites for more concessions, Bush urged Sunnis to stick with the political process even as he predicted rising violence ahead of an Oct. 15 constitutional referendum.

'The enemies of freedom, the terrorists will become more desperate, more despicable and more vicious,' he said, adding that violence will 'increase in the coming months because the enemy knows that its greatest defeat lies in the expression of free people, and freely enacted laws, and at the ballot box.'

Negotiators agreed to 11th-hour changes to the text in an effort to win endorsement from the alienated Sunni Arab former elite, whose community has driven the anti-U.S. insurgency, but failed to bring the Sunnis on board.

'Of course there's disagreement. We're watching a political process unfold,' Bush said. 'Some Sunnis have expressed reservations about various provisions of the constitution, and that's their right as free individuals living in a free society.'

'It's important that all Iraqis now actively engage in the constitutional process by debating the merits of this important document and making an informed decision on October 15th,' said the president.

'This is a document of which the Iraqis and the rest of the world can be proud,' said Bush, who faced poor showings in public opinion polls and rising skepticism about Iraq among the U.S. public.

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, told NBC television from Baghdad that Sunni rejection of the constitution would pose a problem for efforts to quell the bloody violence in Iraq.

'If the Sunnis do vote for it and approve the constitution, the constitution is not stopped, then it will be a national compact and it will help with the counter-insurgency strategy and with the development of a joint road map for the future of Iraq,' he said.

'And if they don't, then it will be a problem. But we will have to wait and see,' the ambassador said.

Khalilzad also said Iraqi rebels will continue their campaign of violence despite any political progress. 'The insurgents have declared war on the constitution, they have declared war on the election,' he told NBC.

He rejected charges that religious statements in the new charter would lead Iraq to become an Islamic state based on shariah law. 'The words . . . are the same as in the constitution of Afghanistan,' he said.

The final draft said the political system of Iraq would be 'republican, parliamentary, democratic and federal', and referred to Islam as 'a main source of legislation'.

The Islamic roots of law in the Iraqi constitution are balanced by declarations for principles of democracy and human rights, Khalilzad said, making it a pathbreaking 'new synthesis' for the Middle East.

He said that, under the charter, Iraqis will be able to choose between civil law and shariah law for their own personal legal needs. In this way, it is 'no different than is what is the case in Israel,' Khalilzad said.

2.

Special Report

Iraq

IRAQ GAMBLE AS SUNNIS LEFT OF CONSTITUTION DEAL
By Rory Carroll

Guardian (UK)
August 28, 2005

http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,1558602,00.html

Iraq took a historic gamble yesterday when the ruling Shia and Kurdish coalition bulldozed over the objections of Sunni Arabs to finish a new constitution.

Frantic efforts to reach a consensus collapsed when a blueprint for a new democratic state which lacked the support of Sunni leaders was submitted to parliament, triggering what promised to be a bitter referendum battle.

Months of talks and weeks of deadlock ended when government officials gave up trying to placate Sunni negotiators, despite warnings of greater violence and inflamed sectarian tension.

President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, declared the document complete. "The constitution is left to our people to approve or reject it. I hope that our people will accept it despite some flaws."

He said all sides had reservations about the charter and rejection in the referendum on October 15 would not derail the political process. "This is part of democracy. If the people do not approve it, we will draft another constitution."

Some analysts were less sanguine and said Kurds and Shias had thrown down a gauntlet to Sunnis, a restive minority driving the insurgency, risking greater bloodshed as well as the legitimacy of a document which is supposed to unite the country.

Fearing precisely that, the United States lobbied hard for consensus. President George Bush phoned a Shia leader last week seeking concessions to bring the Sunnis on board.

In a statement last night Mr Bush conceded: "Of course, there are disagreements. That's their right." He added: "We're watching a political process unfold."

But he warned: "We can expect . . . atrocities to increase in the coming months because the enemy knows that its greatest defeat lies in the expression of free people in freely enacted laws and at the ballot box."

The U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, said the stakes were high. "If the Sunnis do not buy into this draft then it would be a problem. It could assist the insurgency."

The European Union welcomed the charter and Tony Blair called it an important and historic achievement.

The 15 Sunnis on the 71-member constitution committee said they rejected the charter because it enshrined federalism, undermined Iraq's Arab identity and threatened those who had served in Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime.

Last minute amendments failed to allay their fears that Iraq would be parcelled into semi-autonomous regions which would marginalise Sunnis in the centre where there is no oil and give Iran sway over the Shia south.

In a joint statement the Sunni panel members urged the Arab League, the United Nations and international organizations to intervene to block the document. Sunni regimes such as Saudi Arabia are known to be uneasy at their sect's alienation in Iraq.

A leading Sunni negotiator, Salah al-Mutliq, urged supporters to use peaceful means but hinted at a backlash. "I think if this constitution passes as it is, it will worsen everything in the country."

The last-minute concessions did win over some Sunnis, including the vice-president, Ghazi al-Yawer, though in apparent evidence of unease, he shunned the signing ceremony, citing illness. The excuse prompted laughter from his Shia colleagues.

The Iraqi Islamic party and some other influential Sunni groups did not immediately respond, raising the possibility of a split Sunni vote.

The 15 Sunni panel members who so vocally rejected the draft were appointed, not elected, said western diplomats, and the next six weeks of campaigning would reveal whether they spoke for their community.

There is little doubt that many Sunnis oppose the constitution. In recent days the Muslim Scholars' Association and tribal Sunni leaders mobilised thousands of protesters, including some who carried pictures of Saddam Hussein and chanted for the unity of Iraq.

Sunnis comprise a fifth of the 26m population but, thanks to a provision originally intended to give Kurds a veto, a two-thirds majority in three of Iraq's 18 provinces will torpedo the referendum. Sunnis are thought to be a majority in four.

A tactical alliance with followers of Moqtada al-Sadr, a maverick Shia cleric who is as hostile to federalism as he is to Shia rivals in the government, would boost the prospects of a veto. Secular groups uneasy at the constitution's Islamist bent may also join a no vote.

Some 5m copies of the draft are due to be printed and distributed in the coming days, followed by a government-sponsored television, radio and newspaper publicity drive urging a yes vote.

The campaign will test the relationship between the ruling class, largely sheltered in Baghdad's green zone, and a population that considers security, electricity and clean water a more urgent task than a new set of laws.

A government spokesman, Laith Kubba, admitted that the constitution could fall but said the upside was that Sunnis, who boycotted the January election, would have been lured into mainstream politics.

"If that is the price to pay, we lose six months and have to start [the constitution] again, then it is worth it."

3.

Iraq

SUNNIS PROMISE TO REJECT IRAQ'S NEW CONSTITUTION AT POLL
By Richard Beeston

Times (London)
August 28, 2005

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,7374-1755427,00.html

BAGHDAD -- Iraqi leaders yesterday presented the country with a new constitution aimed at creating a democratic state from the chaos of postwar Iraq. But even before the charter was presented to parliament, embittered leaders of the Sunni Arab community denounced the document and vowed to defeat it at a referendum in two months’ time.

After weeks of tense negotiations, the debate about how to accommodate the country’s main Sunni, Shia and Kurdish communities seemed as fraught as ever last night and there were fears that the dispute could provoke even more bloodshed.

“We hope that this constitution will be accepted by all Iraqis and that it will be for everybody,” said President Talabani, the Kurdish head of state. “We are optimistic . . . For sure there is no book that is perfect and cannot be amended except the holy Koran.”

But even at his own ceremony there were hints of dissent within the ranks of the Iraqi leadership. Ghazi al-Yawer, Vice-President and a Sunni, failed to attend the event. An embarrassed Mr Talabani explained unconvincingly that his deputy was “sick”.

A more plausible explanation was that he was under pressure from his community not to be seen endorsing a document that many Sunnis believe discriminates against them.

Fellow Sunni leaders, representing the once-dominant community in Iraq, vowed not only to campaign for a “no” vote at the referendum on October 15 but also to notify international organisations that the charter was unrepresentative of the Iraqi people.

“We declare that we don’t agree and we reject the articles that were mentioned in the draft and we did not reach consensus on them in what makes the draft illegitimate,” said Abdul-Nasser al-Janabi, a member of the Sunni delegation on the constitutional committee. “We call upon the Arab League, the United Nations and international organisations to intervene so that this document is not passed and so that the clear defect in it is corrected.”

The Sunnis are particularly unhappy that the constitution described Iraq’s political system as “republican, parliamentary, democratic and federal”.

They believe “federal” will open the way for the creation of a Kurdish-mini state in the north and a Shia region in the south, which would not only control political affairs and security but also have access to the country’s huge oil wealth located in those regions.

The constitution also called for the banning of “Saddam’s Baath” Party, which some fear could lead to a purge of many Sunni professionals, who had joined the ruling party under the old regime.

If the Sunni “no” campaign is to succeed, its leaders need to mobilise a two thirds majority in three of Iraq’s 18 provinces. Sunnis have a majority in two, but the areas are also the most violent, making elections and campaigning very difficult.

In spite of the dispute, President Bush and Tony Blair last night praised the constitution as a landmark in Iraq’s political development. In the face of escalating violence, both Washington and London are desperate for any achievement that may usher in a stable government in Baghdad and ultimately hasten the withdrawal of foreign troops.

Speaking from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, Mr. Bush reminded Americans that the US Constitution was vigorously debated in 1787 and its passage was not guaranteed. He congratulated the Iraqis on completing the next step in the transformation from “dictatorship to democracy.”

Mr. Blair broke from his holiday in Barbados yesterday to issue a statement setting out the Government’s determination to continue working for a democratic and united Iraq.

He praised the Iraqis for succeeding “in drafting this constitution despite the action of terrorists who are trying to destroy the country’s desire for a peaceful future.”

He added: “The small minority who have chosen violence over democracy will no doubt respond with bloodshed and intimidation. But they can be defeated if Iraq’s communities work together to build a unified Iraq in which the rights and interests of all are respected.”