The chairman of Iraq's constitution drafting commission says the group will try to meet its 15 August deadline to complete the draft document rather than ask parliament for an extension. The committee has come under intense pressure from the United States, which fears that delays in the constitutional process could be exploited by insurgents and widen divisions among Iraq's main ethnic and religious groups.
PRAGUE, 1 August 2005 -- Members of Iraq's constitution drafting committee have been warning for weeks that several divisive issues could delay the completion of the draft.
But the head of the drafting committee Hamam Hamudi said on 1 August that it is still possible to meet the 15 August deadline stipulated in Iraq's Transitional Administrative Law. Agreement has already been reached on 90 percent of the document.
Hamudi's speech to parliament in Baghdad means the deadline will not be pushed back, as 1 August was the last day the drafting committee was legally entitled to ask for an extension.
Hamudi emphasized that it will only be possible to meet the mid-August deadline if the leaders of different political groups overcome their remaining differences.
"Yesterday, I met with the president of the republic," Hamudi told legislators. "He told me that he will ask the heads of the parliamentary groups to meet on 5 August...to discuss all the issues which have not yet been agree upon. And [he will ask them] to accept the draft constitution. Therefore, we can say that by 15 August we can be able to complete the constitution as stipulated in Article G of Iraq's Transitional Administrative Law."
Hamudi insists that most of the 71 members of the drafting committee agree that the mid-August deadline should be honored.
"Everyone on the committee, almost all, or the majority, has insisted that they will work day and night and they will do their best to complete this draft on time -- and be ready by 15 August," he said. "The interesting thing is that even the Arab Sunnis insist upon meeting this deadline and that we abide by this date and finish the draft constitution in this period."
On 31 July, however, Hamudi had recommended the commission to ask Iraq's parliament for more time. The commission has been deadlocked on several key issues,
For example, Iraqi Shi'ites have been pressing for language that declares Islam to be the main source of legislation. But Kurdish delegates want religious teachings to be one of several sources.
The Kurds also have been holding out for federalism. But many Sunnis fear that will lead to the breakup of the state. Even the supporters of federalism disagree on such essential matters as the limits of regional power and a formula for distributing oil wealth.
On 30 July, Kurdish delegates were said to be asking for a six-month extension of the deadline, while their Sunni and Shi'ite counterparts were calling for a delay of two weeks to a month.
U.S. authorities on 31 July increased pressure on the committee to stick to the original deadline. Washington considers that date essential for maintaining political momentum, undermining the Iraqi insurgency and clearing the way for a decrease in the number of foreign troops in Iraq as soon as next year.
After meeting with U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad on 31 July, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani called on the drafting committee to make every possible effort to stick to the original timetable.
"We discussed the issue of drafting the constitution on time and without delay," Talabani said. "We agreed that on 15 August, the constitution's draft will be ready. Inshallah, the members of the committee will [reach agreement with each other.] The transitional administrative law has been a good basis for the constitution. It will solve a number of problems."
The current timetable calls for parliamentary approval of the draft constitution in time to hold a public referendum on the document in mid-October.
If two-thirds of the people in any three of Iraq's 18 provinces vote against the draft, the constitution will be defeated.
Kurds form an overwhelming majority in three provinces and Sunni Arabs hold sway in at least four.
On 1 August, Khaliilzad said he thinks compromises will be made to bring about agreement on the divisive issues.
Since assuming his post in Baghdad in July, Khalilzad has urged Iraqis to show statesmanship and compromise to forge a "national compact."
Khalilzad says a national compact would gradually detach Sunni Arabs from the insurgency and enable U.S. and other troops to leave the country.
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