BAGHDAD, 23 Aug 2005 (IRIN) - As Humam Hamoudi, chairman of the Constitution Committee, presented the disputed draft to the transitional National Assembly on 22 August, it did not take long for disagreements to appear, with Sunni participants labelling the draft illegal and unfair.
"The constitution has been presented without consensus and there are still many points that should be revised again. For this reason we have rejected the present draft. Shi'ites and Kurds have to remember that they cannot decide the country's life without total inclusion," Nasser al-Janabi, a Sunni member said.
Prior to the submission of the draft, there were accusations that it did not carry a true reflection of human rights, following complaints from many female activists over the sections on women's rights in the charter.
There were also fears over proposed federalism, benefiting the Kurdish north.
For this reason, the original deadline of 15 August was given an extension of seven days. It was reported that this draft was submitted just minutes before the second deadline ended, but that the vote on it has been delayed for three days.
According to government sources, 151 of 153 articles of the constitution had been agreed on so far.
"We believe that it is the most true and fair constitution that Iraq has ever seen," Hamoudi said.
The draft needs a two thirds majority of the 275 members of the National Assembly to be approved. Shi'ites have the majority in the transitional body, while the Sunni's only have 15 members.
"There is no way for Sunnis to boycott this democracy opening. The referendum will be approved within days and will be presented to the Iraqi population on 15 October for their vote in a referendum and will experience freedom," Hamoudi maintained.
The only way for the constitution to be rejected is if three of the country's 18 governorates reject it, officials explained. Soha Allawi, a Sunni member on the drafting committee, said they were working to guarantee rejection of the draft during the referendum.
"We cannot accept our country divided as if it were a piece of cake. Federalism will destroy the country and bring civil war and women's rights are being forgotten," she lamented.
Federalism, Islamic law-Shari'ah, control of oil revenues, de-Ba'athification (problems related to mentioning the Ba'ath Party in the constitution) and women's rights are still major sticking points.
Shi'ite members have presented the idea that they will offer a two year opening for women to participate in politics and only if they show interest and ability, 25 percent of seats in parliament would be guaranteed for them.
"It is an abuse against us. They say that there are human rights in the new constitution and we can only see inequality and the male dominance over us again. If the Islamic law is approved, we can prepare to be treated as common housekeepers, nothing else," Sunglu Chapuki, a women's rights activist noted.
"Shi'ite Islamists just want to make Iraq a second Iran and if we don't act now, it will happen," Chapuki added.
But Hamoudi explained that the women's rights would be protected in the new draft while he read out an article from the constitution.
"Article 14: Iraqis are equal before the law without discrimination because of gender, ethnicity, nationality, origin, color, religion, sect, belief, opinion or social or economic status."
Article 20 states: "Citizens, male and female, have the right to participate in public matters and enjoy political rights, including the right to vote and run as candidates."
Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of the constitution drafting committee, said that there were no possibilities for delaying the constitution and called on full participation from all parties.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan welcomed the progress made on submitting the draft. He said he hoped all parties would reach an agreement that would meet the expectations of the Iraqi people, a statement said on Tuesday.
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