Prague, 28 August 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The draft of Iraq's constitution was finalized and presented to the parliament in Baghdad today despite ongoing concerns among some Sunni Arab negotiators.
The draft was proposed by a Shi'a and Kurdish bloc within the parliamentary drafting committee. It was signed by the full committee today after the inclusion of last-minute amendments aimed at appeasing Sunni Arabs.
Iraq's parliament then convened a special session to hear a reading of the draft charter.
The session ended without a vote on the document. It is unclear whether a parliamentary vote is mandatory, but some Iraqi lawmakers suggest such a vote is needed to give the document political credibility.
Drafting committee chairman Humam Hamoudi introduced the text by saying he hopes "those who still have reservations" will support the document.
But Sunni Arab negotiator Mohammed Abed-Rabbou said his team rejects the draft because several points of disagreement have not been amended to its satisfaction.
Iraqi government spokesman Laith Kubba said it is too early to say whether a formal split over the document is emerging within Iraq's Sunni community.
"What we know for sure is that some of the Sunni representatives have certainly agreed to the amendments and were happy with it," Kubba said. "Others were not. But I think they have to draw the line. And it seems they have drawn it now."
Kubba noted that key Sunni negotiators late yesterday demanded three main revisions to the draft. Those demands focused on provisions about federalism, de-Ba'athification and the role of Islam as a source of law in Iraq.
"These were the revisions. I'm not very sure all of them were taken on board exactly as demanded [by the Sunni negotiators. The amendments] also talk a little bit about the language and the use of two languages throughout Iraq. [And also] about the distribution of resources [such as oil]," Kubba said. "But the most important item was to postpone federalizing the country six months after the new assembly in December is formed. And the second most important thing is the identity of the state -- to make sure it is an undivided nation and land."
The draft now faces a public referendum across Iraq on 15 October. It will be defeated if two-thirds of voters in any three provinces reject the charter. Sunnis control strong majorities in at least four Iraqi provinces.
Kubba admitted that Iraq's Sunni community could block the draft constitution if it is unified behind a 'no' vote campaign.
"On most of the points of concern, an attempt has been made to accommodate them. But we must realize there are two other major communities in Iraq," Kubba said. "They have their own concerns. And they need to be reassured that the constitution meets their expectations. Everybody agrees to make the Sunnis believe in the process. And of course, they will organize a 'no' vote if they don't like it. Ideally, they should have agreed a draft. Everybody knows you can't please all players -- all of the Sunnis. We don't have elected representative Sunnis. But there is a point of view out there."
Kubba added that the Iraqi government hopes support from some Sunni officials will help the draft win public approval in October.
"It all depends how many of the Sunnis have been brought on board," Kubba said. "If we have enough endorsements from the Sunnis, I think the 'no' vote is going to be weakened significantly. Our concern then will be about violence and intimidation. But if there was a bloc 'no' vote from the Sunnis, then that is problematic because they can mobilize enough 'no-sayers' to stop this constitution."
Sunni negotiator Sa'dun al-Zubaydi said that is exactly what he and other Sunnis plan to do. Late last night, al-Zubaydi and four other Sunni Arabs in Iraq's coalition government spoke out against the draft. Al-Zubaydi predicted that Sunni voters will reject the draft in October.
Iraq's parliamentary speaker, Hajim al-Hassani, noted that Sunni Arabs wanted to delay a final decision on whether Iraq should be turned into a federal state or otherwise decentralized by granting more power to provincial authorities.
"A proposal has been raised [by Sunni Arabs] to effectively postpone the issue of federalism to the Council of Representatives," al-Hassani said. "The proposal gives the right to establish federal regions. But the mechanisms for their creations are passed to the Council of Representatives."
Kubba said that amendment means Kurds can push ahead with the creation of their own legal framework in northern Iraq -- provided it is done within the context of a unified Iraq.
"There is consensus to deal with the Kurdish part of Iraq as a special case," Kubba said. "Let them constitutionalize themselves the way they want. But they are a part of Iraq -- which is undivided in its people and its land."
Washington hopes support for the document in October will undercut a Sunni-led insurgency and enable a significant reduction of U.S. troops in Iraq beginning next year.
(Translations from Arabic by Petr Kubalek of RFE/RL's Iraq Service; compiled from news agencies)
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