Draft Constitution Would Fundamentally Change Iraq

The Washington Post

Shiites and Kurds were sending a draft constitution to parliament on Monday that would fundamentally change Iraq, transforming the country into a loose federation, with a weak central administration governed by Islamic law, negotiators said.

The draft, slated for action by a Monday deadline, would be a sweeping rejection of the demands of Iraq’s disaffected Sunni minority, which has called the proposed federal system the start of the breakup of Iraq. Shiites and Kurds indicated they were in no mood to compromise.

“We gave a choice — whoever doesn’t want federalism can opt not to practice it,” said Shiite constitutional committee member Ali Debagh. Debagh acknowledged the Sunni minority would be unlikely to accept such a draft in a national vote scheduled for October, saying, “We depended upon democracy in writing the constitution and will depend upon it in the referendum.”

Sunnis, who had complained of being shut out of talks in recent days, said they still were negotiating. “I don’t think there will be a constitution tonight,” said Salih Mutlak, the most vocal Sunni moderator.

Another Sunni delegate, Sadoun Zubaidi, angrily asked, “What about the principle of consensus? The principle of consensus is a fundamental, basic to the whole process. If you abandon the principle of consensus, you abandon the basis on which you’re forming the constitution. We insist on being part of the process.”

Shiites and Kurdish negotiators said the latest draft would be the one submitted to the National Assembly.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad kept up days of pressure on negotiators to complete the constitution, giving his sanction to the provisions on Islamic law, negotiators said.

Washington has been pushing hard to stick to a timeline on government-building that would allow for a significant troop withdrawal as soon as early next spring.

Key provisions of the draft would formalize an already autonomous Kurdish state in the north, under a federal system. The rest of the country also would be allowed to form federal systems — opening the way for the demand by the dominant Shiite Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq to create a southern Shiite sub-state out of up to half of Iraq’s 18 regions.

Sunnis and others say such a state would be under heavy influence from neighboring, Shiite-ruled Iran.

The draft also stipulates that Iraq is an Islamic state and that no law can contradict the principles of Islam, Shiite and Kurdish negotiators said. Opponents have charged that last provision would subject Iraqis to religious edicts by individual clerics.

The Shiite and Kurdish negotiators also said draft calls for the presence of Islamic clerics on the court that would interpret the constitution. Family matters such as divorce, marriage or inheritance would be decided either by religious law or civil law as an individual chooses — a condition that opponents say would likely lead to women being forced into unfavorable rulings for them by opponents demanding judgments under Islamic law.

It remained uncertain Monday how the National Assembly would treat such a draft. Those opposed to the constitution would have to muster “no” votes by at least two-thirds of the eligible voters in three provinces to defeat it.

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