U.S. concedes ground to Islamists on Iraqi law
- From: Phaedrine <Phaedrine.Stonebridge@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Mon, 22 Aug 2005 13:08:38 -0500
U.S. concedes ground to Islamists on Iraqi law
By Luke Baker and Michael Georgy Sat Aug 20, 1:33 PM ET
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. diplomats have conceded ground to Islamists on
the role of religion in Iraq, negotiators said on Saturday as they raced
to meet a 48-hour deadline to draft a constitution under intense U.S.
U.S. diplomats, who have insisted the constitution must enshrine ideals
of equal rights and democracy, declined comment.
Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish negotiators all said there was accord on a
bigger role for Islamic law than Iraq had before.
But a secular Kurdish politician said Kurds opposed making Islam "the,"
not "a," main source of law -- changing current wording -- and
subjecting all legislation to a religious test.
"We understand the Americans have sided with the Shi'ites," he said.
"It's shocking. It doesn't fit American values. They have spent so much
blood and money here, only to back the creation of an Islamist state ...
I can't believe that's what the Americans really want or what the
American people want."
Washington, with 140,000 troops still in Iraq, has insisted Iraqis are
free to govern themselves but made clear it will not approve the kind of
clerical rule seen in Shi'ite Iran, a state President Bush describes as
U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has been guiding intensive meetings
since parliament averted its own dissolution on Monday by giving
constitution drafters another week to resolve crucial differences over
regional autonomy and division of oil revenues.
Failing to finish by midnight on August 22 could provoke new elections
and, effectively, a return to the drawing board for the entire
But a further extension may be more likely, as Washington insists the
charter is key to its strategy to undermine the Sunni revolt and leave a
new Iraqi government largely to fend for itself after U.S. troops go
Facing public discontent with his handling of Iraq, President Bush
raised the specter of more September 11- style attacks if U.S. troops do
not fight in places like Iraq.
"They (U.S. troops) know that if we do not confront these evil men
abroad, we will have to face them one day in our own cities and
streets," he said in his weekly radio address.
An official of one of the main Shi'ite Islamist parties in the interim
government confirmed the deal on law and Islam.
It was unclear what concessions the Shi'ites may have made, but it
seemed possible their demands for Shi'ite autonomy in the oil-rich
south, pressed this month by Islamist leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, may be
watered down in the face of Sunni opposition.
"UNITY OF IRAQ"
Sunni Arab negotiator Saleh al-Mutlak also said a deal was struck which
would mean parliament could pass no legislation that "contradicted
Islamic principles." A constitutional court would rule on any dispute on
that, the Shi'ite official said.
"The Americans agreed, but on one condition -- that the principles of
democracy should be respected," Mutlak said.
"We reject federalism," he repeated, underlining continued Sunni
opposition to Hakim's demands. Hundreds demonstrated in the Sunni city
of Ramadi on Saturday, echoing Mutlak's views.
He urged Sunnis, dominant under Saddam Hussein but who have largely
shunned politics and, in some cases, taken up arms in revolt, to vote in
an October referendum to back a constitution.
Other Sunni leaders are also encouraging their followers to register
for the referendum, in part to ensure they can block the constitution if
they chose to oppose it down the road. If two thirds of voters in at
least three of Iraq's 18 provinces vote no in October's referendum, the
constitution is rejected.
The Kurdish negotiator rushed to make clear his outrage at a deal on
Islam: "We don't want dictatorship of any kind, including any religious
"Perhaps the Americans are negotiating to get a deal at any cost, but
we will not accept a constitution at any cost," he said, adding that he
believed Shi'ite leaders had used the precedent of Afghanistan to win
the ambassador's support.
Khalilzad, who has said there will be "no compromise" on equal rights
for women and minorities, helped draft a constitution in his native
Afghanistan that declared it an "Islamic Republic" in which no law could
It also, however, contained language establishing equal rights for
women and protecting religious minorities.
LOCKED IN TALKS
About a dozen senior leaders, representing the Shi'ite Islamist-led
government, secular Shi'ite former prime minister Iyad Allawi, Kurds and
Sunnis, were in talks on Saturday.
Sunni leaders say they are resigned to the Kurds maintaining their
current autonomy in the north -- though not to the Kurds extending their
territory into the northern oilfields -- but said they would not
tolerate an autonomous Shi'ite region.
Ethnic tensions in the northern oil city of Kirkuk spilled on to the
streets on Saturday as hundreds of Arabs demonstrated against federalism
-- code for Kurdish ambitions to annex Kirkuk -- and gunmen shot up the
office of a Kurdish political party for the second time in a month,
wounding three guards.
In Baghdad, a U.S. soldier was killed when his vehicle hit a roadside
bomb. South of the capital, a tribal sheikh was kidnapped in the latest
sign of tribal tensions. Many tribes cut across sectarian lines, with
Sunni and Shi'ites members.
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