[ot] Sunnis look beyond the draft
- From: pluto <pluto@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Wed, 24 Aug 2005 10:47:27 +0800
Aug 24, 2005
Sunnis look beyond the draft
By Mohammed Amin Abdulqadir
ARBIL - Iraqi political factions have still not been able to work out an
agreement on a new constitution, despite extended deadlines and growing US
In another last-minute standoff, Iraqi leaders put off a vote Monday on a
draft constitution, adjourning parliament at the midnight deadline in a bid
for three more days to win over the Sunni Arab minority. Shi'ite groups had
announced an agreement with Kurdish leaders, but Sunni leaders denied a
The Shiite-Kurdish draft proposals would transform Iraq from a centralized
state into a loose federation of Kurds, Shi'ites and Sunni Arabs. The
Sunnis, although numerically inferior to the Shi'ites, dominated Iraq under
Saddam Hussein and they now oppose decentralization, fearing they will be
denied oil wealth and become politically marginalized.
Shi'ites and Kurds have enough seats in parliament to win approval for a
draft without the Sunnis. But the Sunni minority could still ruin the
constitution when voters decide whether to ratify it in an October 15
referendum. The constitution would be defeated if it is opposed by
two-thirds of the voters in three of Iraq's 18 provinces. Sunni Arabs form
the majority in at least four.
Given the sharp differences over fundamental issues, leaders involved in
the negotiations have become increasingly pessimistic that there will be a
"It's really impossible that talks would reach a final result in the
remaining time since the views are so far from each other," Falakaddin
Kakayee, 62, a top Kurdish negotiator, told Inter Press Service (IPS)from
"Shi'ites are pushing for a religious state with a lot of restrictions on
individuals, women and minority rights," he said. "The issue here is not
just Kurdish demands. Basic freedoms and democracy are at stake."
The Iraqi National Assembly (INA) had unanimously voted last Monday to
extend the deadline by another week. But after another week of talks the
leaders from different groups were still talking differences.
The latest talks have mainly been between Shi'ites and Kurdish leaders
after members of the Iraqi constitutional panel failed to finalize a draft
agreement ahead of the first August 15 deadline.
Conflicting statements have emerged over the points of disagreement. But
major differences have arisen around such basic issues as federalism, the
distribution of natural wealth, the role of Islam in state affairs and
Iraqi Kurds demand a large degree of autonomy for their areas and want
Kurdistan in the north to be considered a single administrative unit in a
constitution. They also want a substantial share of the natural wealth in
their region. Shi'ite and Sunni Arabs see this as preparation for
But Shi'ites want something similar. Earlier this month Abdul Aziz
al-Hakim, leader of Iraq's largest Shi'ite party, the Supreme Council for
Islamic Revolution in Iraq, told a mass gathering of his followers in Najaf
that "establishing a Shi'ite federal region in the southern part of Iraq is
necessary and is a public demand".
The remark provoked a strong reaction from Iraq's Sunni minority, who have
ruled the country since its foundation in the early 1920s until the fall of
Saddam's regime in 2003. They consider calls for such federalism both by
Kurds and Shi'ites as signs of a break-up of the country.
Another danger sign is the differences over Islam. During the drafting of
the interim constitution in March 2004, Shi'ite religious parties acceded
to a provision that would set Islam as just one of the sources of
legislation. But this time they are asking for Islam to be the principal
source of Iraqi law.
That demand has run into tough resistance from Kurds and other secular
forces. Iraqi women's groups have held mass demonstrations against the
"This is the biggest violation, and a blow not only to the rights of women
but to all Iraqi individuals because it restricts individual liberties and
creates gender discrimination," Khaman Zirar, 31, an activist and a member
of the Kurdistan regional parliament, told IPS.
A senior official of the Kurdistan Democratic Party led by Massoud Barzani
has warned of the possibility of "Kurds resorting to the option of
dissolving the INA" if talks do not lead anywhere.
"For several days talks between Iraqi political leaders are intensively
going on, yet instead of progress we have witnessed setbacks regarding some
issues," he said in a statement.
He also denied reports that Kurds have given up the option of
self-determination. The concept of respecting the constitution is liable to
different interpretations, he said.
(Inter Press Service)
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