- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2005

BAGHDAD — The head of the committee writing Iraq’s constitution appealed yesterday to the country’s political leaders to help reach compromises on key issues so framers can finish the document by the Aug. 15 deadline.

Humam Hammoudi told parliament his 71-member committee can complete the document by the deadline only if the party and political leaders guiding the process can reach compromises on such issues as the role of Islam in the legal code and details of federalism.

If the leaders, who are due to meet Friday, cannot agree, the unresolved issues will be forwarded to the full 275-member National Assembly to be resolved, he said.

Despite completing about 90 percent of the document, the parliamentary committee — which includes Shi’ites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds — has bogged down over a handful of issues.

Faced with deadlock, a frustrated Mr. Hammoudi confirmed he had recommended Sunday that the committee formally ask parliament for an extension, as provided for in the interim constitution. Several committee members said the group concurred with the recommendation.

However, key members reversed their position later Sunday under pressure from the Americans and from President Jalal Talabani.

The Bush administration considers the constitutional process vital to maintain political momentum, undermine the insurgency and pave the way for the Americans and their coalition partners to draw down troops next year.

Mr. Hammoudi’s call for political leaders to intercede appeared aimed in part at spreading the political risk throughout Iraq’s political establishment and preventing his committee from receiving all the blame if the process collapses.

Once parliament approves the charter, it will be referred to the voters in a referendum in mid-October, followed by an election for a new government in December.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters yesterday the United States was sure that compromises could be made.

“There are options that can be identified,” he said. “If there is good will and preparedness to compromise, then it can be arrived at. I urge the leaders to come with that spirit.”

But Mohammed Abed-Rabbou, a prominent Sunni Arab member, was less optimistic, listing at least four major areas of disagreement. They include proposals to reserve certain jobs for specific ethnic or religious groups, to allow Iraqis to hold dual citizenship and whether Arabic alone should be considered the official language. The Kurds want their language to have equal status.

The Kurds oppose designating Islam as the main source of legislation. Sunni Arabs fear federalism — a key Kurdish goal — will lead to the breakup of the state.

At a press conference yesterday, female activists, including Cabinet member Azhar al-Sheikhly, demanded the constitution safeguard their rights, which they fear are threatened if Islam is enshrined as the main source of legislation.

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