- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2005

Participants in Iraq’s constitutional talks have had time to “yell and scream” while staking out their positions. Now, amid gallons of tea in smoke-filled rooms, they are ready to negotiate, officials said yesterday.

With four days to go, Kurdish, Shi’ite and Sunni factions are battling to reach an agreement on what style of federalism, if any, would be best for Iraq; how to divide up oil revenues; and what role Islam will have.

Zakia Hakkii, one of nine women on the 71-member constitution-writing committee, said yesterday that the hard-line Muslim-dominated panel insists that Islamic Shariah law take precedence over secular family law.

“We don’t want the fruit of [the war to depose dictator Saddam Hussein] to go to Islamic extremists. This will happen over our dead bodies,” Mrs. Hakkii said.

“If we agree to Shariah law, it means we will have thousands of courts, and each cleric can hold a courthouse in his home and can issue decisions that will affect the stability of Iraqi families,” she said in a telephone interview from Baghdad.

“Each of those sheiks has his own point of view, and in one place you can have thousands of different decisions. This will be a disaster for Iraqi women and families. We must not do it,” said Mrs. Hakkii, who was a judge during Saddam’s rule.

Mrs. Hakkii said a similar struggle for women’s rights took place in 2003 when the Iraqi Governing Council drafted the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL).

She said only the active intervention of then-U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer prevented the inclusion of Islamic law as the sole source of legislation.

Political negotiations are becoming increasingly tense as committee members face a Monday deadline to present a final draft of the document to the National Assembly.

“They yell and scream and shout anyway — we are a passionate bunch,” said Qubad Talabani, the Kurdish regional government representative in the United States.

But, he added, by now “everyone has let out the hot air, they have vented, expressed their maximalist positions” and are ready to get down to tough talks.

The United States hopes that success on the constitution will wither support for the Sunni-led insurgency and allow for a steady withdrawal of U.S. and coalition troops next year.

Negotiation leaders meeting at President Jalal Talabani’s house have identified no fewer than 18 unresolved issues, including federalism, the role of Islam, oil management and rights of ethnic minorities, said Jonathan Morrow of the United States Institute of Peace.

The greatest political and legal challenges, he said, would be solving the equation of Kurdish nationalism with growing demands by Shi’ites for a federal state of their own in the south, and Sunni Arab demands to defer decisions on decentralization altogether.

“It’s a three-way treaty negotiation as much as it is a constitutional discussion,” said Mr. Morrow, who is working with U.N. constitutional specialists in Baghdad supporting the process.

Speaking for the Kurds, Mr. Talabani said the “only way we can accept a legal and voluntary integration into Iraq is through a federal structure where power is decentralized from Baghdad.”

On revenue sharing, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi has put forward a plan under which oil revenue would be taxed to fund the country’s annual budget, and the rest of the profits would be equally shared among all Iraqis.

One Iraqi source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said from Baghdad that the outcry over women’s rights was exaggerated.

He said he expected the final draft to be very similar to the TAL on that issue, with Islam considered a source of legislation, in which every law must contradict neither Islam nor the principles of democracy.

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