- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 14, 2005

BAGHDAD — Sunni Arabs asked that a decision on federalism be put off until next year so a draft of Iraq’s new constitution can be completed by a self-imposed deadline today, warning they would not accept provisions for federated states.

American officials applied pressure to resolve differences on that and other issues before the deadline for parliament to adopt the constitution, and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said he was convinced that the Iraqis would succeed.

Some politicians said the draft could be presented to the Shi’ite- and Kurdish-led parliament today over Sunni objections. But the move would further alienate that disaffected minority, undercutting the U.S. goal of using the political process to take the steam out of the Sunni-dominated insurgency.

“It looks like all the agreements are being made only by the Kurds and the Shi’ites without even asking our opinion,” said Sunni Arab official Saleh al-Mutlaq yesterday. “I believe the draft is going to be presented tomorrow even if it is not finished, with or without our approval.”

Parliament scheduled a meeting for 6 p.m. today to allow as much time as possible for negotiators to agree on a draft.

The main obstacle was the argument over federalism, which the formerly dominant Sunnis fear could lead to Kurdish and Shi’ite Muslim regions splitting away from Iraq. But Mr. al-Mutlaq said there still was no agreement on 17 other issues, including the distribution of oil wealth.

Another Sunni official voiced objections over a Shi’ite-Kurdish deal to grant special status to the clerical hierarchy of Iraq’s Shi’ite majority.

Sunni politicians asked during a meeting with President Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani that federalism be left out of the constitution until a new parliament is elected.

Mr. Talabani and Mr. Barzani are leaders of the two major Kurdish parties and proponents of a federal system to protect the self-rule Kurds have had since 1991.

“We made a proposal to transfer federalism and the process of forming federal regions to the next National Assembly,” said Sunni politician Kamal Hamdoun. “Legislation could be drafted on these two matters, and a referendum could be held on them.”

Mr. Hamdoun said the Sunnis received no response to their proposal, which the Kurds have rejected in the past.

He said other charter provisions that Sunnis objected to were recognition of the Kurdish language, dual citizenship and the role of the Shi’ite religious leadership.

“If there are points that we do not agree on, we will not sign any draft,” Mr. Hamdoun said, adding that he didn’t think Shi’ites and Kurds would push through a charter “if they are serious about the unanimity with us.”

Because Shi’ites and Kurds have agreed on most constitutional issues, Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman said, the drafting committee would present the draft to parliament today even if the Sunnis objected.

Parliament could approve the draft by a simple majority, and the Shi’ites and Kurds together hold 221 of the 275 seats. However, that risks a Sunni backlash that could scuttle the constitution when it is put before voters in an Oct. 15 referendum.

If two-thirds of the voters in at least three of the 18 provinces vote “no,” the charter would be defeated, and Sunnis form a majority in at least four provinces. Sunni clerics are urging followers to vote against any constitution that could lead to the breakup of the country.

With the Sunnis standing fast, Shi’ite legislator Jawad al-Maliki, a member of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s Dawa party, raised the possibility that the deadline could be pushed back.

“We might amend the interim constitution and extend the deadline by a minimum of two weeks” to allow time to win over the Sunni Arabs, he said.

That would require approval of two-thirds of parliament and the president and his two deputies.

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