- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Iraqi negotiators presented a draft constitution moments before a midnight deadline last night, but the National Assembly postponed voting on the documents for three days in hopes of winning wider support.

The draft has broad backing from Shi’ites and Kurds and meets the demands of women’s groups that present freedoms will be respected, said participants in the dramatic bargaining sessions.

But Sunni Arabs, whose support is sought in hopes that the new basic law will take the steam out of the violent insurgency, remain opposed to agreed provisions of federalism, fearing that such provisions would overly weaken the central government.

The Bush administration welcomed yesterday’s development, putting on a brave face after the deadline was extended for the second time. The draft was initially due last week.

“The progress made over the past week has been impressive, with consensus reached on most provisions through debate, dialogue, and compromise,” the White House said.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice congratulated “the Iraqi people and their leaders” on the submission of the draft and their decision to continue to build a broad national consensus for the new constitution.

“Step by step, the Iraqi people are charting their own path toward a shared future of freedom,” she said.

The extent of disagreement between the Kurds and Shi’ites has narrowed on the questions of federalism, oil-revenue distribution and the role of Islam, said Jonathan Morrow of the U.S. Institute of Peace, who is advising on the constitutional-writing process.

“The challenge over the next three days is not between Kurds and Shi’ites,” Mr. Morrow said from Baghdad. “The challenge is to make good-faith efforts to win over the Sunni Arab support.”

Delegate Zakia Hakki, one of nine women on the constitutional drafting committee, said that what has been agreed is that women will have no less than a 25 percent representation in the National Assembly and the Cabinet.

Another member of the drafting panel, Jawad al-Maliki, was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying that Shi’ites and Kurds had agreed that the text would read “Islam is a main source for legislation and it is not permitted to legislate anything that conflicts with the fixed principles of its rules.”

Secular Kurds and female activists had strongly objected to Shi’ite demands that Islam should be “the main source” of law in Iraq. The latest wording appeared to be a compromise forged under intense U.S. pressure to complete the draft.

If the wording on Islam remains as Mr. al-Maliki indicated, “that is good,” said Mrs. Hakki, speaking from Baghdad.

Sunni leaders immediately rejected the draft document. Although Shi’ites and Kurds hold enough seats in the National Assembly to pass the constitution, Sunnis could defeat the document in October’s national referendum.

If two-thirds of the voters in three of Iraq’s 18 provinces vote against the constitution, the document will be rejected, and a date must be set for new national elections. Sunni Arabs form the majority in four provinces.

Sunni Arabs have complained that they have not been welcomed into the negotiating room for the past two weeks, but they also have bluntly rejected any form of decentralization or federalism.

“The challenge is for the Shi’ite and Kurdish parties to make a good faith effort on the Sunni proposals and a reciprocal obligation by the Sunni Arabs to present credible proposals that are capable of being accepted by the Shi’ite and Kurdish parties,” Mr. Morrow said.

Gunfire and explosions continued across the country yesterday. Saboteurs cut the power in central Iraq, halting the county’s entire oil export capacity for most of the day, and costing almost $60 million in lost exports, the Associated Press reported.

Government officials blamed the outage on insurgent attacks that toppled key power pylons and darkened broad swaths of the country, including its two largest cities, Baghdad and Basra.

The U.S. military said two U.S. soldiers from Task Force Liberty were killed yesterday by a roadside bomb during a combat patrol north of Baghdad.

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