4 Sunnis leave committee writing Iraq constitution

Members of minority call for better protection after two colleagues are killed

July 21, 2005|By THE BOSTON GLOBE

BAGHDAD -- Four Sunni Arabs withdrew yesterday from the group writing Iraq's new constitution after two colleagues were assassinated, threatening to derail the country's path toward full sovereignty.

"We cannot be a part of this," said Saleh Mutlak, one of the Sunnis who suspended their memberships on the constitutional committee, adding that the government was not providing enough security for them. One Sunni member of the panel, a Sunni adviser and their bodyguard were gunned down Tuesday just after leaving a National Assembly session on the constitution.

"We want a full international investigation" into the killings, Mutlak said, reflecting the Sunnis' belief that the Shiite-dominated government would not look closely into the killings because it tacitly condones violence against hard-line, pro-resistance Sunni Arabs.

The politicians who pulled out yesterday were from a Sunni Arab group called the Council on Dialogue, which claims close ties to the insurgency that continues to roil nearly half the country, including the capital.

Iraqi leaders of all stripes fear that a constitution without the support of the Sunni minority might fail to pass muster in a national referendum. And the insurgency won't subside, many Iraqi politicians agree, until the Sunni Arab heartland that has provided much of the insurgency's firepower begins to support the government.

The coalition of Shiite parties that dominates the government -- and the constitution committee -- could easily agree on a proposed constitution by ignoring the will of Sunnis, said Sa'ad Jawad Qandil, an influential Shiite member of the core constitution-writing body and a member of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. However, he said that if the Shiite Muslim majority opted to ignore the Sunnis, it would invite relentless strife.

"We want their support for a constitution," Qandil said.

The Shiite- and Kurdish-controlled Transitional National Assembly appointed 55 members to its constitution committee in May, but only two were Sunni Arabs and both were selected by the ruling Shiite-Kurd alliance.

Last month, the Sunni Arab groups that largely boycotted the January election for the National Assembly were allowed to name 15 new members to the committee, so that Sunnis would be represented in the constitution-writing process.

Yesterday, Sunni Arabs met late into the evening to decide whether the remaining nine members of the constitution panel would also withdraw.

The Sunni delegates demanded security details and special access to the Green Zone, where Transitional National Assembly meetings are held.

Despite the turmoil among the Sunni minority, the constitution-writing committee's chairman, Humam Hammoudi, said yesterday that the document would be ready by the Aug. 15 deadline, setting the stage for a nationwide referendum on the constitution by the October deadline set forth in Iraq's transitional constitution.

Delegates have resolved the thorny issue of Islam's role, Hammoudi and Qandil said, according it a central status as the `'primary" source of all legislation.

Under the terms of the draft constitution so far agreed on by the delegates, the country's name would become the "Federal Islamic Republic of Iraq," and a supreme constitutional court dominated by religious scholars would have the final authority to overturn any legislation contrary to the spirit of Islam, Hammoudi said.

The constitutional committee has stalled on a final point of dissent, negotiators from all factions said: the question of Iraq's federal system. The issue is sensitive because of the precarious ethnic balance in the country among Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shiite Arabs.

Kurds want a federal system that maintains their autonomous status in a self-governing northern region with its own language, government and militia. At the other extreme, Sunnis -- accustomed to controlling the central government and the country's oil resources during Saddam Hussein's dictatorship -- fear a federal system that would cut Sunni Arab regions almost entirely off from power and resources.

President Jalal Talabani and Speaker of Parliament Hajim al-Hasani condemned the assassinations as a bid by terrorists to halt Iraq's political process.

On Tuesday morning, just before he was assassinated, Sunni Arab representative Mijbil Issa had presented the Sunni position on federalism, calling for a strong central government in Baghdad that would control the military and all oil resources.

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