Sunnis list criteria for their rejoining constitution panel

International probe of assassination, armed security guards sought

July 22, 2005|By Alissa J. Rubin | Alissa J. Rubin,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Sunni Muslims laid out demands yesterday that they say must be met by the Iraqi government if they are to rejoin the committee drafting a permanent national constitution, warning that it would be a dire mistake to proceed without Sunni participation.

The 14 Sunni delegates remaining on the constitutional committee suspended their membership Wednesday, a day after one of their number and a Sunni legal adviser to the committee were shot to death.

"Unless you bring in all the people in the country, you cannot write a constitution," said Saleh Mutlak, one of the Sunnis on the constitutional committee.

The Sunnis asked U.S. diplomats in Baghdad to intervene on their behalf with the Shiites and Kurds who together make up an overwhelming majority on the 71-member committee.

"They should tell the others [the Kurds and Shiites], `We supported you, but we are not ready to support you more unless you become reasonable,' and only the Americans can make them reasonable," Mutlak said.

Top officials at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad met Wednesday with the Sunnis and were to hold discussions with other groups today in an effort to patch the committee back together.

Sunni demands include the appointment of an international committee to investigate the assassination this week of Sunni constitution committee member Mijbal Issa; the appointment of armed security guards for the Sunni members of the constitutional committee; and the retraction of statements made Wednesday by Hamoun Hammoudi, the Shiite chairman of the committee, who suggested that work on the constitution was almost complete, even though Sunnis have yet to agree to any of the major provisions.

There was no immediate response by the Iraqi government to the Sunnis' demands.

The National Assembly is to approve a constitution by Aug. 15 and then hold a nationwide referendum on the document. U.S. officials, and many in Iraq's government, have said that participation by Sunnis is necessary to build legitimacy for the new Iraq and to defuse the largely Sunni-run insurgency.

In the past few days, the Kurds and Shiites negotiating the constitution have escalated their demands for power.

The Kurds want a map to be added to the constitution that would show Kurdish lands extending along the Iraq-Iran border to Al Kut, south of Baghdad. The area would include towns populated by Shiite Kurds before they were forced to flee to Iran and places to which Kurds have returned, said Faraj Al Heidari, a Kurdish Democratic Party official.

Kurdish leaders support policies that would encourage their people to return to lands confiscated under Saddam Hussein. The map outlines areas that would become part of Kurdistan, which has functioned as a semi-independent country for almost 15 years.

As is increasingly the case in Iraq these days, the political fight played out against a backdrop of violence. A suicide bomber detonated a car bomb near Iraqi National Guardsmen at a checkpoint on the southern outskirts of Baghdad, killing five people.

In Baghdad, gunmen kidnapped two Algerian diplomats, including the chief of Algeria's mission, as they were going to lunch, the latest in a string of incidents in which insurgents have targeted diplomats from Muslim countries whose presence they fear helps give the new Iraqi government legitimacy.

The Egyptian ambassador was kidnapped and beheaded this month despite strenuous efforts by his government to free him. A Bahraini and a Pakistani diplomat were also targeted but escaped.

The diplomats kidnapped yesterday were Charge d'Affaires Ali Billaroussi, 60, and diplomatic attache Azzedine bin Fadi. Billaroussi, who is married and has children, has lived in Baghdad for two years, said Abdul Wahab Falah, 50, an Algerian administrative employee at the embassy. "He was such a peaceful man," Falah said.

Billaroussi's wife, who moved to Baghdad with him, said he called her at 2 p.m. He was probably kidnapped shortly after that.

"I don't know who did this. He called me at 2 o'clock and said he was coming soon. Oh my God, oh my God. ... Even the guards don't know what happened," she said.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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