Agreement likely to end Sunni delegates' boycott

Iraq officials approve requests for security

July 24, 2005|By Alissa J. Rubin | Alissa J. Rubin,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraqi transitional President Jalal Talabani said yesterday that his government had agreed to security requests by Sunni Arab delegates who serve on the nation's constitution-drafting committee, an olive branch that could end a Sunni boycott of the charter-writing process.

Sunni delegates, who launched a boycott after the killing last week of one of their colleagues and a legal adviser, also indicated they are ready to resume work on the document, which is due to be approved by Aug. 15.

The announcements came as new U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalizad arrived in Baghdad. Talabani spoke at a news conference with Khalizad, 54, who also met yesterday with Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Talabani said that Shiites and Kurds, who hold the majority of seats in the National Assembly, would not impose their will on the Sunnis, who are a minority in the Assembly and in Iraq's population.

"Today we discussed their demands and approved all the logical ones like to provide security and respect the principle of agreement, not to impose decisions of majority," said Talabani, an ethnic Kurd.

"We think they will accept this and will return to participate in the political process because it is the process of all and the constitution is for all. No real Iraqi constitution that protects the unity of Iraq could be written unless all Iraqi factions agree to it."

The Sunni delegates had requested security from the government, as well as an international investigation of the shooting death Tuesday of law professor Mijbil Issa and the retraction of statements made by the Constitutional Committee's chairman saying that work on the document was nearly complete. The Sunnis said they had yet to agree to any of the key demands.

Sunni delegate Saleh Mutlak suggested that the 14-member group of Sunnis was ready to rejoin: "We have reached an agreement on most of the points."

The Sunni delegates, unlike other members of the drafting committee, are not members of the National Assembly because too few Sunnis voted in the January national elections for Sunnis to win any seats. There are a few Sunnis in the Assembly, but they do not represent the larger Sunni community.

The key issue now is that while some Assembly members have found housing in the Green Zone area of Baghdad, which is secured by U.S.-led forces, the Sunni delegates live outside it and are far more vulnerable to attack.

Khalizad used his brief appearance yesterday to emphasize the importance of Sunni participation in the drafting of the constitution, saying that all Iraqis must become "shareholders" in the constitution.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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