Iraqi groups make progress in negotiations

Tomorrow is deadline to complete constitution

August 14, 2005|By Liz Sly | Liz Sly,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - With the clock ticking on tomorrow's deadline for the completion of Iraq's new constitution, negotiators reported progress on several key issues yesterday, including the name of their country, but differences remained on the key issues of federalism and the role of religion.

In one breakthrough, a consensus was reached that the country would be called the Iraqi Republic, not the federal republic or the Arab republic or the Islamic republic, as the Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites had respectively demanded.

"It's a compromise. Each side has given up one word," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of the constitutional committee who also said there was no doubt that the deadline would be met.

"The deadline is an American order. Nobody can object to it," he said.

Kurds and Shiites are close to an agreement, he said, and the only question now is whether they will be able to win over the Sunnis, who remain opposed to the inclusion of any reference to federalism in the constitution.

Kurds and Shiites command enough votes in the National Assembly to pass any constitution on which they both agree, but the United States is pressuring them to reach an agreement that includes Sunnis.

"We are trying also to have the support of the Arab Sunnis and we don't know whether we will succeed in that," Othman said. "Without them, there will be a defect in the constitution."

The insurgency is dominated by Sunnis, and the United States is hoping that a constitution embraced by the Sunni minority would dilute support for the insurgency, lessen the violence and enable U.S. troops to start withdrawing next year.

The National Assembly must vote on the document by tomorrow, and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who has been host to the closed-door negotiations, told reporters he expected it would be possible to submit a draft to the assembly for debate by today.

The question of how to divide the nation's oil revenues has been resolved, negotiators said. Revenues from existing oil resources would be divided evenly among all 18 of Iraq's provinces, but the document leaves open the question of what will happen to the revenues from future oil discoveries, Othman said.

Shiites and Kurds are in broad agreement that Iraq should be a federal state, but Sunnis want to defer that decision to the National Assembly to be chosen in December, said Ayad Samarrai, a negotiator with the Sunni Islamic Party.

A demand by a Shiite cleric for an autonomous region encompassing the nine Shiite provinces of the south has deepened Sunni fears that federalism would lead to Iraq's breakup.

Kurds and Sunnis are united in their opposition to Shiite demands for Islam to be described as the exclusive source of the nation's laws, another major issue yet to be settled.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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