Negotiations on Iraq charter reach `end of the road'

Draft constitution to go to parliament within days

August 27, 2005|By Alex Rodriguez | Alex Rodriguez,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Despite pressure from the White House, a final bid by Shiite negotiators for a compromise to end the impasse with Sunni Arabs over Iraq's draft constitution failed late yesterday - and it was becoming increasingly clear that talks are deadlocked.

Later, government spokesman Laith Kubba told Al-Arabiya television that negotiations had reached a standstill. "This is the end of the road," he said.

Humam Hammoudi, a Shiite Muslim and Iraq's constitution committee chairman, said the draft will be sent to parliament today or tomorrow, the Associated Press reported.

But a leading Sunni negotiator called the Shiites' latest offer unacceptable. "There is no compromise - they are only playing with words," said Saleh Mutlaq, a negotiator for Sunni Arabs. "They are very far from what we want."

Leaders with Iraq's Shiite-Kurdish alliance have not been able to reach a consensus with their Sunni Arab counterparts over key sticking points in the country's draft constitution four days after the negotiators were legally bound to have the document finished.

Shiite and Kurdish negotiators have drafted a constitution that decentralizes government power and creates autonomous regions in the Kurdish north and southern Shiite provinces, both oil-rich regions. Fearing a future in which they are cut off from Iraq's oil wealth, Sunni Arabs have vehemently fought against the inclusion of that provision.

Sunni Arabs, an Iraqi minority that ruled over the country under Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime, also oppose language in the draft that would bar Baathists from public life.

Call from Bush

On Thursday, President Bush called Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, a key Shiite leader, and urged that a consensus between Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis be reached quickly, said Ali al-Adeeb, a Shiite negotiator.

The president's call reflected "that this is an Iraqi process and that the United States is here to help them," the Associated Press quoted Bush spokesman Trent Duffy as saying.

The compromise put on the table yesterday would set aside debate over the implementation of federalism and a timeline for the purging of Baathists from government until December, when the country elects a new parliament, Shiite negotiators said.

"This is the final compromise we offer, and we hope all political sides agree positively," said Shiite negotiator Abbas al-Bayati.

Mutlaq said the offer did not go far enough and doubted that a consensus with the Shiite-Kurdish alliance is possible at this stage.

"With the way they are working, I don't think we are going to reach any agreement," Mutlaq said.

Though wrangling has continued on certain provisions of the constitution, Shiite and Kurdish leaders have said they believe the draft they have in hand now can pass legal muster, since it was submitted to Iraq's parliament Monday, just minutes before the expiration of a deadline that would have forced the dissolution of parliament.

Sunni leaders say the draft was incomplete at the time and therefore legally invalid. They have threatened to take their claims to court.

Negotiators set self-imposed deadlines for Thursday and again for yesterday to reach an accord on federalism and other contested provisions, but both deadlines passed without any substantive progress.

Voters will decide in a national referendum Oct. 15 whether to approve the constitution. Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish parties have all started voter registration efforts, and analysts say it appears that the fate of the constitution will rest in the hands of Iraqi voters.

If voters reject the constitution, parliament will be dissolved, a new legislature will be elected, and the constitution drafting process will start from scratch.

Sunni leaders have begun their push to persuade voters to reject the constitution. Yesterday in the largely Sunni city of Baqoubah, Sunni Arab leaders organized a rally of about 5,000 people demonstrating against the proposed constitution. Some in the crowd held up pictures of Saddam Hussein.

Another opponent of the constitution, maverick Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, organized rallies across Iraq yesterday, amassing a reported 100,000 demonstrators. Demonstrators called for the end of U.S. involvement in Iraq and for better living conditions.

U.S. air strikes

As the political haggling continued, U.S. warplanes launched multiple air strikes yesterday against a suspected "terrorist safe house" in the western Anbar province, destroying the building where up to 50 militants were believed to be hiding, the U.S. military said.

Two Marine F-18D Hornet jets destroyed the building with precision-guided bombs and rockets after local residents said members of the terror group Al-Qaida in Iraq were inside in the town of Husaybah near the Syrian border about 200 miles west of Baghdad.

The group is led by Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the second-most-wanted terrorist on the U.S. list after al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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