Shiites Dominate Committee Chosen to Draft Constitution

By Caryle Murphy and Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, May 11, 2005

BAGHDAD, May 10 -- Iraq's parliament took the first step toward writing a permanent constitution Tuesday by electing a 55-member drafting committee dominated by the legislature's largest bloc, the Shiite Muslim political coalition of Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari, lawmakers said.

The move, which reflects many legislators' desire to meet the mid-August deadline for completing a constitution, took place as two car bombs exploded in Baghdad. Also, more details emerged of an episode in which colleagues of a Sunni Arab politician alleged that he was kidnapped for a night, then released by U.S. forces, who threatened to send him to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Adam Hobson said, "The embassy will have no comment on any of that."

[On Wednesday, bomb attacks killed at least 50 people and wounded more than 100 in a Baghdad suburb and in the northern cities of Tikrit and Hawija, news services reported. The attacks occurred at or near security facilities.]

The constitutional drafting committee is likely to be a magnet for the same kind of political deal-making that preceded the selection of Jafari's cabinet, which was not formed until three months after Iraq's landmark elections on Jan. 30.

Jafari's United Iraqi Alliance has 28 spots on the committee, and the Kurdish alliance has the second-largest number, 15. The parliamentary bloc of former prime minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite, got eight committee seats; the remaining four went to a communist, a Turkmen, a Christian and a Sunni Arab.

"This committee is intended to be a small body to represent all the National Assembly," said one member, Humam Hamoudi, an official in the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, one of the major parties in the Shiite alliance.

But the committee's membership will likely be expanded in order to bring in more Sunni Arabs to help write the constitution, as Jafari and others in his coalition have said they want. Sunni Arabs are underrepresented in the 275-seat National Assembly because they boycotted the election.

A Kurdish legislator, Fouad Massoum, who is also a committee member, said the body would elect a chairman and set its agenda when it meets for the first time Sunday.

Earlier, a car packed with explosives detonated on a busy commercial street in the heart of Baghdad just after 9 a.m., killing at least nine people and wounding 30, police said. Witnesses said the targets appeared to be two U.S. military Humvees traveling on Sadoun Street, where a blast Saturday killed at least 25 people, including two Americans.

The Humvees sped away after the blast shattered windows 100 yards away and left 10 vehicles in flames. Three U.S. soldiers were wounded, a military spokesman said.

Hours later, a suicide car bomber rammed a police headquarters building on Abu Nawas Street on the eastern bank of the Tigris River. The blast wounded three policemen, two seriously. The bomber was killed.

West of Baghdad, a militant group claiming to have abducted Akihiko Saito, 44, a Japanese security worker with a British firm, said Tuesday he was injured but alive.

Japan has about 600 soldiers based in the southern city of Samawah. The government has said the abductions will not alter its policies about keeping troops in Iraq.

Meanwhile, two colleagues of a Sunni Arab political figure, Abdul Nasser Janabi, said in interviews Tuesday that he was abducted by U.S. forces Sunday night and flown around blindfolded in a helicopter for two hours.

Janabi was among the Sunni Arab leaders who recently negotiated with Jafari over who should represent Sunni Arabs in his cabinet.

Janabi's abductors told him he was in Turkey, accused him of being a terrorist and asked him where he had been on Sept. 11, 2001, according to Mohammed Dayni, one of Janabi's colleagues.

Janabi was released Monday morning on a street near a Baghdad hotel, according to his associates.

Saleh Mutlak, who also recounted Janabi's experience, said he was told by a senior U.S. Embassy official that "neither us nor the Iraqis are involved" in the abduction.

Special correspondents Omar Fekeiki and Bassam Sebti contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company