Sunni Faction Halts Work on Iraqi Charter

By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, July 21, 2005

BAGHDAD, July 20 -- A Sunni Arab faction suspended participation Wednesday in the crafting of Iraq's constitution, and a Kurdish bloc asserted claim to hundreds of square miles of additional territory stretching south of Baghdad. The two moves presented fresh challenges to efforts to draft a document that proponents hope will help bring order to the chaotic country.

The Sunni faction launched its boycott to protest security conditions after gunmen on Tuesday killed one of 15 Sunni members of the constitution-writing committee. Initial reports that two members died in the attack turned out to be wrong.

U.S. diplomats were seen entering a meeting late Wednesday with the Sunnis who suspended participation in the committee. There was no immediate word on the outcome of the meeting, which appeared to reflect what the chairman of the constitution committee called the Americans' "big role" in keeping the Sunni minority involved in the process. Sunnis form the backbone of the insurgency; the interim government views their engagement in the constitution process as key to stabilizing the country.

The committee chairman, Humam Hammoudi, told reporters at a news conference Wednesday that the body remains on target to finish a draft of the constitution by an Aug. 15 deadline. But he and other committee members made clear that there was no agreement on some major issues, including the decentralized federal structure that some have urged. Some Sunnis fear such a structure could split the country into Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni enclaves.

Division remained, too, on seemingly small issues such as the country's official name.

"Federal and Islamic Republic of Iraq," Hammoudi, a member of the strongly religious Shiite Muslim coalition now leading Iraq, told reporters Wednesday.

"Federal Republic of Iraq," said Saadi Barzanchani, a member of Iraq's largely secular Kurdish minority and a committee member. "Once you say that a state is Islamic, you say that a state should pray, perform the hajj," Barzanchani said, referring to a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Iraq's interim government, created on April 28 after a national election, has a mandate to develop a constitution that will pass a referendum. The writing of the constitution in Baghdad's U.S.-created Green Zone is proceeding as insurgents stage daily bombings and ambushes across the country.

The latest suicide bombing killed at least 10 people Wednesday outside an army recruiting center at Baghdad's Muthanna airport. The center and its recruits have been the targets of repeated attacks. On July 10, a bomber killed 25 people there.

"We were separated, then one Iraqi soldier told us to gather and stand in a line," Thaer Falah, 27, a recruit, said in a hospital, where he lay with burns on his face and stomach. Other badly burned bombing victims screamed around him.

The bomber "was among us, and all that I remember is it was as if I were surrounded by fire, and then I did not see or hear anything until I was in the hospital," he said, as a nurse wiped the blood from his face.

Popular resentment and impatience with Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari's interim government have surged in recent weeks in the face of such attacks, which also contribute to hours-long interruptions in electricity and water service in 120-plus-degree heat.

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