By Ellen Knickmeyer and Omar Fekeiki
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, July 28, 2005
BAGHDAD, July 27 -- Iraq's constitution will enshrine "a significant role for religion in the state," the Shiite Muslim Arab who is leading the drafting of the charter said Wednesday, in one of the strongest statements yet that the new Iraq will follow the religious will of its Muslim majority.
Constitution committee chairman Humam Hammoudi, in statements backed by Shiites and Kurds working with him on the document, described a system that would steer Iraq between the Muslim secularism of neighboring Turkey and the Muslim theocracy of neighboring Iran.
"For example, unlike Turkey, which would prevent women from veiling, in our constitution there is no article that imposes the veil," Hammoudi told reporters. "Freedom guaranteed. There is no article to impose the veil, and also there is none to prevent it."
Speaking at a news conference, he outlined the charter's status with less than three weeks to go before an Aug. 15 deadline that U.S. officials are pressing the committee to meet. A draft constitution is supposed to be put to a vote by the Iraqi public in October.
Delegates said Wednesday they had yet to reach accord on matters ranging from what to call Iraq to whether the country should have a federal system. Hammoudi said that on Monday, in conjunction with a meeting of national leaders and political chiefs, delegates would announce whether they will ask for a deadline extension.
A delay would undermine efforts to show that the interim government is staying on track in the face of Iraq's bloody insurgency. It could also set back U.S. hopes of beginning to withdraw military forces from Iraq as soon as early spring. There are now about 135,000 U.S. troops in the country.
Statements from Hammoudi and other members of the committee, as well as proposed language circulating in Baghdad, have made clear that the draft is going further in embracing religious law than the preliminary national code drawn up in the first year of the U.S. occupation. That code, approved under U.S. stewardship by an assembly of Iraqi leaders, replaced a secular constitution under Saddam Hussein.
The interim charter officially describes Islam as one main source of Iraqi law. Leaders now are debating designating Islam as the only principal source of new legislation.
On Wednesday, the committee also handed out what members said was an agreed-upon chapter that included allowing individuals to decide matters such as divorce and inheritance according to religious law, if they so chose.
Drafters are also in agreement that no law conflicting with Islam can be adopted, said Hammoudi and Fouad Massoum, a delegate from Iraq's Kurd minority, whose members are traditionally more secular than the Arab majority.
A yet-to-be-established constitutional court would decide whether specific laws were in conflict with Islamic law, Hammoudi said.
Kurds and a secular bloc led by former prime minister Ayad Allawi previously blocked moves that they saw as unduly imposing religion on Iraqis. The spiritual leader of Iraq's Shiite majority, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, has served as a moderating force in the debate by urging drafters to make decisions by consensus.
On Wednesday, however, drafters spoke of following the dictates of the majority. "Average Iraqis now support a significant role for religion in the state," Hammoudi said. "If we don't put this demand in the constitution, the constitution will not get votes. We will fail, the National Assembly will disband, and the process will start over.
"The constitution will not impose anything on people," he said. "Everyone can practice their freedom in their personal affairs according to their beliefs. But the identity of the community goes after the majority of people."
Clerics and religion would have a "guiding role in enhancing the unity and the strength of this state," he added.
"When Islamic law is the rule in the community and the state doesn't abide by this, democracy says we should follow the majority," said Ali Mashadani, a Sunni. "Religion is the organizer of the state now.''