Iraqis Submit Charter, but Delay Vote

By Ellen Knickmeyer and Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, August 23, 2005

BAGHDAD, Aug. 22 -- Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority and its Kurdish allies moved Monday toward fundamentally reshaping their nation, submitting a proposed constitution that would create a loose federation with strongly Islamic national laws.

The draft constitution, sent to parliament just five minutes before a midnight deadline, outraged negotiators for Iraq's Sunni Arab minority, and Sunni constitutional delegates warned that civil unrest could erupt if the charter becomes law over their objections.

"The streets will rise up," predicted Salih Mutlak, a Sunni delegate.

But the coalition of Shiites and Kurds, which holds a heavy majority in parliament and could easily approve the constitution on its own, agreed late Monday to postpone a vote for three days in hopes of appeasing Sunni negotiators.

Sunni support for the constitution is seen as crucial to ending the insurgency that continues to stage deadly attacks across the country. Sunnis fear the proposed federal system would cause the breakup of Iraq, but Shiite and Kurdish leaders said they intended to yield little ground in their right to form separate federal states.

"There will be no central government like before," said Humam Hamoudi, the constitutional committee chairman and a member of the Shiite sect that was subjected to decades of repression under Saddam Hussein's centrally controlled rule. "There will be decentralized government."

Hamoudi said the coming days would bring dialogue, but he added, "there will be no changes in the articles or the details of the constitution."

In Washington, the White House lauded the Iraqi government for submitting a constitution and meeting the deadline requirement of a U.S.-crafted interim law.

"We welcome today's development as another step forward in Iraq's constitutional process," said a White House statement. "The progress made over the past week has been impressive."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also praised the Iraqis in a statement for their "statesmanlike decision" to use three more days to build a national consensus.

Negotiators here described American officials as playing a major role in the draft. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad shuttled among Iraqi leaders, pushing late Monday for the inclusion of Sunnis in talks, negotiators said. U.S. Embassy staff members worked from a Kurdish party headquarters to help type up the draft and translate changes from English to Arabic for Iraqi lawmakers, negotiators said.

The last night of talks took place on a day of power outages, blamed on insurgent attacks, that also knocked out water service to Iraq's capital. Meanwhile, roadside bombings on Monday killed two U.S. soldiers in Baghdad and an Iraqi couple near the northern city of Kirkuk. The mainstream Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party also reported the killing of one of its leaders, Amer Abdul Jabar Ziayan, north of Baghdad.

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