Glee and Anger Greet Iraq's Draft Charter

Members of the special Iraqi police forces celebrate in the Shiite holy city of Najaf after the draft constitution is presented to lawmakers in Baghdad.
Members of the special Iraqi police forces celebrate in the Shiite holy city of Najaf after the draft constitution is presented to lawmakers in Baghdad. (By Alaa Marjani -- Associated Press)
By Ellen Knickmeyer and Bassam Sebti
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, August 24, 2005

BAGHDAD, Aug. 23 -- A new draft constitution that would transform Iraq into a loose federal union sparked celebrations Tuesday in the streets of the Shiite south and an angry rally in the Sunni Arab heartland, where some chanted for the return of Saddam Hussein.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, called instrumental by all sides in prodding the constitution toward completion, defended it against complaints that it gave Islamic law too much power, particularly over women. Khalilzad said the draft was "right for Iraq at the present time."

Shiite leaders submitted the draft to the National Assembly before a midnight Monday deadline but agreed to put off an assembly vote until Thursday. Many Sunni Arabs expressed outrage that the deal reached by the Shiites and their Kurdish allies overrode Sunni Arab objections to a federal system that Sunnis say would divide Iraq. But the Shiites made clear Tuesday that they intended to make no major concessions to the Sunnis.

"The draft that was submitted is approximately the draft that will be implemented," said Laith Kubba, spokesman for Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari, whose Shiite coalition holds a majority of seats in the assembly.

"The idea is to try to sell this draft to the Sunnis," Kubba said of the three-day delay on the vote. "That's what this is all about."

"During coming days, we will have a dialogue to convince them, in fact, that federalism is not to divide Iraq," said Humam Hamoudi, the Shiite chairman of the constitutional committee.

Many Sunni Arabs want Iraq to remain under a strong central government. Sunnis dominated the country until the overthrow of Hussein by U.S.-led forces in 2003, and extremists among them are the mainstays of Iraq's two-year-old insurgency. Sunnis overwhelmingly boycotted national elections in January, leaving them with little political clout as Iraq wrote its new constitution. Many fear federalism will complete their marginalization, stranding them in a weak, resource-poor region between the Kurdish north and Shiite southwest.

In the latest political violence, a suicide bomber in the central city of Baqubah killed four Iraqi government employees, an Iraqi police officer, a U.S. soldier and an American contractor. A military statement said the bomber blew himself up in an Iraqi-U.S. coordination office.

Meanwhile, the military said, two Marines were killed in roadside bombings: one Sunday near Karmah, about 50 miles west of Baghdad, and one Monday near Fallujah, about 35 miles west of Baghdad.

Though the draft constitution has yet to be approved, its presentation on Monday -- scrawled with handwritten amendments in the hours before the midnight deadline -- kept Iraq roughly on a U.S.-backed timeline that requires that the document be put to a popular vote by Oct. 15.

Voter approval of the constitution would mean elections for a new, full-term assembly in December. Rejection would mean dissolving the current transitional government and parliament and electing new transitional bodies that would make another try at a constitution.

President Bush and U.S. military leaders have pushed Iraq to stay on schedule to make possible substantial withdrawals of the 138,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq. In Idaho, Bush praised Iraqi negotiators despite the second delay of the assembly vote. "The fact that they're even writing a constitution is vastly different from living under the iron hand of a dictator," he said.

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