Sunnis Won't Defeat Charter, Iraqi Vice President Asserts

Protesters, including one with a picture of Saddam Hussein, rally against Iraq's proposed constitution in the ousted president's home area of Tikrit. Rallies elsewhere demanded the government open more voter registration centers.
Protesters, including one with a picture of Saddam Hussein, rally against Iraq's proposed constitution in the ousted president's home area of Tikrit. Rallies elsewhere demanded the government open more voter registration centers. (By Bassim Daham -- Associated Press)
By Ellen Knickmeyer and Salih Saif Aldin
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, August 30, 2005

BAGHDAD, Aug. 29 -- Iraq's Sunni Arabs are unlikely to muster the votes needed to defeat the country's new draft constitution in an October referendum, Vice President Ghazi Yawar, the highest-ranking Sunni Arab in the transitional government, said Monday, as hundreds of Sunnis rallied against the charter for a second week, and an American soldier was killed when hostile fire forced down an Army helicopter.

Sunni Arabs should look ahead instead to parliamentary elections in December and concentrate on winning enough seats to change the way the constitution is implemented, Yawar said.

"In the street there is too much tension, too much bitterness, and I think many people will push for a negative vote," Yawar, a tribal leader from the north who was president in Iraq's previous government, told a small group of Western reporters in his gilt villa inside Baghdad's fortified Green Zone.

But "I think it will be extremely hard to defeat," Yawar said. "That's why I think we have to aim at the next elections. . . . Whoever feels grievance now has to work harder in order to be in the next" government.

Yawar spoke the day after Iraq's Shiite- and Kurdish-led government and the United States announced completion of the draft constitution, sending it to a national vote by Oct. 15. Sunni Arab negotiators on the constitution committee refused to endorse it and stood by glumly Sunday as Shiite and Kurdish leaders beamed at a celebratory ceremony.

The constitution's provision for creation of federal states under a weak central government has angered members of the traditionally nationalistic Sunni Arab minority, who say it will lead to the breakup of Iraq.

The Sunnis object most strongly to a proposal by the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite religious party that has a leading role in the coalition government. The proposal, raised by Supreme Council leader Abdul Aziz Hakim this month, called for formation of what would be an oil-rich, predominantly Shiite federal region in the south made up of half of Iraq's 18 provinces.

While the controversy over federalism has spurred more Iraqi Sunnis to join the political process than at any time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, the foreign-led Sunni insurgent group headed by Abu Musab Zarqawi has threatened to kill any Sunni who votes on the charter.

The insurgent threats and government delays in opening registration centers in the Sunni-populated west likely would mean only one province, Anbar, could muster the votes needed to reject the constitution, Yawar said Monday. Two-thirds of voters in at least three provinces must reject the draft charter for it to fail.

Rejection of the draft proposal would mean Iraqis would have to elect another transitional government to try again to write a constitution. Yawar, like some Shiites and Kurds, said another weak transitional government would only open the way for more political violence.

While Shiites and Kurds have clear leaders, neither Yawar nor any other Sunni Arab official commands a dominant bloc.

Iraq's disaffected, disempowered Sunni Arabs have vowed not to repeat their boycott of January's elections, which brought the current Shiite- and Kurdish-led government to power.


CONTINUED     1        >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company