Iraqi Assembly Adopts Changes to Draft Constitution

Members of Iraq's National Assembly celebrate after agreeing to last-minute changes in the proposed constitution.
Members of Iraq's National Assembly celebrate after agreeing to last-minute changes in the proposed constitution. (By Mohamed Messara Via Associated Press)
By Ellen Knickmeyer and Omar Fekeiki
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, October 13, 2005

BAGHDAD, Oct. 12 -- Iraqi political leaders clasped hands over the heads of children waving roses Wednesday evening on the floor of the National Assembly as they celebrated the adoption of compromises aimed at winning Sunni Arab support for a new constitution.

With Iraqis scheduled to vote Saturday on whether to adopt the proposed charter, Shiite Muslim and Kurdish leaders said they had yielded to all the changes demanded by Sunni Arabs opposed to the draft. The Shiites and Kurds depicted the compromises as a victory for the forces of national reconciliation after months of factional and sectarian bloodshed.

Meanwhile, insurgent violence struck the northern city of Tall Afar again Wednesday, when a second suicide bombing in as many days killed 30 people, this time men gathered at an army recruiting center.

The Sunnis' leading political organization, the Iraqi Islamic Party, endorsed the compromises, which conceded some sticking points and put off others until a new National Assembly is elected. Other major Sunni parties withheld support, however, splitting what had been solid Sunni opposition to the proposed document.

State television, controlled by loyalists of the Shiite religious party that leads Iraq's transitional government, aired what it described as live footage of crowds dancing in the streets of the Shiite holy city of Najaf to celebrate the accord. The scenes were actually filmed earlier in the week -- before the agreement was reached -- as shopkeepers and a reporter watched. No such celebrations were seen in the streets of Najaf on Wednesday.

Some Sunni politicians treated the accord as equally suspect.

"This is a kind of a trick," said Khalaf Elayan of the National Dialogue Council, who said he was surprised by the compromises reached late Tuesday. "We already felt there's something tricky going on. We will urge people to vote in the referendum, but to vote no."

Sunni leaders not included in the latest talks were initially slightly receptive to the revised draft charter, but their response hardened measurably Wednesday. Representatives of the Muslim Scholars Association, a clerical bloc that has the greatest single influence among Iraq's Sunni minority, at first declared itself neutral on the revised charter but later called on Sunnis to vote it down.

Posters placed on mosques in the western city of Ramadi in the name of the main insurgent group, al Qaeda in Iraq, by late Wednesday threatened to kill Iraqi Islamic Party members for breaking from the Sunnis' opposition to the charter.

It was unclear whether the split among Sunni groups was enough to remove any chance that the constitution would be rejected, which would take a "no" vote by two-thirds of voters in at least three of Iraq's 18 provinces. The continuing opposition of the Muslim Scholars Association could prove more influential in this regard than the Iraqi Islamic Party's backing of the charter.

Shiite and Kurdish leaders insisted the concessions and the intentions behind them were genuine. They called the accord a major step toward defusing the anger fueling the Sunni insurgency against U.S.-led forces and the Shiite majority brought to power by the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

"This is the day of national consensus," said President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd.

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