Several senior clerics of Iraq's disaffected Sunni Muslim minority will soon issue a decree calling on followers of the faith to vote in upcoming elections and help write a new constitution, a prominent Sunni leader said Monday. The step could draw Sunni Arabs away from the insurgency and into a political process they have steadfastly rejected.
Adnan Dulaimi, who heads the Sunni Endowment, the government agency responsible for Sunni religious affairs, said the framers of the religious edict, or fatwa, would seek the support of other groups in the fractious Sunni community before issuing it.
The push for the fatwa, together with the National Assembly's formal approval Monday of the addition of 15 Sunnis to the committee writing a draft constitution, suggested that the slow and often contentious efforts to bring Sunni Arabs into the political sphere were beginning to bear fruit.
The Shiite Muslim-led government of Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari has encouraged Sunni Arabs to embrace politics and to abandon the two-year-old insurgency dominated by Sunnis and foreign fighters.
Jafari's Shiite coalition won the most votes in the Jan. 30 elections, giving it a majority in the 275-seat National Assembly and putting Iraq's Shiite majority in power for the first time in the country's modern history. Sunni Arabs, who dominated political and military institutions until President Saddam Hussein was toppled by the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, largely boycotted the vote and emerged with only 17 assembly seats.
The Sunni Arab leadership, traditionally more divided than that of the Shiites, began moving away from rejection of the new government in March, when the influential Association of Muslim Scholars supported a fatwa calling on Sunnis to serve in Iraq's nascent security forces.
The proposed edict announced Monday would call for Sunni participation in writing the draft constitution, which is meant to be completed by Aug. 15, and for all Iraqis to vote in the next election, which would be held Dec. 15 if the constitution is prepared on time and ratified in an October referendum. The decree would also call for Sunnis to serve on the country's electoral commission.
The Association of Muslim Scholars did not comment Monday on the proposed fatwa. Its support, while crucial, could prove elusive. The association has maintained that no Iraqi government can be considered legitimate unless U.S. and other foreign military forces leave the country, or at least set a deadline for doing so. The Iraqi and U.S. governments have refused to take that step.
Dulaimi said in an interview Monday that "we will contact the Association of Muslim Scholars and urge them to join the initiative, and we hope to reach a compromise that satisfies all."
Another pivotal Sunni group, the Iraqi Islamic Party, immediately voiced support for the proposal. Noting that the party was among the first Sunni organizations to encourage voting in the next election, Tariq Hashimi, the party's secretary general, said that Sunnis' respect for religious leadership ensured that "if a fatwa is issued to urge people to participate, this will help to improve the legal and political situation of the elections and the constitution. It will also help to end the confusion in the Iraqi community: People are confused whether the constitution and elections are legitimate or not."
Subhi Nawzen Tawfik, a political science professor at the University of Baghdad's International Studies Center, called the initiative "a very important development."
In addition to redressing the power imbalance brought on by the Sunnis' "strategic mistake" of staying away from the January election, Tawfik said the edict would appeal to Sunni insurgents who took up arms because they believed the current political system was imposed on Iraq by foreign powers.
"There is no doubt that the Sunnis make up the core of the real, original resistance against occupation, a distinction which no one can dispute," Tawfik said. "Thus, when the head of the Sunni Endowment calls for serious Sunni participation, and makes an appeal for calming down the situation, his appeal will be heeded."
In Iraq, mosques are owned and financed by the government. Dulaimi, as head of the endowment, functions not as a political figure in the government, but as a facilitator of religious life.
Abdul Rahman Nuaimi, a Sunni member of the National Assembly's constitution committee, said: "When an important figure in the community, like the head of the Sunni Endowment, urges people and clergymen to participate in the elections, this will help the process. This will help to move forward and defeat all the obstacles we face in the process of writing the constitution."
The move by the National Assembly Monday to add 15 Sunnis to the committee, expanding its membership to 71, was another key development in a constitution-writing process that is six weeks from a deadline for producing a draft document. Though the National Assembly was elected in January with the principal mandate of writing the document, the committee was not formed until May, and it initially included only two Sunni Arabs.
The expanded committee will hold its first meeting on Wednesday, and its chairman, Humam Hammoudi, said the new members would be shown "the drafts we have reached so far," the Reuters news agency reported.
Meanwhile, authorities said there was no sign of the whereabouts of Ihab Sherif, Egypt's top diplomat in Iraq, who disappeared Saturday night and is presumed to have been kidnapped. Egyptian officials told news services that Egypt had received no ransom demands or statements from anyone claiming to have abducted the envoy.
In Baghdad's western Bayaa neighborhood, a remote-controlled car bomb killed two civilians and narrowly missed a passing U.S. military patrol, witnesses said.
"I thought that it was a broken-down car that someone left there," said Ahmad Shihab, an employee with a government construction company that has a project near the site of the attack. "Then, after an American patrol passed by, it exploded. I saw black smoke first, then felt the impact. A huge blaze with metal parts splashed everywhere."
U.S. and Iraqi troops swept through a western Baghdad neighborhood on Monday, arresting about 100 suspected insurgents in a fresh crackdown near the city's airport, the Associated Press reported.
In the northern city of Mosul, gunmen killed police Capt. Ahmen Muayad, a bodyguard for the provincial governor, as he left his house Monday morning, according to police Gen. Saeed Mohammed. Another police officer, Lt. Ahmen Mutaz, was gunned down in the city center.
Special correspondents Khalid Alsaffar and Naseer Nouri in Baghdad and Dlovan Brwari in Mosul contributed to this report.