ichard Beeston / The (London) Times / And other Sources – 2005-08-28 23:50:59
‘This Constitution Was Written by Exiles. We Will Not Accept It’
Richard Beeston / The (London) Times online
(August 29, 2005 ) — Iraq’s Sunnis now have to decide how to oppose plans that make plain their loss of power. Like a child that is born into a loveless marriage, Iraq’s constitution, delivered yesterday, had been conceived with the aim of bringing this chaotic and violent household together. But, even before the final text was read out to representatives in the country’s parliament yesterday, Sunni Muslim politicians were lining up to denounce the charter, which they pledged to defeat in the referendum to be held on October 15.
Hussein al-Falluji, a Sunni member of the committee that drafted the constitution, said that his community would reject the document with their “dying breath”.
“We have never agreed on this constitution. We have objections which are the same as we had from day one,” he said. “This is an American constitution and we will not accept it, no matter what.”
Although the strident language could be dismissed as the frustration of a politician who did not get his way in the hours of tortuous negotiations, ordinary Sunnis seemed to concur. “This is a constitution written by exiles for exiles. It aims to exclude all those who participated in the events of this country in the past 35 years,” said Mahmoud Jubouri, 26, an engineer working in Baghdad who listened to the constitution being read out on television. “It was not written by professionals, but by Shia clerics and Kurdish dictators.”
The same sentiment was expressed by Abu al-Hakam al-Obeidi, a car dealer from the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi. He said that the constitution would split Iraq along ethnic lines and that the only reason that the document was being presented now was to satisfy a deadline imposed by America.
Central to their grievances are articles in the constitution that they regard as biased against them. For instance, many Sunnis were among the millions of former members of the ousted Baath Party, which included all teachers and other professionals. They fear that the constitution will bar them from senior government jobs.
The document also sets out a “federal” Iraq, where the capital, Baghdad, would lose much of its central authority to new regional powers in the Kurdish north and Shia south, which are in practice already breaking away from the centre.
The country’s huge oil wealth is concentrated in the north and south, leaving Sunni heartlands without important mineral reserves. Under the terms of the constitution, oil revenues would be distributed more equitably with the regions where the natural resources are found.
While the constitution states unambiguously that Iraq is a Muslim country, it also makes clear that for non-Arab citizens — shorthand for the Kurds — it is not an Arab nation.
Ordinary Sunnis might not be able to cite the specific wording of offending passages in the constitution, but they understand all too well the implications that it holds for their nation. For centuries the ruling class in Iraq, the Sunnis are being forced to face the fact that since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein they are no longer in control. The Kurds and the majority Shias, with the backing of the US military, are the new elites and the constitution will codify this change of power.
Baghdad, once the seat of Arabic learning and culture, will no longer have a central place in the Arab world, nor for that matter will it necessarily dominate Iraqi affairs. Shias in the south are building a mini-state with close ties to Iran, and Kurds in the north have created an autonomous region where many inhabitants have never visited the capital and do not speak Arabic.
The question now before the Sunnis is how to challenge this threat. If they mobilise their community and campaign for a “no” vote at the referendum they could legally destroy the constitution, should they win a two-thirds majority in three of the country’s 18 provinces. The Sunnis would then force fresh elections and begin the process of drafting a new constitution all over again, this time from a position of greater strength.
If they fail, and the constitution just announced is approved, there are fears that the Sunnis will increasingly support extremist elements in their community who are behind assassinations and bombings.
Were that to happen, then this constitution, the unloved child, could grow up to break apart the Iraqi house into which it was born.
* US forces in Baghdad shot dead a Reuters television soundman and wounded a cameraman yesterday. The news agency said that Waleed Khaled, 35, had been shot once in the face and four times in the chest, and Haidar Kadhem had been wounded in the back. Mr Kadhem was then detained by US troops, it said. (AFP)
These are some of the constitution’s main points:
The Iraqi regime is republican, federal, democratic and pluralist
Iraq is a multinational, multiconfessional and multicultural country. It is part of the Muslim world and its Arab people are part of the Arab nation
The official languages are Arabic and Kurdish
Islam is the religion of the state and a main source of legislation
The constitution recognises the Kurdistan region
The regional president is the highest authority in the region with executive powers
The federal national assembly has 1 seat for every 100,000 inhabitants
Parliament has a 4-year mandate and 25 per cent of seats are for women
Oil revenues will be equitably distributed throughout the country according to each region’s population
The Baath Party is banned
One Hundred Thousand Shi’ites Protest Iraq Charter
BAGHDAD (August 26, 2005) — A hundred thousand Iraqis across the country marched on Friday in support of a maverick Shi’ite cleric opposed to a draft constitution that US-backed government leaders say will deliver a brighter future.
The protest could reinforce the opposition of Sunni Arabs who dominate the insurgency and are bitterly against the draft.
Supporters of young Shi’ite firebrand Moqtada al-Sadr, who has staged two uprisings against US troops, also protested against poor services during their marches, stepping up the pressure on the government.
A hundred thousand Sadr supporters marched in eight cities, including 30,000 people who gathered for a sermon delivered on his behalf in a Baghdad slum district.
They hardly noticed a huge government poster which read ”One Nation, One People, One Constitution,” instead seeking guidance from Sadr who inspires fierce devotion in his followers.
Sadr returned to center stage this week after his fighters fought a rival Shi’ite militia, the Badr organization, raising fears of a new front in Iraq’s relentless cycle of violence.
He is stirring hopes among his vast following at a time when Iraq’s divided politicians have missed a series of deadlines for reaching a consensus on the constitution, which is expected to be put to a referendum in October.
Sadr has also come out in support of Sunni opposition to the federal state that his Shi’ite rivals in government, with their Kurdish allies, have outlined in the charter.
“Bush and America out.” yelled cleric Abdel-Zahra al-Suwaidid, reading a statement on Sadr’s behalf in the Baghdad slum of Sadr City which is named after his revered father, a cleric allegedly killed by Saddam Hussein’s agents.
Another widespread complaint was written simply on banners: “We want water, we want electricity”
The young cleric has gained followers by portraying himself as a champion of the poor. Sadr’s cult-like popularity means he can quickly mobilize his fighters if a full-scale conflict with the Badr movement breaks out.
Cult Versus Constitution
Young boys wore T-shirts with images of Sadr and his father as others played a song on a scratchy cassette which repeated “Oh Moqtada, Oh Moqtada,” over and over.
“I like Sayyid Moqtada.” said eight-year-old Montadhir Taei, using Sadr’s religious title. It was clear his elders have been influencing him: “Iraqis should write the constitution, not the Americans,” he said.
The image of Sadr, a burly figure with a turban, was pasted on a water tank carried by a teenager spraying cool water at the crowd of tens of thousands under a cruel sun in Baghdad.
Sadr, who has denied US and Iraqi government accusations he ordered the killing of a rival cleric, assumed a low profile after a US offensive against his forces last year in Najaf.
Now he faces the Iranian-trained Badr movement, which some Iraqis accuse of operating in hit squads alongside government forces. Badr officials and the government deny the accusations.
Sadr’s supporters say Badr militiamen attacked his office in Najaf on Wednesday, and clashes then erupted in several cities. A Badr official denied any involvement. Eight people were killed, health officials said.
“These people just want power and money. You go ask the Interior Ministry who did this,” said Hussein Saleh, referring to the Badr movement.
The fighting between the two groups across several cities raised the spectre of a new security crisis in Iraq, already ravaged by a Sunni Arab insurgency that has killed thousands of Iraqi police and soldiers, civilians and US troops.
At the Baghdad protest, fighters in Sadr’s Mehdi Army stood alert on rooftops with assault rifles as speakers condemned the United States.
Some of Sadr’s authority comes from credentials of his slain father, Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr.
“We don’t need a constitution because Mohammed al-Sadr’s writing is our constitution,” said Mohammed Ubeidi, 26, sitting below a wall-clock dominated by pictures of Moqtada and his father.
Copyright 2005 Reuters Ltd.
Sunnis Reject Draft of Iraqi Constitution
Slobodan Lekic / Associated Press
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Iraqi negotiators finished the country’s new constitution Sunday without the endorsement of Sunni Arabs who helped prepare it, dealing a blow to the Bush administration and setting the stage for a bitter campaign leading up to an October referendum.
The 15 members of the Sunni panel said they rejected the document because of disagreements over such issues as federalism, Iraq’s identity and references to Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated Baath Party.
Sunni Arab negotiators also said in a joint statement that they had asked the United Nations and Arab League to intervene.
The country’s parliament speaker, Hajim al-Hassani, a Sunni Arab who was not on the negotiating panel, said he had “some reservations” about the draft — including “too much religion” and curbs on women’s rights — and believed Shiites should have offered more concessions to the Sunnis.
Also, Sunni Vice President Ghazi al-Yawer did not attend a ceremony marking the end of the drafting process. Asked why al-Yawer was absent, President Jalal Talabani said “he’s sick,” eliciting laughter from officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, a Shiite.
US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who worked furiously to try to mediate a deal, said the constitution was “a good document,” although he said he understood Sunni concerns.
The document, which included last-minute changes aimed at easing Sunni concerns, was read to lawmakers but was not put to a vote in the assembly, where the Shiite-Kurdish bloc has an overwhelming majority.
“The constitution is left to our people to approve or reject it,” said Talabani, a Kurd. “I hope that our people will accept it despite some flaws.”
Talabani acknowledged that the Sunni Arabs had objections to the draft “but everybody had reservations. This is part of democracy … If the people do not approve it, we will draft another constitution.”
Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite, said no constitution anywhere enjoyed universal acceptance, adding, “I personally have reservations on some points and so do the Kurds.” But he urged Iraqis to support the draft in the referendum.
Technically, no vote was required by parliament. At one time, officials wanted a vote as an affirmation of unity between the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, but that idea was shelved because of Sunni objections to the document and repeated delays in finalizing the draft.
Sheik Humam Hammoudi, chairman of the drafting committee, said the constitution “guarantees freedoms and equalizes between everyone, women and men and different ethnic groups and respects the ideologies of this nation and the religion of this society.”
But the 15-member Sunni negotiating team immediately rejected the document as “illegitimate.”
“We call upon the Arab League, the United Nations and international organizations to intervene so that this document is not passed and so that the clear defect in it is corrected,” said the statement read by Abdul-Nasser al-Janabi.
A top Sunni negotiator, Saleh al-Mutlaq, told Alhurra Television that all opponents of the constitution will hold a conference to decide their next move. He gave no date.
“Now we will move to a general conference that includes all groups that did not take part in the (Jan. 30) elections to take a decision,” he told the US-funded station.
Al-Mutlaq said earlier the Sunni negotiators would not sign off on the final draft because of objections to provisions that allegedly threaten Iraqi unity _ particularly federalism _ and fail to affirm the country’s Arab identity. The draft refers to Iraq as an Islamic _ but not Arab _ country as the Sunnis demanded.
“I think if this constitution passes as it is, it will worsen everything in the country,” he said.
At the same time, al-Mutlaq urged all Iraqis to refrain from violence.
Another top Sunni negotiator, Mohammed Abed-Rabbou, said the Sunni team refused to endorse the draft because “points of disagreement” were not amended, including proposals to transform Iraq into a federated country and references to Saddam’s party.
The comments set the stage for a bitter political battle before the October referendum, when Iraqis will decide whether to accept or reject the document. Five million copies of the constitution will be circulated nationwide in food allotments each Iraqi family receives monthly from the government.
Sunnis account for only 20 percent of Iraq’s estimated 27 million people, but they are in a strong position to derail the constitution. If two-thirds of voters in any three provinces reject the charter, the constitution will be defeated. Sunnis have the majority in at least four provinces.
After two months of talks, negotiators for the Shiite-Kurd bloc and the Sunnis remained divided over such fundamental issues as:
• Whether Iraq should be turned into a federal state or decentralized by granting more power to provincial authorities;
• How the country’s oil wealth will be divided;
• Whether Baath Party members should be purged from government; and
• Whether Iraq will be considered an Arab or Islamic nation.
The deadlock came despite frantic US efforts to secure a political consensus that hopefully would deliver a massive vote for the charter _ taking the steam out of the Sunni-led insurgency and enabling a withdrawal of US troops to start next year.
Khalilzad met with various negotiators and al-Hassani late Saturday trying to broker wording acceptable to the Sunnis. Khalilzad told CNN’s “Late Edition” that while the Sunnis did not get everything they wanted in the constitution, neither did the other blocs.
“None of the communities are 100 percent happy with the draft,” he said. “A constitution is not a party platform. It’s a common road map.”
Sunni leaders said their people should oppose the charter peacefully by voting “no” in the referendum.
“The (Sunni) bloc should now convene a general conference to decide how to proceed,” Sadoun Zubaydi said. “Boycotting the referendum and parliamentary elections (in December) would be a lose-lose proposition. Our hope will be in the next parliament that will hopefully be more balanced than this one.”
In other developments:
• A suicide car bomber targeting a US patrol in southeastern Mosul killed three civilians, police said.
• Iraqi police found nine bodies in Mosul’s al Intisar neighborhood. Eight victims were civilians and the other a policeman, authorities said.
• The government’s top Sunni cleric said 36 bodies found three days ago in a dry riverbed near the Iranian border were believed to be Sunni Arabs.
Ahmed Abdul Ghafour al-Samarrai, head of the government’s Sunni Endowments, said the bodies “are believed to be for people from (Baghdad’s northern neighborhood of) Hurriyah and they belong to the Sunni sect.” The cleric did not give further details.
If true, the killings are likely to heighten sectarian tensions. Both Sunnis and Shiites have accused one another of involvement in “death squad” assassinations of members of the rival sect.
All the men were shot in the head, and some were handcuffed. The bodies were discovered near Badrah, southeast of Baghdad.
In the southern city of Kut, authorities said they found the bodies of six people who were handcuffed, blindfolded and tortured.
Associated Press reporters Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Bassem Mroue contributed to this report.
Iraq Sunni Delegates Reject “American” Constitution
BAGHDAD (August 28, 2005) — A Sunni Arab delegate on the committee drafting Iraq’s constitution said all his colleagues on the panel objected to a draft presented to parliament on Sunday and would campaign against it in an October referendum.
“We have not agreed on this constitution. We have objections which are the same as we had from day one,” Hussein al-Falluji told Reuters, saying he was speaking for all Sunni delegates and denying suggestions the group was split.
“If there is no forging of the results, I believe the people will say “No” to the American constitution,” he said, in reference to an expected referendum in October. “This is an American constitution and we will not accept it no matter what,” he said.
Referring to French and Dutch referendums this year that sank a draft constitution for the European Union, he said: “The Iraqi people will be the third after the French and Dutch to say ‘No’ to a constitution.”
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