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Iraqi Sunnis to Begin Participating in Drafting Constitution

Iraqi tribesmen gather to attend a meeting in Baghdad, Iraq to discuss the country's drafting of the new permanent constitution
Fifteen Iraqi Sunni-Muslim members are preparing to join a Shi'ite-dominated parliamentary committee drafting a new constitution. It is hoped that including more Sunnis in the political process will ease the insurgency that is believed to draw much of its support from disaffected members of that minority community.

A spokesman for the umbrella Sunni-Muslim organization, National Dialogue Council, expressed relief the 15 Sunni names submitted to parliament were approved, following a lengthy delay.

In mid-June, a Sunni leader in government turned in a list of 15 candidates to join two other Sunnis on the 55-member constitution committee. But the approval process bogged down after majority Shi'ites and Kurds accused some of the men on the list of having been senior members of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated Baath Party. The accused men denied the charge.

National Dialogue Council spokesman Saleh Mutlak, one of the 15 new members of the constitutional committee, tells VOA that the list included several former Baath Party members. But Mr. Mutlak says excluding them from the list was never an option.

"They are Iraqis and the constitution must be written by all the Iraqis and accepted by all Iraqis, whether they are Baathists or communists or socialists or whatever they are," said Mr. Mutlak. "We managed to convince them that they should accept them and we were very clear that if they remove any name, we would withdraw completely from the committee."

Angered by their sudden loss of power after the fall of Saddam and fearing marginalization, leading Sunni groups and clerics urged Sunni Arabs to boycott January's national elections. The outcome left one-fifth of Iraq's population badly underrepresented in the new National Assembly.

The overwhelming election victory by Shi'ites and Kurds, who suffered horrifically under Saddam, convinced some Sunnis they would have no voice in the new Iraq if they did not participate in writing the constitution.

Meanwhile, the United States put pressure on the new Iraqi government to bring more Sunni Arabs into the political process, in the hope of taking some of the steam out of the violent Sunni-led insurgency.

Sunni-Arab participation is seen as critical for producing a constitution that can pass a national referendum slated for October.

But with about 80 percent of the draft document already written to meet its August 15 deadline, there is growing concern that the addition of 15 more Sunnis to the writing committee could slow the process.

Under existing laws, the committee could ask for a six-month extension. But that would delay the referendum and the election of a permanent government scheduled for December.

National Dialogue Council spokesman, Saleh Mutlak, says there may still be a way to have a constitution drafted in time.

"I cannot see that a real constitution will be written in a month where all the problem[s] is there. Federalism is there. Islam is there. The position of Iraq with the Arab society is there. There are so many big issues. So, I do not know how we can reach a consensus on these issues. So, my suggestion is that we should write a constitution on the points we agree on now and we leave the points that we do not agree for the next election," said Mr. Mutlak.

In Baghdad, insurgents shot and wounded Bahrain's top diplomat in Iraq. The envoy, Hassan Malallah, was on his way to work when gunmen opened fire on his car and wounded him in the shoulder.

The attack was the second time in four days that a senior Arab diplomat has been targeted by insurgents. On Saturday, gunmen kidnapped a high-ranking Egyptian diplomat in western Baghdad. Iraqi officials say the attacks appear to be aimed at discouraging Arab countries from formally recognizing Iraq's interim government.