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Iraqi Committee Expects Extension on Deadline to Draft Constitution


Framers of Iraq's constitution say they expect the chairman of the drafting committee to request an extension of up to 30 days for drawing up the document. A national conference may be held this week in the capital to help iron out several key issues.

Committee members say they have been working around the clock to finish the draft, so that they would not have to face Monday's deadline for requesting an extension.

But a Christian member of the drafting committee, Yonadin Kanna, says it is becoming clear to him and to others on the committee that an extension would be necessary.

"We have nothing agreed at this moment and we are at a critical time," he said. "We are stuck a bit because of the different views and different demands. They may ask for a postponement of two weeks, at least."

A Shi'ite legislator, Ali al-Dabbagh, adds that given the circumstances, he believes extending the deadline would be the right thing to do.

"We have to think seriously about this one as there are disputes which are not solved yet," said Mr. al-Dabbagh. "We feel that along with an extension, there should be a means to solve these problems. We are talking about the interests of the Iraqi people and we have to meet such demand."

Before Sunday's session, the chairman of the drafting committee, Sheikh Houmam al-Hammoudi, said that he would recommend a 30-day extension. Sheikh Hammoudi is also calling for an emergency summit of top Iraqi political leaders this week to discuss the main points in dispute.

The idea of holding a national conference is strongly supported by the secular Kurds, who are locked in a bitter dispute with Shi'ite Muslims over, among other things, Shi'ite moves to enshrine Islam as the main basis of law in the constitution.

Shi'ites and Kurds, in turn, are struggling with Sunni Arabs over the issue of federalism. Shi'ites and Kurds want power to be given to local and regional governments. Sunni Arabs favor keeping power in the hands of the central government in Baghdad.

An extension of up to six months is allowed if the committee feels that it will miss the August 15th deadline to submit a draft to the National Assembly.

A Sunni representative on the drafting committee, Saleh Mutlak, says Sunni Arabs reject the idea of extending the deadline by even one day.

He says troublesome issues should be left out of the constitution for now, so that Iraqis can stick to the schedule of holding a referendum on the document in October and new elections for a permanent government in December.

"What we are asking for is to leave this for the next national assembly," said Mr. Mutlak. "It is in the interest of everybody to have new elections in order to have a government that represents the different sectors in Iraq and all Iraqis so that we can live properly."

The United States has been pressuring constitution committee members to meet the August 15th deadline.

Approval of a constitution is seen as a key step toward creating a multi-religious and multi-ethnic Iraqi government, which would gain the respect of the people and drain support for the insurgency. Last week, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General George Casey, said that he hopes some American troops can be withdrawn by the middle of next year if the democratic process moves forward.

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