Accessibility links

Iraqi Negotiators Submit Constitution, More Work Ahead

The speaker of Iraq's parliament, Hajim al-Hasani, says a draft constitution has been submitted on time, but Shi'ites, Kurds and Sunnis have three more days to resolve pending issues. The talks that could bring final agreement on the document.

Minutes before the midnight deadline, parliament convened, expecting to vote on a draft.

Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders entered the chamber saying a draft was finished, fueling expectations that they would force it through the assembly over continued Sunni objections.

Mr. Hassani acknowledged receiving the draft constitution, but he said that work would continue to "solve the remaining problems."

Mr. Hasani, himself a Sunni Arab, called for further efforts to achieve unanimity "so that the constitution pleases everyone."

He then adjourned the session without voting.

The draft defines Iraq as a "federal" state, a structure that the Sunni Arabs, concentrated in the center of the country, fear could leave them marginalized, deprived of Iraq's oil wealth.

The Sunnis, politically dominant under the former regime of Saddam Hussein, are trying to preserve a centralized state.

The Shi'ite and Kurdish blocs could have pushed a draft through parliament without the Sunni Arabs whose numbers were boosted on the drafting committee to make up for their severe under-representation in parliament.

Yet Sunni Arabs could still block a draft in the planned October 15 national referendum, in which two thirds of voters in any three of Iraq's 18 provinces hold the power to reject a document they do not like.

Meanwhile, even the Kurdish and Shi'ite consensus appears in doubt. Kurdish leaders reportedly accused the Shi'ite bloc of claiming their support for the draft, when in fact nothing has been finalized.

According to some sources, Shi'ite negotiators tried to slip language into the final draft that the Kurds had already rejected.

The Kurds primarily want to secure their own autonomy in northern Iraq, but they are wary of attempts by some Shi'ite parties to impose Islamic law through the constitution.

Last week, constitutional negotiators failed to meet the original August 15 deadline. As U.S. officials urged the Iraqis to find common ground, parliament voted to extend the process by just a week, rather than the maximum six months.

The move allows one more chance for Iraq's three main communities to find a common vision within the U.S.-backed political process.