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Iraq Sunnis Split on Support for Constitution


In a sign of continuing political turmoil over Iraq's draft constitution, some influential Sunni groups have slammed the decision of the Sunni political organization, the Iraqi Islamic Party, for accepting a deal aimed at winning Sunni endorsement of the document.

One of the harshest criticisms of the Iraqi Islamic Party's decision came from the Association of Muslim Scholars.

The influential religious group says, by accepting the accord, the Iraqi Islamic Party is promoting what the association termed the loss of Iraq's identity, the squandering of its riches and the consecration of sectarian fighting among its people.

In an interview with VOA, a member of the association, Issam Kadhim al-Rahwi, said the concessions offered by the Shi'ite and Kurdish authors of the charter has done nothing to change his group's opposition to it.

Mr. Rahwi says future promises and modifications made on the text of the constitution are too little, too late. He says his group is continuing to ask its followers to reject the document by all legitimate means, including boycotting Saturday's referendum vote.

The grim mood among some Sunnis stands in stark contrast to the enthusiasm Iraqi and U.S. officials have shown since late Tuesday, when Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders reached a last-minute deal with the Iraqi Islamic Party.

The accord, among other things, promises that a committee would be formed after general elections in December to consider several major amendments the Sunni Arabs are demanding to the constitution, including a key provision on federalism.

Sunnis oppose federalism in Iraq out of fear that the arrangement will concentrate oil resources and wealth in the Kurdish north and Shi'ite-dominated south. Sunni Arabs say federalism is a recipe for an all-out civil war and the break-up of the country.

A spokesman for another Sunni political organization, Iraqi National Dialogue, says his group is calling for a "no" vote, because the accord offers no guarantee that Sunnis would not be disappointed again by the next government.

According to existing laws, two-thirds of Iraq's new parliament would have to approve changes to the constitution and submit it to another referendum. But Sunni Arabs, who represent about 20 percent of the country's 26 million people, are not expected to win more than 50 seats in the 275-seat National Assembly in December elections.

Iraqi National Dialogue spokesman Saleh Mutlak says that situation would give Shi'ites and Kurds, who are likely to dominate the next assembly as they do now, veto power on any proposed amendments. And that, Mr. Mutlak says, is not acceptable.

"I think, the Islamic Party took a very strategic mistake," he said. "They took the decision alone, and the people will be split into three. Some will boycott. Some will say 'no.' Some will says 'yes.' This is splitting the society. The Islamic Party is responsible for that."

The accord was mediated partly by the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, who has been eager to avoid a referendum vote, which had little support from the Sunni religious community. The charter is seen as a key stepping stone to the U.S. strategy of establishing democracy in Iraq, and weakening the country's Sunni-led insurgency.

Mr. Khalilzad says he believes the concessions made by the Shi'ites and Kurds to the Sunni Arabs are symbolic of their desire for national unity.

"To have a national compact does not mean that every individual from every group, every ethnicity has to feel enthusiastic about the document, or to even be supportive," he noted. "But it does have to have support across communities, and I believe, with the changes that took place, this document has moved strongly in that direction, and, therefore, I regard it as positive."

Political analysts in Iraq say the changes will also likely split the Sunni vote enough to prevent them from defeating the draft constitution on Saturday.

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