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Iraqi Council Confident of Meeting Constitution Deadline - 2003-11-04


Members of the interim Iraqi Governing Council think they can meet a U.N.-imposed deadline to develop a plan to adopt a constitution. The council feels a new constitution could be written and approved by next year, but some doubt it will work.

The U.N. Security Council has given the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council a December 15 deadline to specify when it plans to complete drafting Iraq's new constitution.

Council members have said they should be able to meet the deadline, even though it is proving more difficult than originally thought. For starters, many Iraqis believe a constitution should be written by elected Iraqi officials, not by the U.S.-appointed council.

Then there is the task of balancing the interests of Iraq's ethnic and religious segments, including Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Christians, Arabs, and Kurds.

The Kurdish population in northern Iraq has enjoyed near autonomy for more than a decade, and council members say bringing Kurds back into the fold of a unified Iraq may prove to be difficult.

But aside from the ethnic and religious divisions, Governing Council member Moufaq al Ruubbai says the greatest difficulty in forming a democratic process in Iraq is the fact that most of the country has been, in his words, corrupted by Saddam Hussein.

"It is very difficult. I believe Saddam Hussein did not only destroy all of the hardware by the mass graves and using chemical weapons against the Iraqis and killing hundreds of thousands of people and getting us involved in three major wars, but he also managed to change the software upstairs," he said. "The way of thinking, the mentality, the psychology is really ruined. So we need to bring up this mentality and psychology back to normal. And to bring this to normality it will need a lot of work and a lot of hard work and a long time as well."

Mr. al-Ruubbai, a 55-year-old former Iraqi exile, says Saddam Hussein has left behind a country in which no one trusts anyone and peoples' morale is low. In that kind of environment, he says, democracy will be a slow, evolutionary process.

Mr. al-Ruubbai says he is hopeful Iraq can adopt a constitution that respects the rule of the majority and protects the rights of the minority. He believes general elections could be held by next November. But, he cautioned, there are many divisions within the Governing Council and many differing points of view.

Mr. al-Ruubbai said, writing a constitution is one thing, making it work in a society corrupted by decades of totalitarian rule is quite another.

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