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Secular Bloc Threatening to Boycott Iraq's Constitution Committee

In a further blow to hopes of ensuring broad input to a draft constitution for Iraq by a mid-August deadline, members of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's secular party have threatened to join Sunni Arab members in boycotting the process.

The eight secular members of Mr. Allawi's Iraqi List party, who are on the committee drafting the constitution, say they are angry over the way the drafting committee handled last week's decision by Sunni members to suspend their membership on the panel. The committee is dominated by Shi'ite Muslims and Kurds.

The secular members charge that the committee has done little to encourage the Sunnis to end their boycott. The members also joined Sunnis in criticizing the head of the committee, Shi'ite cleric Sheikh Houman al-Hammoudi, for announcing that a draft charter would be ready within days.

The spokesman for Mr. Allawi's group, Adnan al-Janabi, told The Associated Press that no one in his group has any idea what the draft charter contains, nor who is writing it. Mr. Janabi says, given the circumstances, the secular bloc is having second thoughts about continuing its participation on the committee.

Last Tuesday, unknown gunmen assassinated a prominent Sunni Arab participant and a Sunni advisor on the constitution panel. The killings prompted the 12 remaining Sunni Arabs on the committee to suspend their membership, until they receive better security, a greater role in deliberations, and a full international investigation into the murders.

A Sunni member boycotting the committee, Saleh Mutlak, explained why his group is demanding an international investigation.

Mr. Mutlak says the government cannot be given the responsibility for investigating the murders, because the assassinations were carried out by militia members.

Mr. Mutlak would not identify the militia group by name, but both Shi'ite and Kurdish factions in government maintain their own militias, which operate separately from Iraqi security forces.

In recent months, Sunni Arabs have accused the Shi'ite Badr Brigade militia of killing hard-line Sunni clerics and fueling sectarian tensions. Badr Brigade officials deny the charges and blame the violence on Sunni fundamentalist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who has vowed to start a sectarian war between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims.

Fifteen Sunni Arab members were added to the constitution committee last month in a bid to expand Sunni participation in Iraq's political process, after Sunnis largely boycotted elections in Iraq earlier this year.

Zalmay Khalilzad
The loss of Sunni Arabs on the panel has raised doubts about whether a draft constitution could be submitted to the National Assembly by an August 15 deadline. The Sunnis have warned that submitting a draft without their approval would doom the charter in a national referendum slated for October.

In his first remarks as the new U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Kahlilzad called Saturday for the participation of all Iraqis in the constitution process vital. He says Iraq can only succeed, if all Iraqis can see themselves in the picture.