IMAGE: Talabani and Khalilzad
Ceerwan Aziz  /  AP
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, right, meets with the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, at the presidential office in Baghdad on Sunday.
updated 8/1/2005 4:35:00 PM ET 2005-08-01T20:35:00

The head of the committee writing Iraq’s constitution appealed Monday to the country’s political leaders to help reach compromises on key issues so framers can finish the document by the Aug. 15 deadline.

Humam Hammoudi told parliament his 71-member committee can complete the document by the deadline only if the party and political leaders guiding the process can reach compromises such issues as the role of Islam in the legal code and details of federalism.

If the leaders, who are due to meet Friday, cannot agree, the unresolved issues will be forwarded to the full 275-member National Assembly to be resolved, he said.

Despite completing about 90 percent of the document, the parliamentary committee, which includes Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds, has bogged down over a handful of issues.

Faced with deadlock, a frustrated Hammoudi confirmed that he had recommended Sunday that the committee formally ask parliament for an extension, as provided for in the interim constitution. Several committee members said the group concurred with the recommendation.

Facing U.S. pressure
However, key members reversed their position later Sunday under pressure from the Americans and from President Jalal Talabani.

The Bush administration considers the constitutional process vital to maintain political momentum, undermine the insurgency and pave the way for the Americans and their coalition partners to draw down troops next year.

Hammoudi’s call for political leaders to intercede appeared aimed in part at spreading the political risk throughout Iraq’s political establishment and preventing his committee from receiving all the blame if the process collapses.

Once parliament approves the charter, it will be referred to the voters in a referendum in mid-October followed by an election for a new government in December.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters Monday that the United States was sure that compromises could be made.

“There are options that can be identified,” he said. “If there is good will and preparedness to compromise, then it can be arrived at. I urge the leaders to come with that spirit.”

The deputy chairman of the constitutional committee, Fouad Massoum, expressed confidence that the issues could be resolved by political leaders.

“They are all up to the responsibility, and they all know how dangerous this period is,” Massoum said. “They will agree on the texts.”

Four tough spots
But a prominent Sunni Arab member was less optimistic, listing at least four major areas of disagreement. They include proposals to reserve certain jobs for specific ethnic or religious groups, to allow Iraqis to hold dual citizenship and whether Arabic alone should be considered an official language. The Kurds want their language to have equal status.

“We, the Sunni Arabs, call for an Arab Iraq with Islam as the source of legislation and we reject assigning government positions along sectarian lines,” Mohammed Abed-Rabbou said. “If they want a constitution for all Iraqis, it can be done on the 15th. But if they insist on sectarian divisions of posts, then it is difficult.”

The Kurds oppose designating Islam as the main source of legislation. Sunni Arabs fear federalism — a key Kurdish goal — will lead to the breakup of the state.

During a news conference Monday, women activists, including Cabinet member Azhar al-Sheikhly, demanded the constitution safeguard their rights, which they fear are threatened if Islam is enshrined as the main source of legislation.

They also urged that Iraq adhere to international treaties and agreements on women’s rights and that women make up at least 25 percent in the three branches of government. Only nine of the 71 members of the constitutional committee are women.

“We want to see our mothers, our sisters, and our daughters take part in building the new Iraq on an equal footing,” al-Sheikhly said.

Deep divides
Suspicion runs deep among Iraqi ethnic and religious groups — in part because of the bloody suppression of Kurds and Shiites by Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated regime.

“One of the biggest challenges facing Iraqis is overcoming the loss of trust among the communities,” Khalilzad told reporters.  “This underlies current political and sectarian tensions.”

Those tensions have been sharpened by the Sunni-dominated insurgency and attacks against Shiites by Islamic extremists led by Jordanian terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who considers Shiites heretics.

Sunnis have alleged that Shiite-dominated government security forces have been behind the mysterious killings of Sunni males.

On Monday, the bodies of 19 Shiite men were discovered in a Baghdad neighborhood, police said. The bodies had been tied up and were shot in the head and chest, and some showed signs of torture, said 1st Lt. Thair Mahmoud.

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