Prague, 17 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- For weeks, Arab Sunni parties and the leaders of Iraq's Constitutional Committee had argued over how many Sunni Arabs should take part in writing Iraq's first post-Saddam constitution.
Now, under an agreement reached yesterday, 15 seats in an expanded body are to be taken by Sunni Arabs. It is not yet clear whether these 15 seats will be in addition to two seats already held by Sunni Arabs on the existing Consitutional Committee or instead of them.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani told a Radio Free Iraq reporter shortly after the agreement was announced yesterday that it satisfies all sides.
"The number that has been agreed upon, as I heard, is 15 [Sunni] representatives and 10 consultants. But we have to underline one thing, and that is the number is not very important because the decisions are taken by consensus," Talabani said.
"If there are one or two persons on this committee from the Sunni, they can not put in the viewpoint of the Sunni clearly. But if there are many members, they will give the viewpoint strength and clarity."
Under the procedural rules of the Constitutional Committee, decisions must be reached with the agreement of all committee members, not by majority vote.
Still, the issue of numbers has been essential to the Sunni Arab parties because they consider a large representation on the committee vital to assuring that their community is broadly involved in the process.
Baha Aldin al-Naqshabandi, a spokesman of the largest Sunni political party -- the Iraqi Islamic Party -- explained the issue this way to RFE/RL today.
"If there are one or two persons on this committee from the Sunni, they can not put in the viewpoint of the Sunni clearly. But if there are many members, they will give the viewpoint strength and clarity," al-Naqshabandi said.
Al-Naqshabandi welcomed the new compromise as clearing the way for now choosing Sunni representatives from a spectrum of Sunni Arab parties and groups that want to take part in writing the constitution.
"The representatives will be chosen from all the Sunni sides, like the Iraqi Islamic Party, the Muslims of Scholarship [the Sunni Muslim Scholars Association], the Sunni al-Waqf [Sunni religious endowment body], and other sides of the Sunni forces, political forces I mean," al-Naqshabandi said.
He said selection of the Sunni Arab representatives should be completed in a matter of days.
The Constitutional Committee, which was established following January parliamentary elections mostly boycotted by the Sunni Arab community, had included just two Sunni Arabs. All sides have long agreed that was too few to assure the Sunni Arabs felt represented in Iraq's political process, which currently is dominated by Shi'a and Kurdish parties.
But agreeing on numbers proved difficult. The Sunni Arabs first asked to expand the 55-member committee to include 25 more Sunni Arabs. However, the committee leaders balked at offering more than 13 new seats.
Under the agreement reached yesterday, a new body is to be set up in parallel to the Constitutional Committee to raise the total number of representatives from all parties to 70.
Kurdish parties will retain their existing 15 seats and the Shi'a alliance that holds a majority in the National Assembly will keep its 28 seats. The remaining seats are divided among other political groups and individuals.
There will also be 25 consultants -- 10 of them Sunni Arabs and the other five from various other communities.
It remains to be seen what effect the inclusion of the Sunni Arab parties in the constitutional process will have on Iraq's insurgency, which is most active in Sunni majority areas.
One group of hooded insurgents signaled their resistance to the political process by surrounding a downtown mosque in Ramadi yesterday to prevent a meeting of local politicians and tribal leaders. The meeting was to discuss the country's new charter and reconciliation efforts.