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Iraq: Constitutional Deal Spells Opportunity For Broader Sunni Views

The recent breakthrough --> over the makeup of a committee to draft a new Iraqi constitution followed weeks of political wrangling, and could assist the process greatly. But the ultimate success of the deal should be measured on the basis of whether it ushers in a fuller spectrum of Sunni views, in addition to legal and negotiating expertise.

Sunnis agreed to an offer by Shi'ite and Kurdish parliamentarians to add 15 names to the constitutional drafting committee on 16 June, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. The offer, made on 13 June, also calls for 10 Sunnis to sit on a separate, consultative committee that will advise drafters. The agreement leaves the committee with just over two months to draft a constitution.

Prior to the new deal, only two Sunni parliamentarians served on the now 71-member constitutional drafting committee that includes 28 parliamentarians from the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance list and 15 parliamentarians from the Kurdistan Coalition list. Eight members of the committee represent the Iraqis list of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. Turkomans, Christians, and Communists were each reportedly allotted one seat on the committee. It appears that the new Sunni members will likely come from outside the National Assembly, which has just 17 Sunni members, not all of whom are legal experts.

Overcoming Obstacles

An early proposal floated by parliamentarian negotiators called for Sunni Arabs to play a strictly consultative role. Sunni leaders, including Adnan Pachachi, whose Independent Iraqi Democrats failed to win any seats in the National Assembly election, criticized the proposal, saying they wanted "not an advisory role, but to contribute effectively" to the drafting process (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 2005).

When Sunnis demanded a minimum of 25 seats on the drafting committee, Shi'ite parliamentarians balked at the request. "This committee is intended to be a small body to represent all the National Assembly," committee Chairman Humum Hamudi said in an apparent jab at Sunni Arabs, whose low representation in parliament is seen as a direct result of their poor participation in January elections.
Parliamentarians laid down requirements after an initial list of possible Sunni participants reportedly was rejected by Sunni groups for not being sufficiently representative of all Sunnis, and by Shi'ite parliamentarians, who claimed the list included former Ba'athists.

As talks progressed, negotiators came up with two proposals for Sunni participation. The first proposal called for choosing a number of Sunni Arabs to join the 55-member committee originally established by the legislature. The second proposal is quite similar to the agreement concluded this week. It called for Sunni participation through subcommittees that would include members representing other groups as well. Other Sunni Arabs would sit on the expanded 55-member committee (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 3 June 2005).

Imposing Requirements

Under the 16 June agreement, Sunni members to the drafting committee will have to meet the certain requirements. They must not be "from among the dignitaries" of the Saddam Hussein regime, and they must not have served as a high-ranking member of the former Ba'ath Party. They must also have "real support" as representatives of the Sunni community, parliamentarian Baha al-A'raji told RFI on 13 June. In addition, the Sunni nominees to the committee should be inclusive of all Sunni political trends and geographical regions, he said. Parliamentarians laid down the requirements after an initial list of possible Sunni participants reportedly was rejected by Sunni groups for not being sufficiently representative of all Sunnis, and by Shi'ite parliamentarians, who claimed the list included former Ba'athists.

For their part, Sunni negotiators called for conferences to be held throughout Iraq on the constitution, Iraqi Islamic Party spokesman Iyad al-Sammara'i said this week. The proposal is likely to have the support of Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders since Article 60 of the Transitional Administrative Law calls on the National Assembly to encourage "debate on the constitution through regular general public meetings in all parts of Iraq and through the media, and receiving proposals from the citizens of Iraq as it writes the constitution."

In talks earlier this week, all parties agreed that the drafting committee's work would be based on consensus, and voting will not take place, Shi'ite parliamentarian Ali al-Adib told RFI on 14 June.

Sunnis are expected to submit their nominees to sit on the drafting committee when the committee reconvenes on 19 June. National Dialogue Council spokesman Salih Mutlak told RFI in a 13 June interview that Sunnis would be able to present their list of nominees "within one day of agreeing on the size and type of such participation."

Sunni Arabs also agreed to form a five-member committee that will propose the 25 Sunni nominees to the parliament, United Iraqi Alliance parliamentarian Jalal al-Din al-Saghir told RFI on 16 June.

Despite the Sunnis apparent success in having their demands for participation met, their lack of cohesiveness as a side to the negotiations and their tendency to boycott or reject proposals outright rather than countering through negotiations may slow the constitutional drafting process.

In order to avoid further delays in the drafting process, the committee will need to choose Sunni figures who are not only competent legal experts but also seasoned negotiators who represent the broad spectrum of Sunni views. A tall order, perhaps, but one that would go far to assist the process.