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Iraq: National Assembly Amends Transitional Law, Extending Drafting Period

More discussion is necessary Just before midnight on 15 August, Iraq's National Assembly voted unanimously to amend the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), Iraq's interim constitution, to allow the committee charged with drafting a permanent constitution seven more days to draft the document.

The TAL, written by the Coalition Provisional Authority, originally called for a draft to be written by 15 August, stipulating that if this is not done, the National Assembly must be dissolved. Iraqi officials said that despite intense meetings between Sunni, Shi'ite, and Kurdish members of the drafting committee, agreement could not be reached on some issues.

"I can summarize them in the following points," Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari said in response to a question posed by RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) during a 16 August press briefing: "Details of federalism; details of [the question of sharing natural] resources; a detailed formulation on the balance of authority and the distribution of power [between the center and federal regions]; details of the representation of [federal] regions abroad [in Iraq's diplomatic mission]; and details of defining the electoral system." He added that the remaining obstacles were "very minute details."

With Or Without The Sunnis?
Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders avoided blaming Sunni Arabs outright for the delay, but contended that the draft was ready on 15 August, and only postponed to allow more time to satisfy "some" drafters opposed to certain provisions in the document.

The two groups now stand poised to submit the draft to parliament on 22 August, with or without the Sunnis onboard. The two parties together form a majority in the assembly and could easily send it to referendum without the Sunnis. Such a move would prove disastrous for Sunni Arabs who were politically sidelined after boycotting January's elections. It would also be seen as a setback in the progress made between Sunnis, Kurds, and the majority Shi'ites.

"We were at the very verge of arriving at an agreement," Shi'ite leader Husayn Shahristani told RFI on 15 August. "There are only some [Sunni Arab] brothers who did not participate in the elections [of January 2005] and later were invited to join the political process. They have had some objections against some paragraphs on the federal system."

Sunni negotiators had expressed disappointment after Kurdish and Shi'ite drafters this week rejected their proposal to postpone the details of the outstanding issues -- particularly federalism -- until a new National Assembly convenes in December. The next assembly, Sunnis argue, will be more balanced in terms of representation, placing them in a better position to have their demands met.

Federalism And Fragmentation
Sunnis believe that Kurdish and Shi'ite proposals for federalism will lead to a fragmentation of the country along sectarian lines, with a Shi'ite region in the south and a Kurdish region to the north. Some Sunnis do recognize the "special" status of Iraq's Kurds and even point to earlier Iraqi governments' recognition of the Kurdish situation. However, the Sunnis strongly reject Shi'ite attempts to establish a regional government.

On the issue of the distribution of resources, Sunnis would prefer that all resources be distributed equally through the central government to the governorates. Shi'ites, who hold the majority in government, have said they support the Sunni proposal, but Kurds would prefer to retain control over their resources, particularly if the oil-rich governorate of Kirkuk is incorporated into the Kurdistan region.
Despite intense meetings between Sunni, Shi'ite, and Kurdish members of the drafting committee, agreement could not be reached on some issues.

"Regarding the natural resources of Iraq, there is a stance taken by the [United Iraqi] Alliance, the [Sunni Arab] brothers invited to join the political process, and others in general," Shahristani said. "It is: The natural resources are the common property of all Iraqi people, [which have] to be administrated by the central federal government." In addition, he said, income generated from these resources must be "distributed to all regions of Iraq in a just way, depending on the population density and the needs of the respective region."

Even if the outstanding issues are resolved and the Sunni drafters satisfied, they will still need to sell it to their constituencies. Some Sunni leaders outside the drafting process have already said that they will consider any document drafted under occupation illegitimate. Muthanna Harith al-Dari, spokesman for the influential Muslim Scholars Association, hinted in a 15 August interview with Al-Jazeera television that the group will not support the referendum.

Transparent Process
Prime Minister al-Ja'fari praised the transparency of the drafting process, telling reporters on 16 August: "I am very happy about the transparency of the dialogue conducted and of the way in which everyone voted. I strongly hope that other brothers have felt the same mood and the same determination so that we successfully complete this task and present the Iraqi constitution to the whole world watching us."

Al-Ja'fari said that all sides were required to make concessions during the drafting process, adding that those concessions could only benefit the entire constitutional process.

He told reporters that the document will reflect the common points of interest among Iraqis. "I would say they are the freedom of individual, the freedom of belief, unity of Iraq, sovereignty of Iraq, adopting democratic principles, the separation of three powers [i.e., legislative, executive, and judicial], women's rights, and human rights," RFI reported.

See also:

Constitutional Committee Gets Another Week To Solve Disputes

Draft Constitution Due Today, But Will It Be Ready?

Committee Struggles To Make Constitutional Draft Deadline

Iraq's Kurds Taking Hard-Line Stance On Constitution

Commission Chief Says Constitution To Be Ready On Time

Draft Constitutions Signal Loss Of Rights

To view the Transitional Administrative Law in pdf format, click here

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