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Iraq: Government Spokesman, Drafting Committee Members Discuss Constitution Negotiations

Members of Iraq's constitution drafting committee (file photo) Government spokesman Laith Kubba and two members of the committee drafting the constitution, United Iraqi Alliance representative Sa'd Jawad Qandil and Chaldo-Assyrian parliamentarian Yonadam Kanna, were interviewed by RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) at the Baghdad Convention Center late on 22 August about the prospects for an agreement on the draft constitution as the deadline loomed.

Kubba: Despite the delay that has occurred as we are now in the last hours [of the time limit], the two main political blocs of the National Assembly and of the cabinet [i.e. the United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdistan Coalition List] have agreed on the basic paragraphs [of the constitution draft]. This is, however, not enough because the necessity is to reach some kind of a general agreement [that includes the positions] of the other [committee members], especially those who represent the positions of the regions with a Sunni Arab majority. Attention has been strongly paid to the wording so that they can accept [the draft], and this has been the cause of the delay in these last hours.

RFI: Constitution-drafting committee rapporteur Baha' al-A'raji said the Kurdistan Coalition List and the Iraqi List were trying to launch what he called a "white coup" against the Islamic bloc in the National Assembly. Have you noticed such an attempt?

Kubba: There has been some talk of this. It is natural that escalations have occurred in connection with some paragraphs [of the constitution draft] so that the bargaining cards are reshuffled. This has been the case of the paragraphs related to religion, possibly of the paragraphs related to the Personal Status Code [regulating the matters of individual religious identity, marriage, divorce, and inheritance], and some other paragraphs in the general preamble. The real aim of [the accusations] was to create pressure and strengthen one's negotiating position. But in the end there are one or two basic paragraphs that will define the general position of Iraqis. One is related to the unity and structure of Iraq, defining the dimension of the Arab presence in Iraq, the structure of the state and its sovereignty over all the land and air of Iraq, and the administrative structure. This is one of the main paragraphs that will determine, I believe, not only the further destiny of the draft but also the attitude [that Iraqis will express in the referendum to be held] on 15 October.
"If this [agreement] is not reached, Iraq and Iraqis will find themselves in a grave crisis. There would be a vacuum in the legislative branch that would negatively affect Iraq and Iraqis."

RFI: Has the decision been reached on federalism and its form in the permanent constitution?

Kubba: It seems that these paragraphs have been decided on through bargaining rather than choosing. It seems that the principles were put aside so that pragmatic and functional aspects with their direct benefits are confirmed. For instance, such a division has been applied where the common property of natural resources has not been explicitly mentioned while the [common] property of oil and gas has been specified in the sense that the revenues from it return to all Iraqi people. As I have said, all paragraphs of this type seem to have been dealt with by bargaining. In the end, it will depend on the Iraqi people, how they read these paragraphs, and what attitude they will take to them.

RFI: Do you expect the Iraqi people to welcome the constitution?

Kubba: The only sure thing is that the stance of the Iraqis to it will be clear through their participation [in the referendum]. It will be either "yes" or "no." The participation rate in the planned referendum will be very high because Iraqis are well aware of the importance of the constitution. The position of those refusing it will be equal to those approving it. This is exactly the necessity: that all people participate and express their opinion in a way that should determine their future.

RFI: Accusations have appeared that Sunni Arabs plan to force the dissolution of the National Assembly [and new elections]...which would give way to a new assembly where the Sunni influence would be stronger, so that they can write a constitution more, as they say, "appropriate for Iraqis." Have you noticed such attempts from the Sunni side?

Kubba: I do not think that this will happen now. But in mid-October, if two-thirds of the participants in the referendum vote against the proposed constitution in three governorates, the constitution draft will be rejected, the National Assembly dissolved, and the way open to new elections in January 2006.

Sa'd Jawad Qandil, representative of the United Iraqi Alliance: More than 95 percent of the constitution has been written. The discussion has now focused on one single point, which is the issue of the distribution of [the revenues from natural] resources. Yes, from time to time, also, other points come out that are secondary. They may be important, too, but I call them secondary because they already have been discussed and were decided in the previous sessions. Despite that, the need has appeared to make some minute amendments to them. After an agreement on these, we had to go back to the one point that concerns natural resources. Through dealing with other points, we all returned to this same topic. The most time-consuming topic in the negotiations was the point of the distribution of [the revenues from natural] resources.

RFI: What is the position of Sunni Arabs now on the issue of federalism?

Qandil: Sunni Arabs have offered many positive steps on the issue of federalism. I would say that they have opened more than 50 percent toward accepting federalism. They recently presented a document accepting the specifics of the Kurdistan Region and recognizing the full right of a federal status for the Kurdistan Region. [The document] also recognized partial rights of a federal status for governorates [outside Kurdistan] to which executive powers could be delegated. In order to accept a full federalism, there is [the question of] delegating legislative and judicial competencies to governorates [that is still to be resolved].

RFI: Is the problem, then, on the side of the Kurdish Unity List?

Qandil: Yes.

RFI: What if the constitution draft is not announced today?

Qandil: If an agreement on the final version of the draft is not reached, there is a choice to ask for a prolongation [of the drafting period] for a longer time. Indeed, there are some choices in the case that an agreement is not reached. This is either to demand a prolongation, or to announce that the [committee members] have not been able to reach an agreement and would need to exceed their deadline, by which the National Assembly would be automatically dissolved. The third choice is to present the draft as it is now, including the points of dispute, whereby the National Assembly would have to make a final decision on these points of dispute and discuss the mechanisms for their resolution. I am, however, optimistic that an agreement will be reached in the end and the draft will be presented.

Yonadam Kanna, Chaldo-Assyrian parliamentarian and drafting committee member: A dispute continues with the brothers who have been calling themselves "the segments made absent [in January 2005 elections" -- a reference to the Sunnis] and whom I have been calling Arab nationalists. They have agreed with us neither on the general features of a federal system nor on the identity of the country and some other issues. Regarding the issue of natural resources and their distribution, an agreement has been reached that the resources are the property of the Iraqi people and will be distributed to all Iraqis justly by the central [government] but in coordination and cooperation with the authorities of the regions of production [meaning oil producing regions would have a say in the distribution of revenues from the oil produced in their region or governorate], and will be distributed to all Iraqis justly. This is the last formulation that I have heard from them [in the constitution drafting committee]. In my opinion, it is a good formulation that meets the demands of Iraqis.

RFI: But the new members [in the constitution drafting committee, i.e. Sunni Arabs,] say they have already decided on a decentralized model of a new Iraq.

Kanna: They had such an opinion but such a project was not even accepted for discussion by the constitution-drafting committee.

RFI: Bearing in mind these differences in opinions, do you expect reaching the constitution draft announcement today?

Kanna: I hope for that.

RFI: What if this is not reached?

Kanna: If this is not reached, Iraq and Iraqis will find themselves in a grave crisis. There would be a vacuum in the legislative branch that would negatively affect Iraq and Iraqis. We would thus push Iraq into another year of a provisional order, with the multinational forces [remaining] and all these factors. The government would be unstable because it [would remain] provisional. It would be unable to meet the demand [to deliver the basic] services that Iraqis need.

(Translated by Petr Kubalek)

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