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Iraq: Foreign Troops, New Constitution Sticking Points Between Governing Council And U.S.

A member of the Iraqi Governing Council says the body is united against neighboring countries sending troops to Iraq. In an interview with RFE/RL today, Judge Dara Nur al-Din also said it will be impossible to adopt a new Iraqi constitution in half a year as suggested by the U.S. administration.

Baghdad, 13 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Turkey's decision this week to send soldiers to Iraq at the request of the United States prompted immediate objections from members of Iraq's U.S.-backed Governing Council.

Turkey responded by suggesting it was only Kurds on the council who objected to the troop deployment.

Not so, says council member Dara Nur al-Din. In an interview with RFE/RL today, the Kurdish judge said the body had been unanimous in its stance.

"We in the Governing Council unanimously decided not to agree on allowing international forces [to Iraq] from neighboring countries, which includes Turkey. This was the decision of the Governing Council," al-Din told RFE/RL.

Asked by RFE/RL if the council would eventually relent under possible U.S. pressure, al-Din did not give a direct answer. But he said the Iraqi position is well-known to the Americans. He said that the council members discussed the issue with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld when he visited Baghdad recently and also with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

"We made our negative position towards the troops from neighboring countries very clear," Nur al-Din said. He said troops from neighboring countries might complicate a fragile situation in Iraq.

It is not the only issue potentially putting the council and its U.S. backers at odds. The process of drafting the new Iraqi constitution might also put relations to the test.

Powell said late last month he would like Iraq to have the new constitution ready in six months' time. But Nur al-Din said that is not even enough time to select the body that will be responsible for drawing up the document. "No, it is impossible. First of all, the issue of security is not resolved and, second, the census, general census of the population is impossible [now]," he said.

The main political parties are still in disagreement over how the planned constitutional convention should even be selected. Shi'as, who make up 60 percent of Iraq's populationof 24 million, are in favor of an elected convention, whose outcome would reflect their numerical advantage. But Iraq's smaller ethnic groups are opposed to any system that grants power to the Shi'as.

The Kurdish representatives are arguing for a constitutional convention selected by the Governing Council, hoping that such a group would offer them better leverage. The Kurds want a federal system that will guarantee them some form of regional independence -- something Nur al-Din said the council has ruled out.

If the convention is to be elected by the people, Nur al-Din said there would first need to be a census and a process of voter registration, because nobody in the country knows how many people have the right to vote. "The experts from the Ministry of Planning, specializing in the census, say that this could take a year and a half or two years for a census to be prepared and performed. The period of six months is not enough at all," al-Din said.

Does that mean that the Governing Council would agree to a longer presence of U.S. troops in the country? Nur al-Din said Iraqis will be able soon to enforce security and will not need U.S. soldiers. "Let them [U.S. forces] leave the subject of internal security for the Iraqis and stay on the Iraqi borders to prevent neighboring countries from interfering," he said. "We know how to deal with our security much better than the Americans."