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Iraq Report: June 3, 2005

3 June 2005, Volume 8, Number 18
KURDISH PARTIES AGREE TO CONVENE PARLIAMENT. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) have agreed to convene the Kurdistan parliament following months of political wrangling over the presidential post and leadership of a unified Kurdish administration. At issue were the term length and duties of the president, the command over a unified peshmerga, and, according to some media reports, who would control the finances of a unified administration. Both parties had agreed in December 2004 that KDP head Mas'ud Barzani would serve as president of the administration.

Under the agreement announced on 29 May, Barzani will also serve as commander of the peshmerga, while an undetermined PUK politburo member will serve as deputy commander. PUK Deputy Prime Minister Adnan Mufti will be nominated by both parties to head the parliament; Nechirvan Barzani, currently head of the KDP-led Kurdistan Regional Government, will serve as the Kurdish prime minister; and the current PUK Prime Minister Umar Fattah will serve as deputy prime minister of the unified administration.

The agreement is indicative of the Kurdish parties' style of governance, in which democracy is practiced through a top-down approach. The KDP and PUK hatched a deal weeks before the 30 January parliamentary elections over the number of seats their parties, along with a handful of smaller parties on their coalition list, would get following the election.

Agreement Followed Four Months Of Talks

The long-awaited agreement was apparently reached after PUK head and Iraqi transitional President Jalal Talabani returned to Al-Sulaymaniyah last week.

Abd al-Salam Barwari, head of the Democracy and Human Rights Research Center in Irbil, told RFE/RL in a 27 May interview that Barzani had sent a letter to the PUK a day earlier demanding that the issues between the two sides be settled and the parliament convened -- with or without Barzani assuming the previously agreed upon position as president of the Kurdistan region. Media reports had indicated that the PUK was hesitant to meet a KDP demand that Barzani assume the presidency for a four-year term.

Asked about the alleged disagreement, Barwari said: "It is not a matter of Barzani or not Barzani, it's a matter of that post. Who knows after two or three elections who will take the post.... Barzani wanted to send the message 'Don't make me or my person or that position a problem. Forget it, we will begin without a president.' The message, as I understood myself, is to put the ball in [the PUK's] field.... Many say that it was a good move, a clever move by Barzani and that the PUK -- Talabani and his party -- will be forced to come and agree about all points including the president of the region."

The PUK apparently met the demand and an agreement was announced on 29 May. PUK Deputy Prime Minister Mufti confirmed the agreement in a 31 May interview and said the parliament will convene on 4 June, more than four months after the Kurdistan elections. Mufti said that once in session, the parliament will examine the proposed presidency law agreed upon by the leadership of both parties, following which Barzani will be formally elected by parliament as president. The "election" is a mere formality, however, as there is no challenger to Barzani.

Executive Agreement

Both Barwari and Mufti dismissed complaints that their parties were stifling the legislative process by working out an agreement in lieu of sending it to the parliament. Both contended that the parties felt it was better to negotiate the agreement rather than risk the possibility that the parliament would fall into a logjam over the issue. "In every representative or democratic system, there must be a highest level where some issues [are] decided. And by practice as the government begins to work, maybe there will be a need for such authority and maybe that will be another way that the parliament begins to discuss that issue," Barwari said.

Mufti also claimed that it was the responsibility of the parties to work out an agreement first. "We must go to the parliament after [concluding] an agreement between the two parties. If you look to the members of parliament, the majority are members of parties. So, without reaching that agreement, [it] was difficult to bring to the parliament all [those] problems without understanding and without reaching that agreement.... We can have a decision for the law maybe in one day but if we [didn't have] this agreement it would be difficult to discuss it inside the parliament because this is the responsibility of the leaderships, Mr. Barzani and Mr. Talabani. So, now it's better to have a meeting of the parliament with this agreement [already concluded]. It will be easier for the members of parliament of course."

Mufti told RFE/RL that the unified administration would also include members of minority parties representing Kurdish Islamist groups, and Assyrian and Turkoman parties. While no timeframe has been agreed on, Mufti suggested that ministries from both sides would begin merging as early as two to three months from now. "Some ministries need time to unify, like the Interior, like peshmerga, like Finance, but I don't think it will be a big problem because we have a plan on how to continue and how to reach a unification of ministries," he said. Asked if an agreement had been reached on who would be responsible for finances in the new administration, he said: "Not yet. We are going to reach an agreement in three or four days, before the meeting of parliament." (Kathleen Ridolfo)


By Robert McMahon

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has assured Iraq's foreign minister that Washington remains committed to Iraqi security. Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari, in turn, told Rice that his country's constitutional process will include all constituencies in Iraq. Following a month that saw a surge in Iraqi civilian deaths in insurgent attacks, al-Zebari also pressed Syria for more cooperation in securing its territory.

Al-Zebari has so far secured key pledges of international support for Iraq's fledgling government during his visit to the United States.

The UN Security Council on 31 May agreed to extend the mandate of the U.S.-led multinational force "until the completion of the political process in Iraq." And 1 June, al-Zebari told reporters that Secretary of State Rice had confirmed Washington's commitment to help safeguard the process until its completion.

"It's very important that the commitment of the United States, of the coalition countries, could be firm and solid. Nobody should draw any misunderstanding and this is what I have heard from Dr. Rice today, that the U.S. is fully committed to complete the mission and they are there as long as they are needed," al-Zebari said.

There are nearly 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and more than 22,000 soldiers from 27 other countries. U.S. officials say they are making progress in training Iraqi forces to assume greater responsibility for security.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in a separate news conference on 1 June, said the multinational force has trained about 165,000 Iraqi soldiers and police. But he said they are not yet capable of fully handling their own security needs. "Good progress is being made, and the United States has indicated, and the coalition has indicated, they intend to stay and complete the job in proper order," Rumsfeld said.

While affirming support for Iraq's security, U.S. officials have pressed Iraqi leaders to include Sunni Muslims in the drafting of a new constitution. Sunnis largely stayed away from the January parliamentary polls, and Shi'ite Muslims and Kurds have so far dominated the political process.

Al-Zebari, who is Kurdish, said on 1 June that he assured Rice all Iraqi communities would participate in the constitutional process. Rice told reporters she was confident the process would be inclusive.

"The Iraqis have met every political challenge that has been put before them -- the transfer of sovereignty, the elections that were held on 30 January, of course the writing of the Transitional Administrative Law -- and they now are meeting the challenge of the development of a constitutional process that will be inclusive," Rice said.

Al-Zebari's visit to the United States comes after a month in which surging violence killed and wounded hundreds of civilians and police in Iraq. The vast majority of attacks are blamed on Sunni insurgents targeting security forces and civilians.

The Iraqi foreign minister on 1 June repeated assertions that Syria was not following through on pledges to prevent the flow of insurgents through its territory into Iraq. "Really, they have not been cooperative, as cooperative as we want them to be. Our dialogue is still continuing with them, of course. We want them to help, especially to help us on stopping the flow of all those terrorists who are using Syrian territories to enter Iraq and to blow up innocent Iraqi lives every day," al-Zebari said.

Al-Zebari also said his government was looking forward to a 22 June donor conference in Belgium, which more than 80 countries and international organizations are expected to attend. The conference will aim to secure international support in building institutions and areas such as the court system and economic development.


By Kathleen Ridolfo

RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) has dedicated much of its daily programming in recent weeks to the forthcoming constitution. RFI acting Director Sergei Danilochkin says that the programming aims to promote dialogue and debate among various Iraqi groups. The programming addresses such issues as human rights, women's rights, the role of Islam, and the role of Sunnis and minorities in the drafting of the constitution, and what democracy means in the new Iraq. To this end, the "RFE/RL Iraq Report" offers a summary of RFI programming on this issue from 29 May-3 June.

RFI chief correspondent Nabil Haydari interviewed Iraqi anthropologist Hisham Dawud from France's National Center for Scientific Research on 29 May to ask about the expatriate view on the constitution, the role that Iraq's history and diverse ethnic and religious landscape will play in shaping the constitution, and how Iraq can learn from the experiences of other nations in drafting a constitution. Dawud expressed the opinion that the Iraqi constitution-drafting commission "should have been more open and rich, more taking into account the plurality of the Iraqi society."

Dawud described the current Iraqi situation as "a special one because the political developments have been running quickly while we are now drafting a constitution that should help us at the beginning of a long political way." He added that Iraq could learn from the current debate in Europe over the EU constitution, saying that France, for example, "has been witnessing a very rich and vivid dialogue for the last two months."

RFI Baghdad correspondent Imad Jasim spoke with three Iraqi intellectuals on 30 May about the role of intellectuals in the constitutional-drafting process. Literary writers, and especially poets have always held an elevated status in the Middle East and the social prestige allotted to them is higher than in Western societies. Female poet Rana Ja'far Yasin told RFI: "Poets and literary writers are the mirror of the I think their participation is very necessary and not less important than the participation of lawyers, politicians, or university teachers. Their role is the same."

Tha'ir al-Qaysi, secretary-general of the cultural association Poor Without Borders (Fuqara' Bila Hudud), called on state institutions to do more to draw intellectuals and artists into the process "purely for the sake of enriching the constitution's text with the perspective of human rights."

The last four installments of Baghdad correspondent Asma al-Sarraj's weekly program "Her Issues" have been dedicated to the role women can play in the writing of the draft, and what rights they should be guaranteed by the future constitution. In the 30 May program, al-Sarraj asked female Islamist and secular leaders: "What do Iraqi women prefer? Why do female Islamists insist on an Islamic constitution? What are the fears of female secularists from the joining of religion and state? Is there a growing divide between female Islamists and secularists on the form of the coming constitution?"

Secular-oriented Iraqi women argued that the plurality of religious communities in the country is a strong point against an Islamic constitution, adding that faith should remain a strictly private matter. One said, "It is an issue between the human and the Lord how much the human prays, it has no relation to law," adding, "Religion by itself is good but extremism and fanaticism can interfere." The women also said they feared an Islamic Iraq would lead to public discrimination between the sexes, and also said they feared that the Islamic headscarf would be imposed on all women.

An Islamist woman interviewed said: "We speak of the Iraqi woman as of an Islamic woman who wants the future constitution of Iraq to be Islamic.... Democracy means representation of the majority of people, and the majority of people in Iraq now are Islamic." She also contended, "The woman must not be stripped of any right she wants to have, and [the right] must not be in contradiction with traditions and values, first and foremost those of Islam." Meanwhile, a female NGO leader called on international observers to keep watch over the process to ensure its transparency.

RFI correspondent Laith Ahmad interviewed Abd al-Rahman al-Nu'aymi, a member of the National Assembly's Contact Committee (a subcommittee of the drafting committee), which is charged with bringing more Sunnis into the drafting process on 31 May. "Talks have taken place with personalities, organizations, and bodies that have a role in the Sunni public. There was a representative [in the last meeting] of the Muslim Scholars Association, a representative of the [National] Dialogue Council [Majlis al-Hiwar] Mr. Salih, and another representative, Dr. Sa'di al-Zubaydi. The meeting was warm and there was mutual understanding," he said, adding, "Hopefully we will reach a result that satisfies our Sunni Arabs."

Three civil-society leaders were interviewed about their views on the drafting process by RFI Baghdad correspondent Khama'il Muhsin on 1 June. Suha al-Azzawi, president of the Semiramis Association for Defending Women's Rights, called for the participation of competent women in the drafting of the constitution.

Baghdad correspondent Jumana al-Ubaydi interviewed Iraqi Bar Association Secretary Diya al-Sa'di on 1 June, who said: ""It is necessary to fulfill the basic rule that the constitution is a document written by the people, through its representatives. Therefore, the boycott of the National Assembly elections by vast portions of the Iraqi people, whether it happened for political or security reasons...must be compensated through the constitutional-drafting process."

Al-Ubaydi also reported on a conference held by the Iraqi Youth Association in cooperation with the General Council of Tribal Leaders on the need to raise awareness among youth about the constitution. Association spokesman Kazim al-Zubaydi told RFI, "We as the youth must before all challenge the will of terrorism and be a supportive hand to this government," adding that the association sponsors courses that aim to distance people from sectarian allegiances. Council President Sheikh Fu'ad Awwad al-Tamimi said: "The Iraqi youngster of today is the man of the future, the future leader of Iraq, the future Iraqi politician. We, the tribal leaders, must guide him properly."

Abd al-Rahman al-Nu'aymi of the National Assembly Contact Committee briefed RFI correspondent Laith Ahmad again on 2 June about the committee's meeting that day. More than 60 people representing a broad spectrum of Sunni Arabs participated in the meeting. "It was a successful contribution that I see as only the beginning of breaking through the barrier of silence so that our brothers can participate," al-Nu'aymi said.

Presidential adviser Sadiq al-Musawi described to Baghdad correspondent Khama'il Muhsin on 2 June two committees that were established in the National Assembly to establish contact with Sunni Arab institutions. Al-Musawi outlined three proposals for reaching out to Sunnis and said that once the draft constitution is written, "local congresses" would take place to discuss it before the referendum is held in October.

Humam Hammudi, head of the National Assembly's Constitutional Drafting Committee, denied media reports that most members of the committee are not competent for drafting a constitution in a 2 June exclusive interview with RFI correspondent Salma Micheal. He added that members regularly consult with lawyers and academics outside the committee. "Politicians are needed who have deep knowledge of the country, solid and deep opinions, and who entitle technical experts with transforming these visions and experiences...into a legal constitutional formulation. The political decision belongs to politicians, the formulation belongs to an academic specialist," he said.

"According to the latest talks, colleagues see Islam as the state religion and the main source of legislation.... It seems there is some consensus on the role of religion in the state -- not as the only source but as the main source [of legislation]. We will also rely on other fundamentals and sources in what we need for expressing the identity and culture of this country," Hammudi told RFI.

Iraqi National Democratic Party leader Nasir al-Chadirchi told RFI in a 2 June interview, "No group, communal, religious, or otherwise, should be excluded from writing the constitution." Chadirchi, a former Governing Council member, expressed dissatisfaction with the current composition of the drafting committee. He also commented on the issue of Islam and the constitution and discussed the role that the Transitional Administrative Law established by the Coalition Provisional Authority will play in influencing the future document.

RFI Irbil correspondent Shamal Ramadan interviewed two Kurdish journalists on 3 June about the role of the media in raising awareness and debate on the constitution. Abd al-Rahman al-Pasha, editor in chief of the Arabic-language weekly "Al-Sawt al-Akhar," claimed: "Iraqi media as a whole and Kurdish media in particular have hardly made any contribution to raising constitutional awareness or education. Apart from a few items here and there, there has been no analytical or in-depth writing about such a crucial issue as the new Iraqi constitution. This remains the case although 15 August [the draft's deadline] is fast approaching."

Journalist Umar Farhadi said Iraqis have no constitutional consciousness or education since modern Iraq came into existence more than 80 years ago. The legislature under the monarchy was not democratically elected. Under the Ba'ath Party, people were expected to applaud what laws or interim constitutions the ruling party enacted. There was no public debate of any sort and no awareness as to the importance of such a relevant document affecting people's daily lives. Today, the role of the media is either excluded or marginalized in the constitutional debate, he added, saying journalists themselves may be partly to blame or perhaps the existing media outlets do not offer a platform for such discussions. The result is that there is no public constitutional education. The constitution is perceived as exclusively the domain of politicians and legal experts, Farhadi observed.

Correspondent Laith Ahmad interviewed U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Cara Scherer for a 3 June report. "The U.S. applauds the efforts of Iraqis from all different sides and the leaders of all different parties for participating in this process...of writing the constitution. It is becoming much more multifaceted," Scherer said.

Ahmad also reported on 3 June that the National Assembly's Contact Committee will report to the Constitutional Drafting Committee on the meeting with Sunni Arab representatives that it held a day earlier.

"There are two different visions on the participation [of Sunni Arabs in drafting the constitution]: one of them proposes the participation through sub-committees that would be set up to include not only Sunni but also other representatives...and a whole committee that would be larger than 55 [members]; the other choosing a number of Sunni personalities...added to the 55 [original members of the Constitutional Drafting Committee]," committee member Sa'd Jawad Qandil said.

RFI correspondent Laila Ahmad interviewed Iraqis on the streets of Baghdad to gauge their thoughts on the constitution on 3 June. "Some people think that federalism represents a first step toward the disintegration and division of Iraq. Some, on the contrary, think that federalism will contribute to strengthening national unity, along with increasing democracy," Abd al-Hamid Husayn commented.

Muhammad Abd al-Jabbar, the "Al-Sabah" newspaper's daily editor in chief, said: "I am convinced that among the issues that will spark big controversy and discord in the National Assembly are the questions of the relation of state to religion, the role of Islam in the constitution, and considering it a source of legislation. A second issue that will spark discord is the question of federalism and of the competencies granted to the central government vis-a-vis the competencies of the federal [autonomous] government. There is a third issue that the legislators may wish to deal with in the constitution and that is the Kirkuk question."

RFI head Danilochkin said that RFI will continue to closely monitor constitutional developments in the run-up to the 15 August draft deadline. "Our goal is to provide our listeners with as much information as possible through a thorough examination of all relevant issues surrounding the draft constitution," he said. (Translations by RFI's Petr Kubalek and Abdelilah Nuaimi)