26 August 2005, Volume 8, Number 29
THE CONSTITUTIONIRAQIS AWAIT WORD ON CONSTITUTION NEGOTIATIONS. As this week's Iraq Report went to press, negotiators of the draft constitution continued to meet in Baghdad. Iraqi officials said on 26 August that they hoped an agreement would be reached by the following day.
Iraqi National Assembly speaker Hajim al-Hasani told reporters on 25 August that if an agreement is not reached, the draft will still be put to a referendum on 15 October, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. "Legally it does not need to be put to a vote in the National Assembly because the text of the Transitional Administration Law reads: 'The National Assembly writes the Iraqi draft constitution.' This draft was written. There were and still are pending issues. If we reach an agreement on these issues, the draft will be ready to be put on 15 October to a vote. If we do not agree, the draft will also be referred [to a vote]," he said.
Federalism continues to be the main sticking point among negotiators. RFI reported on 26 August that some tribal sheikhs from the Sunni-dominated governorates have come out in favor of the draft. Tribal leaders earlier this week voiced their objection to federalism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 August 2005). One tribal leader told RFI: "We support and respect what has been presented in the draft and we support federalism because it is the only solution to problems in Iraq. It will be an awakening toward a better [future] and toward prosperity."
Meanwhile, Nasir al-Ani told RFI that he and other Sunni Arab members on the drafting committee have accepted federalism on the condition that the final decision on it be passed to the next National Assembly, which would presumably have more Sunni representatives.
Another critical issue for Sunnis is a clause in the draft that precludes former Ba'athists from positions in future Iraqi governments (see below). But it appears that Shi'ite and Kurdish negotiators are maintaining their positions. National Security Adviser Wafiq al-Samarra'i commented on the clause in a 25 August interview with RFI, saying: "We have been looking for a balanced and realistic representation for Sunni Arabs...We must never agree, and the people must never agree, that there be a link to the former regime.... Whoever represents Sunni Arabs must be completely free from any involvement with the former regime."
Hundreds of Iraqis in the Shi'ite holy city of Karbala demonstrated on 26 August in support of the constitution, RFI reported. Demonstrators voiced their support for the clause prohibiting former Ba'athists from playing a role in politics. "I want to encourage Iraqi citizens for an absolute prohibition of Ba'athists and their terrorist way of thinking in order to pave the way for the future political process. The Ba'athist way of thinking is terrorist and does not conform with the present standards," one demonstrator told RFI. The demonstration reportedly was not supported by any particular political party. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
AL-SADR REASSERTS HIMSELF -- THIS TIME AGAINST CORELIGIONISTS Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr appears to be playing both agitator and mediator in the sudden surge of internecine fighting that broke out on 24 August between rival Shi'ite groups in Al-Najaf and subsequently spread to eight cities across Iraq.
As al-Sadr publicly appealed for calm on 25 August, many began to question the apparent coordinated attacks that left the cleric's militia, the Imam Al-Mahdi Army, battling with police and militias supporting the two main Shi'ite political parties -- the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party.
Al-Sadr and his supporters were reportedly poised on 24 August to launch demonstrations across Iraq against the draft constitution, expected to be sent to referendum by the National Assembly. Al-Sadr spokesman Jalil Musawi discussed his group's position on the draft that day, saying: "We are ready by a single phone call within a minute to defeat the constitution by voting against it in six provinces: Al-Diwaniyah, Samawah, Al-Nasiriyah, Al-Amarah, Al-Basrah, and Sadr City in Baghdad," washingtonpost.com reported on 25 August.
The fighting that broke out appears to be more a coordinated push by al-Sadr and his supporters than a random spread of violence across Iraq's Shi'ite-dominated south. The timing of the incidents -- at least on the surface -- point to a concerted effort to thwart the constitutional process, particularly after some 21 parliamentarians and the Health and Transport ministers suspended their work and threatened to resign in protest against what they deemed as attacks against al-Sadr and his followers.
However, in Al-Najaf, the clashes appear to derive from local residents' objections to the reopening of the Martyr Al-Sadr office. The office had been closed for nearly a year (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 27 August 2004) after Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani put an end to al-Sadr's standoff against U.S. and Iraqi forces in the holy city in August 2004.
Demonstrators reportedly set fire to al-Sadr's office on 24 August, and the clashes spread to other cities -- with al-Sadr militiamen setting fire to SCIRI and Al-Da'wah offices in Baghdad and Al-Amarah. Clashes also erupted in Al-Basrah, Samawah, Al-Diwaniyah, Al-Nasiriyah, and Al-Hillah on 24 August; and in Ba'qubah on 25 August, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported.
Al-Sadr has had a hostile relationship with SCIRI and Al-Da'wah since the fall of the Hussein regime, when the leaderships of both parties -- along with many of their supporters -- returned to Iraq in the days after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq began. To al-Sadr, whose family remained in Iraq during Saddam Hussein's rule (his father and two brothers were reportedly killed on Hussein's order in 1999), SCIRI and Al-Da'wah were outsiders, aligned with the United States, and out of touch with the needs of Iraqis, and their leaders did not deserve the power awarded to them in the 2003 Governing Council and subsequent administrations.
SCIRI and Al-Da'wah also opposed al-Sadr's standoff against U.S. and Iraqi forces in Al-Najaf last year, and SCIRI's Badr forces played a role in spurring public protests against his militia's presence there and its control over the Imam Ali Shrine.
Moreover, al-Sadr has competed with the two groups -- but SCIRI in particular -- for public support and control over the streets in many southern Iraqi cities since 2003. Both groups have also tried to assert local control by infiltrating police and security forces in Iraq.
Al-Sadr And The Constitution
Al-Sadr stood opposed to the 2004 interim government and refused to take part in the January 2005 national elections on the grounds that they were carried out under occupation and therefore not legitimate. He did however, allow a number of his supporters to take part in the elections as independent candidates.
As details of the draft constitution began emerging in recent weeks, al-Sadr vehemently voiced his opposition to federalism. Al-Sadr aide Shaykh Abd-al-Zahrah al-Suway'idi told demonstrators who took to the streets of Baghdad's Al-Sadr City following Friday prayers on 19 August of the dangers of federalism, Baghdad's "Al-Furat" reported on 21 August. "We believe that the implementation of federalism will tear apart and divide Iraq, especially when Iraq is under occupation and in the presence of such incomplete sovereign Iraqi governments," al-Suway'idi told demonstrators. He also contended that the United States believes federalism will help it maintain its hold on Iraq, adding that the call for federalism in the draft constitution stands as an ominous sign that will lead to sectarian wars and ethnic sedition.
It appears that the al-Sadr's core motive is to drive a wedge between the Shi'a in an effort to have the draft constitution shot down, thus providing an opportunity for a new constitution that is more in line with his own goals for an Islamist state in Iraq.
When speaking to reporters on 25 August, al-Sadr appealed to all Iraqi Muslims, saying: "I ask them not to serve Western plots that seek to divide Muslims, be they Sunnis or Shi'ites.... Iraq is going through a critical phase involving the so-called interim constitution, which is not an Islamic constitution if I may say so.... The occupation prevents us from pursuing any political activities or activities that benefit the Iraqi people because the occupation sows sedition amongst the faithful."
The Sunni Factor
While al-Sadr stands opposed to the former Ba'athist regime, he has built a relationship with the Sunni opposition on the common ground of opposition to the occupation and to the ongoing political process in Iraq. Al-Sadr supporters have worked alongside Sunnis in Kirkuk to reject Kurdish demands for a return of Kurds displaced from Kirkuk under the Hussein regime, and against Kurdish attempts to incorporate Kirkuk into the Kurdish region.
For al-Sadr, the alliance brings power vis-a-vis the other Shi'ite groups, and facilitates his goal of becoming the strongest Shi'ite leader Iraq.
Sources in Iraq have confirmed to RFE/RL the existence of an alliance between al-Sadr and Sunnis in other areas of the country. For Sunnis, al-Sadr is a pawn in their attempt to break SCIRI and Al-Da'wah's political stronghold. Such techniques were the modus operandi of the Hussein regime -- maintaining control through the manipulation and fractionalization of opposing groups.
Abd al-Salam al-Kubaysi, a Sunni leader and member of the influential Muslim Scholars Association, confirmed that group's relationship with al-Sadr during a 24 August press briefing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2005). "Yes, there is coordination [with al-Sadr]," he told reporters. "A meeting was held...[on 23 August] to coordinate this issue. This shows that there are two categories in Iraq. The first is with occupation and the second is against occupation. The [second] includes Shi'ites, Kurds, Sunnis, and Turkomans." Al-Kubaysi also cited a meeting he held with al-Sadr last week in Al-Najaf in which al-Sadr voiced his rejection to the constitution.
Reports surfaced last year that al-Sadr was also connected with the Ansar Al-Sunnah Army. Ansar leader Abu Abdallah al-Hassan bin Mahmud told the Beirut political weekly "Al-Muharrir" in an August 2004 interview that the cooperation was based on a directive from al-Sadr's father, Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, that said if he was martyred his sons should "follow the fatwas of Al-Sayyid [Kazim] al-Ha'iri and Shaykh Ahmad al-Kubaysi. You must unite with the Sunnis." Subsequently, the Ansar al-Sunnah and the Imam Al-Mahdi Army reportedly exchanged personnel. "Therefore, the relationship can be described as intimate," Abu al-Hassan said (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 September 2004).
Al-Sadr And The Iran-Syria Nexus
Muqtada al-Sadr reportedly has close ties with Iran and, by default, Syria as well. The cleric traveled to Iran in 2003, and met with Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 June 2003). The relationship between the regime and al-Sadr has since been kept largely under wraps, but the U.S. State and Defense departments, as well as military officials, have said that money, arms, and even personnel were funneled to al-Sadr from Iran last year (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 September 2004).
Al-Sadr supporter and Transportation Minister Salam al-Maliki -- one of the ministers who suspended his work in support of al-Sadr on 25 August -- defended Syria while in Damascus this week, telling reporters that Syria has no role in Iraq's insurgency.
Last week, the website Sawt Al-Iraq (http://www.sotaliraq.com) published a report citing an unidentified senior ex-officer from the Hussein regime as saying that Iran and Syria are preparing to launch a coup in Iraq at the start of Ramadan this October.
The officer claimed that the action is to begin with a surge of suicide bombings and the targeting of power and water networks, along with demonstrations against the al-Ja'fari government. Agents of Iran and Syria, along with former Iraqi intelligence, are to don police uniforms and infiltrate police units on the streets -- opening fire on demonstrators -- in an effort to spark more demonstrations, according to the website.
The infiltrators, wearing police and National Guard uniforms, are to then enter the Green Zone, "get it under control, kill everyone there, and establish a military government." The report, while unsubstantiated, supports the two states' goals toward self-preservation, and their desire to use whatever means -- be it an alliance with the Shi'a or an alliance with former Ba'athists -- to obstruct any progress in Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
DEVIL IN THE CONSTITUTIONAL DETAILS. Iraq's National Assembly accepted an unfinished draft constitution on 22 August and voted to allow drafters three additional days to work out the remaining details of the draft before the assembly weighs in on the document, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported on 23 August.
There was wide media speculation over the cause of the delay. Western media cited both Kurdish and Shi'ite leaders as saying the Sunnis needed more time to negotiate on the draft. Rumors also circulated around the Baghdad Convention Center -- where the National Assembly meets -- that the Kurds objected to the draft at the last minute after Shi'ite drafters changed the language of some previously agreed-upon clauses. Meanwhile, Sunni leaders speculated that clauses they had agreed to might have been changed in the final minutes before the parliament convened. The official reason stated by parliamentary speaker Hajim al-Hasani at the late night parliamentary session was that all parties needed some additional time to settle outstanding issues.
What remains clear, however, is that Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders presented the draft to the parliament without the long sought after Sunni consensus they claimed to have wanted so much. Shi'ite parliamentarians now say that should an agreement not be reached during the three-day extension, they will submit the draft to parliament nonetheless, and let the parliament issue a decision on whether the draft is put to a referendum in October. Since the Kurds and Shi'a together form a majority in the parliament, it is almost certain that the draft would go to referendum with or without the Sunnis on board.
The consequences of such a move would likely be a setback for democratic development, as the Sunnis, who form a majority in at least three of Iraq's 18 governorates, could boycott the document, forcing a new government to convene along with a new drafting process. A forced referendum could also further incite Sunni insurgents in Iraq, leading to further instability.
Sunni leaders, speaking to the media before and after the draft was released, confirmed that a number of outstanding issues remained, and claimed they were shut out of much of the past week's negotiations. One Sunni delegate, Iraqi Islamic Party leader Tariq al-Hashimi, said that he did not have time to review the final version of the draft that was presented to the National Assembly, RFI reported. "We could not basically confirm whether the amendments we had agreed on this morning were incorporated in the final draft or whether this draft is still repeating the same enactments that had been presented [earlier] today or yesterday. Therefore, it is difficult for us to give a realistic evaluation on this draft," al-Hashimi said.
Al-Hashimi told reporters at a 23 August press briefing broadcast on Al-Jazeera that he still has not seen a copy of the "final draft." He asserted that a copy of the constitution published in "Al-Sabah" newspaper was not the last version that he saw. Al-Hashimi made it clear that his party rejected the decision to submit the draft to the assembly, calling it a "flagrant violation of the principle of concordance."
The Iraqi Islamic Party also issued a statement to the press at the briefing, which said in part: "Unless the current wording of the clauses of the constitution are revised in a manner that is in line with the supreme interests of the homeland, ensures the unity of Iraqis, and achieves justice for all, then the draft constitution would be completely rejected."
Confusion Over Changes
Meanwhile, constitution-drafting committee chairman and Shi'ite leader Humam Hammudi expressed optimism over the draft, and told reporters that the text will not be amended in the next three days, RFI reported on 23 August. "More dialogue means more assurances to the others, giving more guarantees and explanations, but it does not mean changes in either of the headings or articles of the constitution," he said.
However, government spokesman Laith Kubba told reporters in Baghdad on 23 August that some provisions could be amended, saying: "The draft presented will be more or less the working draft with the possibility of changing or amending the three articles concerning ownership of natural resources, powers of the presidency, and perhaps a reference to the Ba'ath Party or something like that. Apart from these, this is the best they could come up with," RFI reported.
Referring to outstanding issues, Hammudi told reporters: "As you know, it is impossible to convince or satisfy all parties in everything they want but a lot of what they wanted has been realized in this constitution. We hope that this constitution will be a real step toward stability. God willing, each Iraqi will find a part of himself or herself in this constitution, whether it is a recognition of his or her sufferings, hopes, or the guarantee of preserving his or her rights, freedoms, security, and political, economic, and private future."
Kurdish leaders have commented little on the draft since it was presented to parliament on 22 August. Kurdistan Regional President Mas'ud Barzani told the Italian daily "La Repubblica" in an interview published on 22 August that Kurds would not accept an Islamist state. "As I said to those who are engaged in drafting Iraq's new constitution in Baghdad, and to the 111 members of the Kurdistan Regional Parliament, we categorically reject a state that is based on Islamist principles," Barzani said.
Nasrallah Surchi, an Iraqi parliamentarian from the Kurdistan Coalition List, told RFI on 23 August: "Regarding the final copy of the constitution, I can tell you that it implements the ambitions of the Kurdish people from some 60 to 65 percent. This is as far as public opinion is concerned. As for the leaderships [of the two major Kurdish parties], maybe they consider it more than 90 [percent]. But the importance is public [opinion], and the public sees that the ambitions of the Kurdish people have not been mentioned" in the draft.
Surchi pointed to a Kurdish call for a paragraph in the constitution that addresses the right of self-determination, saying it was very important but was ultimately not mentioned "with the exception of the note on facultative unity with Iraq," adding: "It remains a question for the future whether the thoughts on [the right for] self-determination will be restored or not. Another important point is: we wish, regarding the public, that they would decide [well] on the referendum. We still do not know whether they will approve [the draft] and let it pass. It is a question of the two-thirds of votes in the governorates of Kurdistan. We still do not know whether they will refuse [the draft] or not. I do not know. This remains a question of time."
The Kurdish position as to Article 116 of the draft published in "Al-Sabah" remains unclear. According to the newspaper, the article says that regional councils or assemblies would be responsible for drafting the region's constitution and for issuing laws "which must not contradict this constitution and Iraq's central laws," meaning that Kurds would be held to the provision that no law passed in Kurdistan could contradict the tenets of Islam.
While the constitution draft published in "Al-Sabah" includes provisions for women, it may not go far enough to meet the demands of women's rights activists and secularists opposed to the role of Islam. It appears that there are only three provisions for women specifically outlined in the draft.
The preamble to the constitution states it is concerned "with women and their rights." Article 30, Section 1 calls on the state to provide individuals and the family -- especially women and children -- with health care and social security, and with basic support for living decent lives, including an appropriate income and appropriate housing. Article 151 states: No less than 25 percent of "Council of Representatives" seats go to women. (Kathleen Ridolfo. Originally published on 23 August 2005)
EXCERPTS OF THE DRAFT CONSTITUTION. The Baghdad-based daily "Al-Sabah" published what it described as the 22 August text of the draft constitution on its website on 23 August. According to that published version, which is the latest available copy, the 30-page draft includes the following clauses:
The Republic of Iraq is an independent sovereign state; its system of government is a federal democratic representative (parliamentary) republic.
Section 1: Islam is the official religion of the country, and is a main source of legislation.
Clause a) No law must be adopted that would be contradictory to the confirmed tenets of Islam.
Section 2: This constitution guarantees the preservation of the Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi people as well as it guarantees to all individuals a full right to religion in terms of the freedom of religious belief and practice.
Iraq is a country of many ethnicities, religions and denominations; it is a part of the Islamic world, and its Arab people is a part of the Arab nation.
Section 1: The Arabic language and the Kurdish language are the two official languages of Iraq. The right is guaranteed to Iraqis to receive for their children education in their mother tongues, such as Turkoman and Syriac, at government-run educational institutions in accordance with education curricula, or in any other language at private educational institutions.
Section 4: The Turkoman language and the Syriac language are official languages in the areas of their [native speakers'] residence.
Section 5: Every [federal] region or governorate can adopt any other language as an additional official language if the majority of its inhabitants decide on that in a general referendum.
Section 1: Any grouping or ideology is forbidden that incorporates racism, terror, hatred, and religious chauvinism, or one that incites, provides for, approves, and propagates such. [This concerns] especially the Saddamist Al-Ba'ath Party in Iraq, whatever name it bears. That is not allowed within the political pluralism in Iraq and will be further regulated by law.
Iraq adheres to the principle of good neighborhood relationships and abides by noninterference in the internal affairs of other countries. It endeavors to solve conflicts through peaceful means, establishes its [foreign] relations on the grounds of joint interests and equal dealing, and respects its international obligations.
Clause B: It is prohibited to establish paramilitary militias outside the framework of the Armed Forces.
Clause c) The Iraqi Armed Forces and its employees, including soldiers employed at the Ministry of Defense and any agency or organization affiliated with it, are not permitted to run as candidates for elections to win political posts. Nor are they permitted to conduct electoral campaigns in favor of a candidate. Nor they are permitted to participate in any activity declared for prohibited in the regulations of the Ministry of Defense. This prohibition includes any activities of the aforementioned individuals that they perform in private or in service, without including their right to cast votes in elections.
The state secures, insomuch as it does not break general order and morals.
Section 1: Freedom of expressing one's opinion, by all means.
Section 2: Freedom of journalism, printing, advertising, media, and publication.
Section 3: Freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstrations, as regulated by law.
Section 1: Freedom of establishing associations and political parties, and of the choice of membership in them, is guaranteed [by the constitution] and regulated by law.
Section 2: It is not permitted to force anyone to become a member of any party, association, and political fractions, nor to force anyone to continue the membership in it.
The state takes care for strengthening the role of civil society institutions for their support, development, and independence, Insomuch as this is in harmony with a peaceful means for reaching their set goals and this is regulated by law.
Section 2: The state takes cares for reviving Iraqi tribal confederations and tribes, and is concerned with their affairs, insomuch as this is in harmony with religion, law, and noble human values, [and] insomuch as it contributes to developing the society, and prohibits the tribal customs that are in contradiction with human rights.
A general board is [to be] established by a [special] law to guarantee the rights of [federal] regions and governorates non-allied in [federal] regions for the just participation in the administration of various federal institutions of the state, missions, student scholarships [abroad], delegations, regional and international conferences. These will consist of representatives of the federal government, [federal] regions, and non-allied governorates. This will be regulated by law.
A general board is [to be] established by a [special] law to control and allocate the federal revenues. The board will consist of experts [delegated] by the federal government, [federal] regions, governorates, and their representatives, and will assume the following responsibilities:
Section 1: The implementation of just treatment in the distribution of allowances, aid, and loans according to the needs of [federal] regions and governorates nonallied in [federal] regions.
Section 2: The implementation of the most useful use and division of the federal financial revenues.
Section 3: The guarantee of transparency and fairness in allocating the finances to the governments of [federal] regions and governorates according to established proportions.
Federal authorities preserve Iraq's unity, [territorial] integrity, independence, sovereignty, and federal democratic system.
Section 1: The federal government assumes the administration of oil and gas extracted from the existing wells along with the governments of the producing [federal] regions and governorates, providing that revenues are distributed in a just way proportionate to the population distribution in all areas of Iraq. For a limited period, a [special] rate will be allocated for the damaged regions that had been unfairly deprived of it by the former regime, and [to those] that were damaged afterwards. This should secure a balanced development for the various regions of the country and will be regulated by law.
Section 2: The federal government along with the governments of the producing [federal] regions and governorates set the strategic policies necessary for the development of oil and gas. This should lead to the highest benefit for the Iraqi people, through relying on the most current methods of marketing and investment incentives.
Section 1: [Federal] regions consist of one or more governorates. Two regions may unite in a single region.
Section 2: One or more governorates may establish a region, based on demand to hold referendum on this. The demand may be raised in one of the two ways:
Clause a) Demand by one-third of the members of governorate councils in the respective governorates that envision the establishment of a region.
Clause b) Demand by one-tenth of the voters in the governorates that envision the establishment of a region.
Clause a) The inhabitants of the relevant governorates vote in a referendum on the subject of Section 1 of the present Article. The referendum must take place during the term of office of the respective governorate councils. The referendum is upheld as valid through the agreement of the majority of voters.
Clause b) The referendum is not repeated again unless two-thirds of the members of each respective governorate council or a quarter of the inhabitants of the governorates demand the holding of a new referendum.
The National Council of the region drafts the region's constitution and issues laws, which must not contradict this constitution and Iraq's central laws.
Section 3: A condition for any candidate for the post of the president of republic, prime ministers, a member of the Council of Ministers, chairman of the Council of Representatives [Majlis al-Nuwwab] and of the Federal Council [Majlis al-Ittihad], analogical post in [federal] regions, members of judicial bodies, and other posts underlying to de-Ba'athification in accordance with the [respective] law, is that [the candidate] is not included in de-Ba'athification definitions.
(Translation by Petr Kubalek)