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SLUG: 2-326555 Iraq/Constitution (L)








HEADLINE: Iraqi Charter Still Lacks Sunni Support as Deadline Nears

INTRO: Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders in Iraq are expressing confidence that a draft constitution will be submitted to the country's National Assembly by Monday's deadline, even if Sunni Arabs remain opposed to a key provision. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has details from Baghdad.

TEXT: Iraq's Kurdish and Shi'ite leaders say, even though several sticking points remain unresolved, they believe enough progress has been made on a draft constitution to submit it to parliament on Monday, as required.

Members of the National Assembly have been summoned to a special session Monday evening, amid growing confidence that Iraqi lawmakers would be able to start reviewing the charter right away.

A Kurdish member of the constitution writing committee, Mahmud Othman, says the deadline may be met because Kurds and Shi'ites, who have a majority in the National Assembly, have struck last-minute deals on a number of contentious issues.

/// OTHMAN ACT ///

"They have agreed on some points, like on the name of the republic, concerning the two languages - Kurdish and Arabic, concerning national resources, part of it, not all of it. They're still discussing it."

/// END ACT ///

Kurds and Shi'ites have also agreed to establish Iraq as a decentralized federal state. Federalism has long been a demand by the Kurds, who already enjoy autonomy from Baghdad in oil-rich northern Iraq. In recent days, powerful Shi'ite leaders have also endorsed the idea of creating a Shi'ite autonomous zone in the oil-rich south.

Observers here say Kurds and Shi'ites are likely to use their parliamentary majority to get the charter approved. Approval by the assembly will pave the way for a national referendum on the constitution in October and elections in December.

But while submitting a draft constitution on Monday would keep Iraq's political process on track, it may further alienate Sunni Arabs, who are at the core of the country's insurgency.

Sunnis, who favor keeping power in the hands of the central government, have repeatedly said that they would not accept federalism in the constitution, because they believe it would lead to the breakup of the country.

Kurdish lawmaker Mahmud Othman says Kurdish and Shi'ite leaders have so far failed to persuade their Sunni Arab counterparts to concede on the issue.

/// 2nd OTHMAN ACT ///

"The Sunnis still don't agree to the principle of federalism. It remains (to be seen) whether you can bring the Sunnis on board or not. That's not yet finished."

/// END ACT ///

Eager to avoid a delay in Iraq's political process, which could fuel more violence, the United States has been applying intense pressure on Iraqi leaders to finish the charter by Monday's deadline.

But appearing on American television Sunday, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, said that it was equally important to create a charter, which is inclusive of the Sunni Arabs.

Mr. Khalilzad says a constitution, which embraces Sunni Arabs, would encourage moderate Sunnis to participate in Iraqi politics and isolate anti-government Sunni extremists and hard-liners, who want Iraq to fail in its efforts to build a democratic nation. (SIGNED)


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