UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
IRAQ: Focus on constitutional concerns
BAGHDAD, 14 August 2005 (IRIN) - Every day Mustafa Rawi sits in front of his television set waiting for news confirming when the historical constitution will be finally presented to Iraqis.
"For the last month I have been watching closely to see if the constitution will be completed by the deadline 15 August. I cannot see anything new, only the same problems due to the sticking points where agreements have not been reached," said the Baghdad resident.
There has been much speculation over whether Iraq's historic draft constitution will be ready in time, due to lack of participation from Sunni groups, who also boycotted the January 2005 election, and disputes over issues such as the implementation of Shari'ah (Islamic law) and women's rights.
High-level meetings were also postponed by the Constitution Committee because of a powerful sandstorm in the capital on 1 August.
The final document will be presented to the Iraqi population in a referendum in mid-October, paving the way for elections in December.
DELAY IN DEADLINE UNACCEPTABLE
On 12 August, hundreds of Iraqis, carrying the national flag, demonstrated in Baghdad, calling for the constitution deadline to be met.
Experts believe a delay could impact on the already fragile security situation in the country.
"If there is a postponement of the deadline, insurgency will increase in the country," noted Ibrahim Youssef, an Iraqi constitutional expert and government observer of the drafting process. “At the same time, a poorly studied decision could affect millions of Iraqis, who are going to be judged according to the new laws.”
Humam Hamoudi, chairman of Iraq's constitution drafting committee, said that the draft would be completed on time if members worked positively towards solutions. Most of the 71 members – 28 Shi'ites, 22 Kurds, 15 Sunnis, three Turkmen, two Christians and one Assyrian – agreed that the date should be honoured, according to the official.
"Women's rights, federalism, implementation of Shari'ah and the future of Kirkuk city have been our sticking points because of differences between members on final solutions," he commented.
There has been strong opposition to the key Kurdish demand for federalism, and Hamoudi said there was a possibility that the 15 August deadline for the draft could be postponed due to their grievances.
A Sunni committee member, Saleh Muktlak, believed that if federalism is approved, "it will just open the doors for a new country inside the same country, and it is unacceptable in Iraq".
"Federalism is the main hesitant block until now,” he added. “Kurds want to maintain their independence from the central government [as in Saddam Hussein's time] but this is not being accepted by Sunnis or Shi'ites, who complain that, if [it is] approved, they will also have the right to implement federalism in the south [home to a Shi’ite majority]."
Kurds have been returning to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk since the 2003 conflict, saying they have the right to reclaim the homes and land they were evicted from by Saddam Hussein's Arabisation process, which began in 1970 and placed Arabs in the wealthier residential areas. This has led to rising tension between both ethnic groups and displacement of Arabs from the city.
"We are sure that federalism is the best way to guarantee security and a full control over Iraq – Kurdistan already is successful in this, and we want this success to continue in the future," commented Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish politician and constitutional observer.
SHARI’AH – A STICKING POINT
Shari'ah, which is being strongly advocated by the Shi'ite group in the committee, has been a great cause of concern, particularly in view of women's rights.
"We are not worried about implementation of this law, but the arbitrary interpretations for it can cause the total loss of our rights in the country," Linda Rashid, a member of the constitution drafting committee, pointed out.
During Saddam Hussein's regime, she noted, the constitution had given some guarantees of women rights, based on Islamic laws, but much more was needed in terms of improving marriage and inheritance laws.
Paul Bremer, head of the Provisional Coalition Authority (CPA), which controlled Iraq between October 2003 and June 2004, had guaranteed female participation in the government, with 25 percent of seats in the interim authority allocated to women.
Experts warned that approval of Shari'ah could change womens’ rights dramtically.
On 10 August, nearly 600 women demonstrated in Baghdad, calling on the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and leaders in the Iraqi parliament to ensure that women's rights were safeguarded in the political process.
During Saddam’s rule between 1979 and 2003 more than 40 paragraphs were modified and 25 new paragraphs were added to the constitution of 1958.
Among the major changes were: the increase women’s participation in the political process, modification of the ministers in charge every year, the Baath party as the main party in the country and the imposition of the death penalty for betrayers of the government as well as treason and espionage.
Following the US-led invasion in April 2003, the CPA implemented a set of laws based partly on the 1958 constitution and US military law.
The country is currently being ruled according by the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), a mixture of the above, approved in 2004 by former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi.
Since the elections in January 2005, the United Nations has been taking a lead role during the drafting stage.
UN Special Representative in Iraq Ashraf Qazi has been meeting Sunni members from all organised groups to guarantee their participation in the political process and the drafting of the document.
The senior UN envoy in Baghdad and the Security Council in New York held discussions on Tuesday on ways in which the world body could support the ongoing political transition, including the December elections.
Qazi, who has also been meeting with representatives of minority groups in the country, met with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaffari, last week. They discussed the progress made on the drafting process and the current political situation, a UN statement said.
Nicholas Franklin, head of the UN team assisting in drafting the constitution, said that they had been working closely with the drafting committee, to guarantee an accurate and precise final product.
The United States is trying to influence its provisions on issues such as women's rights, federalism and the distribution of oil revenue to guarantee a transparent and democratic constitution, a government statement said on Wednesday.
Themes: (IRIN) Governance
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