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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

IRAQ: New draft constitution sent for printing

BAGHDAD, 19 September 2005 (IRIN) - The new Iraqi draft constitution has finally been sent for printing after weeks of disagreement between political leaders over sticking points which will now be decided upon in a referendum on 15 October, officials said.

"We have reached a very important step in the democracy in Iraq. There was a delay in its completion but I can say that it is all part of a new democratic process," Hussein al-Shahristani, deputy speaker of the Iraq National Assembly, said on Sunday.

The final document was sent to the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) who will print and distribute 5 million copies to Iraqis before the referendum, a UN spokesman said.

The Sunni Arab minority has rejected the document which was approved by the country’s dominant Shiite and Kurdish blocs.

Federalism, women rights, references to Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated Ba’ath party and the description of Iraq as a Muslim, but not Arab, country, are still the sticking points which have brought Sunni leaders to call on their communities to vote against the constitution and prevent its adoption.

Al-Shahristani explained that several changes had been made in the final text of the constitution that was adopted by the drafting committee and sent to parliament on 28 August and hoped that this would make the document more palatable to all Iraqis.

Nicholas Franklin, head of the UN team assisting in drafting the constitution, said they were fully aware of the gravity of their task and would expend all their efforts to ensure the perfection of the referendum printing.

The news that the draft is due to be printed has been welcomed by many members of Iraqi population.

"I cannot wait to receive one of these printed copies because it is the first time that Iraqis will have the pleasure of having a constitution drafted by Iraqis and not military or dictatorial forces," said Mayada Salam, 38, a Baghdad resident.

Meanwhile, the human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, has expressed concern that an important provision contained in previous versions of the Iraqi draft constitution is no longer present.

The provision (Article 44) emphasises Iraqis' right to enjoy guarantees and safeguards enshrined in international human rights treaties ratified by Iraq, Amnesty said in a statement on Friday, adding that many Iraqi human rights organisations had expressed dismay at the Transitional National Assembly's decision to remove it.

"While the proposed new constitution encompasses many positive human rights provisions, removing this provision is a serious step backwards," the statement noted.

"These treaty obligations to respect fundamental human rights were not respected under Saddam Hussein but the inclusion of Article 44 in the new Constitution represented a real opportunity for Iraq to open a new chapter in human rights protection. It is one that must not be lost," it added.

Men and women of different sexual orientation have also complained about a threat to their rights under the new constitution because legislation must be based on Shari’ah (Islamic law) which they contend would not sufficiently protect their rights.

The coming referendum will take place under very tight security and the government believes it will be more secure than last January’s election because this time around the Sunni Arabs will be participating – if just to vote against the draft constitution.

"There [still] are many points of disagreement with other members in the National Assembly but I believe that there is not enough time to wait and let such small and foolish divergences delay the referendum," al-Shahristani said.

Iraqi constitution experts, however, believe that more work should have been done to bridge differences. A rejection of the document would be a severe blow to the country’s progress and rebuilding.

"Since they couldn’t get a minimum of agreement with the Sunni leaders, I believe that a surprise could happen on 15 October with the rejection of the document, which will bring more delay to democracy in Iraq," Said Ziad, an official observer in the government drafting committee, noted.

Themes: (IRIN) Governance




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