Iraq's Constitutional Committee Seeks Sunni Input

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The Iraqi government nears agreement on who will write the country's constitution. A 55-member committee will be in charge of the task and part of the challenge involves bringing Sunni Muslims into the process.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Iraqis face a deadline in August to draft a new constitution. First, they've been trying to settle on some very important details, like who writes this constitution and how to bring Iraq's Sunni Arabs into this process. NPR's Deborah Amos reports from Baghdad.

DEBORAH AMOS reporting:

The stakes are high over the drafting of Iraq's constitution. Get it right, the political process moves forward. A timetable of elections clicks into place. Get it wrong, the political momentum could grind to a halt and Iraq could slide into a full-blown civil war. The first hurdle may be resolved. Sunni leaders say a deal hammered out this week could put at least 15 more Sunnis on the 55-member committee. Hummam Hammoudi is the chairman.

Mr. HUMMAM HAMMOUDI (Chairman): (Through Translator) Whoever believes that this is the right way to stabilize Iraq, he is welcome and we will open our hearts to him.

AMOS: Hammoudi is a Shiite Muslim cleric. His toughest job has been to convince his own Shiite community to accept more Sunni participation. It was the Shiites who turned out in large numbers to vote in the January elections. The Shiites, who had their first landslide victory in Iraq, celebrated the first Shia-dominated government in Iraq's history. Adnan Janabi, a Sunni, is one of the deputies of the committee. He says many Sunnis now believe boycotting the elections was a mistake. They now want a political role.

Mr. ADNAN JANABI (Deputy): I think they realize now more than anything else is that being part of the process is being part of regaining their country.

AMOS: You think Sunnis will vote in the next election?

Mr. JANABI: I hope so. I believe so. I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing if I didn't believe they would be.

AMOS: But that doesn't mean it's been easy to come to an agreement. Political wrangling has gone on for weeks. Many in the Sunni community are suspicious of the new Shiite-led government. As a group, they have many grievances, including the loss of power status after the fall of Saddam. That anger has fueled some of the insurgency. Janabi says he understands his community. A London-educated economist, he's also the leader of the Janabi tribe, historically one of the largest in Iraq. Janabi has served as a minister of state, but he knows some of his tribe members have taken another path, joining the militants. How to convince these Sunnis to stop the violence and join the political process? Janabi relies on tribal strategies.

Mr. JANABI: I know in a caravan in the desert, you can't let the head camel too far without being able to see the head camel and the tail camel not too far so that you don't see the tail camel. So I know what's happening in the hazy area of insurgency.

AMOS: For the first time this week, Sunni leaders publicly say they have opened talks with some parts of the insurgency, claiming there are groups who are ready to disarm, claims that cannot be independently verified. Janabi acknowledges some negotiations have begun.

Mr. JANABI: One way or the other, we are all--we want to build the new Iraq in the political process. We are engaged, some of us directly, some of us indirectly.

AMOS: For Hummam Hammoudi, the constitutional committee chairman, this may be a step too far.

Mr. HAMMOUDI: (Through Translator) The resistance hasn't shown us any positive attitude on the political process. They are making things worse for the Iraqi people and the Iraqi policy.

AMOS: But for the moment, an agreement on the composition of the constitutional committee seems likely, the first step in drafting a document that will define Iraq's future, a document that all Iraqis will have to accept in a referendum in October. Deborah Amos, NPR News, Baghdad.

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