Rumsfeld Makes Surprise Visit to Iraqi Lawmakers

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made a surprise visit to Iraq Wednesday, and urged members of the Iraqi National Assembly to press ahead with work on the nation's constitution. Madeleine Brand speaks with Los Angeles Times reporter Alissa Rubin about the challenges facing Iraqi lawmakers.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

In a few minutes, how author Marcos McPeek Villatoro gets into the skin of his female protagonist.

But first, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made a surprise visit to Baghdad today. He's pushing Iraqi leaders to approve a new constitution soon. The National Assembly has a self-imposed deadline of August 15th, but there are many sticking points. An Iraqi newspaper has published a working draft. And here to tell us more about it is Los Angeles Times Baghdad bureau chief Alissa Rubin.

And, Alissa, what's in this draft document that you've read?

Ms. ALISSA RUBIN (Baghdad Bureau Chief, Los Angeles Times): Well, there's a lot in the document because it's a complete constitution, so it has everything from sort of a preamble and general sort of configuration of a state; it has basic rights. It has a section which deals with Islam and the role of Islam. It has a section on the three different parts of the government: the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. And it has a section on integrity, which is, of course, a big issue here because of corruption. So it really covers a very wide range of issues.

BRAND: Well, let's take up the issue of women's rights. That's been controversial recently. What does it say there?

Ms. RUBIN: Well, at the moment, the version that I've found mentions that anything pertaining to women should not contravene Shariah law, and that's believed to have the implication, then, that divorce, marriage and inheritance primarily would be dealt with through Shariah courts, through clerical courts. And implicit in that would be that Shiites would go to Shiite clergy or Shiite courts and Sunnis would go to Sunni courts and Christians would go to Christian courts. This is not a unique provision. This would be found in Lebanon as well. There are a variety of ways this is done throughout the Muslim world.

BRAND: And I understand Kurdish demands for federalism are quite controversial as well.

Ms. RUBIN: No, actually, I think the Kurdish demands for federalism are not particularly controversial, that everyone has accepted that Kurdistan has a historical--now at least for the past 15 years or so, it has a separate sort of status. It has an autonomous--sort of semiautonomous government. What is controversial is the extent to which it might expand those rights and also the extent to which the Kurds would like to extend their borders to include more land, including land that has been thought of by most other Iraqis as Arab, as falling in Arab territory.

BRAND: Well, speaking of autonomy, US commander--the top US commander in Iraq, General George Casey, said today that there could be a withdrawal, a major withdrawal of US troops, as early as next spring.

Ms. RUBIN: Well, obviously that's a decision ultimately the US will have to make. I think what's very complicated is making a decision about when Iraq is stable enough and when Iraqi troops and Iraqi National Guardsmen are ready to really take on the responsibility for controlling the country and--or full responsibility, 'cause they have some already. But so far, Iraq has remained quite strikingly violent. The insurgency is robust; it strikes in new places and ways all the time. For instance, the one last week in Musayeb, which is in Babil province in the south of Baghdad, it's actually been considered a stable province, but the bomb killed more than--I think at least 90 people, and many, many, many more were injured, a whole area wiped out in the town by the fire that was caused by the bomb. So certainly for people in that area, I think they hardly feel that it's stable, and it's unclear that the Iraqis can quite manage that situation yet.

BRAND: Alissa Rubin is Baghdad bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times.

Thanks for joining us.

Ms. RUBIN: Thank you.

BRAND: More coming up on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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