Iraqis May Seek Extension on Constitution

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Sunday morning, the committee working on drafting the new Iraqi constitution announced they might ask for a 30-day extension. Host Liane Hansen speaks with NPR's Philip Reeves in Baghdad.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

In Iraq, members of the committee writing the country's new constitution are locked in last-minute discussions today about whether to ask for more time to finish the job. If they are going to ask parliament to grant an extension, they're supposed to do it by tomorrow. NPR's Philip Reeves joins us from Baghdad.

Philip, what's the latest you've heard about talks over whether to ask for an extension?

PHILIP REEVES reporting:

Well, at the moment, the deadline for presenting a draft of the constitution to parliament is the 15th of August. Then it's supposed to go to the public for a referendum by mid-October, paving the way for new elections in December. Now that's the timetable under the laws which govern Iraq's transition to a permanent democratic government. Now some members of this constitution-writing committee want more time, and they've been today discussing whether to set back the deadline by between a couple of weeks and a month.

HANSEN: Why do people want more time?

REEVES: Because several of the critical issues are just not decided. These include, for example, how power should be shared between the central government and the regions. Now the Kurds, who've had considerable autonomy over the last 14 years, and some of the Shia in the south want a federal structure. That would give them control over a significant share of the oil revenues in their areas, but the minority Sunnis aren't keen on this idea.

And there are differing views, also, about other issues, for example, the role of Islam in the constitution. Now these are highly charged matters fraught with sectarian rivalries, and many in this constitution-writing committee think that they just can't get them settled by the 15th of August, so they need more time.

HANSEN: Philip, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was in Baghdad a few days ago, and he urged the Iraqis to keep to the timetable. So have you heard any US reaction to today's word that the committee may propose a delay?

REEVES: Well, we do know that this is not what the US wants. Only yesterday, senior US officials were saying that there should be no extension, no delay. You know, parts of Iraq affected by the insurgency are highly unstable at the moment. There are bombings every day, assassinations and kidnappings. American soldiers are dying every day, also. We've had so far reports of five this weekend alone, and dead bodies, Shia and Sunni Muslims, are being discovered regularly. These appear--and it's always hard to confirm this, but they appear to be the victims of sectarian killings. So the US wants to press ahead with the political timetable, and not least so that it can show Iraqis that in all this mayhem, there is still some progress in the political department, in the building of a government and the progression towards a permanent government, despite the insurgency.

HANSEN: NPR's Philip Reeves in Baghdad. Philip, thanks a lot.

REEVES: You're welcome.

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