Iraq's Constitution Remains a Work in Progress

More than 70 Iraqi leaders are haggling over a constitution as a deadline approaches to finish the document. Jonathan Morrow, a constitutional adviser from the U.S. Institute for Peace, tells Scott Simon that key details haven't been decided.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

In Iraq, leaders are scrambling to finish that country's constitution for the Monday deadline. President Talabani says it can be finished as early as tomorrow. Iraqis from a range of ethnic, religious and geographic groups do harbor some doubts about a document that could be ready anytime soon. American advisers are reportedly in the vicinity to help facilitate the process, if asked. Jonathan Morrow is a constitutional adviser for the US Institute for Peace. He joins us from Baghdad.

Thanks for being with us.

Mr. JONATHAN MORROW (Constitutional Advisor, US Institute for Peace): My pleasure.

SIMON: Help us understand how you think the people writing the constitution are handling the issue of regional autonomy, sometimes called federalism, because, you know, the Kurds--many have long wanted at least regional autonomy, but now you also have southern Shia who have been talking about some kind of autonomous powers into the constitution.

Mr. MORROW: You're quite right. The call from the Shia south for a federal unit has become increasingly strong, maybe even taken some people by surprise. However, the continued Kurdish pressure for autonomy remains an issue. In particular, the question of the peshmerga--that is, the Kurdish military forces inside Kurdistan--is one issue, and the question of oil management, petroleum management and whether that is to be handled by the region, and in the case of Kurdistan, by the Kurds; or, indeed, whether it is to be handled by Baghdad is the other issue that divides Kurds and some of their Arab negotiating partners.

SIMON: It sounds as if you have several major groups who are not convinced that a federal Iraq is better for their particular interests than autonomy is.

Mr. MORROW: Well, that's right. But there are also many in Iraq--middle class, the educated class, you might say--who, whatever ethnicity or sect, are attempting to resist this tendency that has gathered momentum in Iraq for Iraqi citizens, Iraqi people, to be divided, to divide themselves along ethnic and religious lines. And I think to some extent the US government has expressed its preference, too, for a more centralized, rather than decentralized, state. The US has expressed a clear preference, for instance, on the Kurdish issues for the peshmerga, the Kurdish military, under the control of the Iraqi--the national military. And they've also expressed a preference for more centralized methods of handling petroleum revenues.

SIMON: Mr. Morrow, is there any apparent compromise between those people who believe that Islam should be the informing, definitive power of the state and those people who believe it should be just another point of view--or even those who believe that there should be no state religion?

Mr. MORROW: Behind this long-running debate about Islam as it's stated in the constitution--in particular, whether it should be `a' source of law or `the main' source of law or some other formulation--is a set of much more practical questions as to who gets to decide what Islamic law is? And that debate has really received much less attention, but I think is equally important, if not more important.

SIMON: Is there a phrase, a sentence, an Iraqi equivalent of `We the people, in order to form a more perfect union' that has struck you as--reminding you about what this process is all about?

Mr. MORROW: Much more attention has been paid to the substance of the constitution rather than the preamble. There is a preambular language from an earlier draft that I can read from.

SIMON: Please.

Mr. MORROW: `We the representatives of the Iraqi people, through the will of God and through the free will of the Iraqi people, announce that we have completed the constitution for the purpose of achieving the following aims: the installation of justice on a strong basis in order to guarantee the rights of all people and citizens without fear or prejudice by applying the principle of the rule of the law.'

SIMON: Mr. Morrow, thanks very much for speaking with us.

Mr. MORROW: My pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: Jonathan Morrow, constitutional adviser for the US Institute for Peace in Baghdad.

And it's 18 minutes past the hour.

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