Iraq Sets New Deadline for Draft Constitution

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The new deadline for a panel to submit a draft Iraqi constitution has been set at August 22. Alex Chadwick speaks with Peter Galbraith, a former U.S. ambassador and an informal advisor to the Iraqi constitutional committee, about the progress of negotiations and behind-the-scenes wrangling over women's rights and federal power.


From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, criminal charges against the governor of Ohio.

First, the lead. Four more American soldiers died in a roadside bomb in Iraq today. There are few details about their deaths, except that they came in the town of Samarra. It's about 60 miles north of Baghdad. Insurgents actually took control of it last year, but the Iraqi government has supposedly reasserted authority.

Politically, the question of authority in Iraq remains uncertain. The new deadline for a draft constitution is Monday, but the negotiators may not make that one either. They missed the one set for this last Monday and then gave themselves a one-week extension. To get a sense of how these talks go, we're calling an American adviser to the talks, Peter Galbraith. He's former ambassador to Croatia and a one-time professor of national security strategy at the National War College. Professor Galbraith, welcome back to DAY TO DAY.

Mr. PETER GALBRAITH (Senior Fellow, Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation): Good to be with you.

CHADWICK: Listen, if I can basically sum up, you have three parties to these constitutional talks: the Arab, Shiite and Sunni Muslims and the non-Arab Kurds, who hold the semi-autonomous northern part of Iraq, and you're advising the Kurds.

Mr. GALBRAITH: Not in a formal sense, but I've been friends with them for many years. We've talked a lot about what's going on, and I've been present where the negotiations are taking place.

CHADWICK: So about how many people are taking part in these negotiations, and how do they function? Is everybody in one room? I mean, I imagine they must split into different issue groups and go after separate questions, but maybe that's not it.

Mr. GALBRAITH: Not it at all. It's a ever-shifting group of people. Sometimes there are larger meetings; sometimes smaller. It's not at any fixed location, but typically, they go from the home of one of the leaders to one of the others. They started at Jalal Talabani's residence and the president's residence. The critical negotiations leading up to the failure on August 15th took place at the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, where Massoud Barzani is staying. Different groups of people are actually participating. They are not broken down into issue groups. The record keeping on what's been decided has not been very good, which complicates things. Agreements are reached. The Kurds write them down. And the others say, `No, that wasn't agreed.'

CHADWICK: At least there's one sort of positive thing that you've said there. They've agreed to something. What is one thing that this group has managed to agree on?

Mr. GALBRAITH: In some sense, they've agreed on the broad outlines of how the Iraqi state will function; that is, it will have a president, there'll be a council of ministers. There's more or less agreement on how these people will be chosen. But even there, there's disagreement on the distribution of powers between the prime minister and the president. And then profound disagreement on questions of federalism, whether the Shiite south can have its own region. Everybody agrees Kurdistan will continue to have its own region, but the question is how much power it could have. Who will own the oil, the regions or the center? How will the revenues be distributed? And then there are a range of theological issues. What will be the role of Islam, of Shariah law. Personal issues like divorce, inheritance; will they be governed by civil law or by Islamic law? They're at profound disagreement.

CHADWICK: What do you think will happen on Monday?

Mr. GALBRAITH: If there isn't a constitution--and it certainly will be difficult to get there--the National Assembly will be dissolved. There'll be new elections. The Sunnis will be participating in those elections very likely in greater numbers, and I think it'll be virtually impossible then to get a constitution. I might add, though, that Iraq really doesn't need a constitution. And many of the problems here can be solved informally, like issues relating to the management of oil, but they become very contentious when you try to decide in a constitution who owns the oil. Or religion--there is Islamic law in the south and secularism in the north. If you try to reconcile those two points in a constitution, again, you come to conflict; whereas the current, informal system more or less works.

CHADWICK: Ambassador Peter Galbraith, former US ambassador to Croatia. He's now a senior diplomatic fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation in Washington, speaking with us from Baghdad, where he is an informal adviser to the Kurds in the constitutional talks. Peter Galbraith, thank you.

Mr. GALBRAITH: OK, Alex, it's great to talk to you again.

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