Deadlock Remains over Iraq's Constitution

Despite an extended deadline, there is little visible progress toward a constitution for Iraq. While some involved say a resolution is near, others cite "profound" differences between competing groups.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

In Iraq, a Monday night deadline is approaching for a new constitution, but few involved in the process seem to trust that a document can be drafted anytime soon. That nation's Kurds, Shias, Sunnis and other ethnic and regional groups are reportedly deadlocked over a variety of issues. NPR's Philip Reeves is in Baghdad.

Philip, thanks for being with us.

PHILIP REEVES reporting:

You're welcome.

SIMON: And did the extension of that original deadline from last week seem to--from what you can tell, seem to be helpful in bringing various sides together?

REEVES: It's very difficult to say. Today, we've spoken to four people involved in the negotiations, and they've given us differing answers. One Kurd spoke of progress, although he said it was slow, and he also said that there were a lot of problems that still have to be solved. We spoke to a Shiite who said that everything was sorted out except for one issue, and that was the issue of distributing the national revenues. And then we spoke to a Sunni who said there were profound differences, and he said that if they were to meet the deadline they'd need a magic wand because there was no other way that he could conceive of that it would be done in time.

SIMON: Any sign that Iraqis--citizens trying to follow the process from the outside are becoming dispirited or impatient?

REEVES: People are, I think, getting frustrated. And they also--of course, frustrated simply about the fact that they're still talking about their government at a time when they have a lack of electricity, they have a lot of violence on the streets, especially in the Sunni heartland. And it's--conditions are poor; I mean, huge lines for gasoline and so on. But the negotiating process is also beginning to sort of seep out onto the street. In Sadr City yesterday, several thousand supporters of the Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, marched through the streets demanding that Iraq remains unified and marching against federalism. And there was a similar march among Sunnis today in Ramadi. And, indeed, in Kirkuk it's reported that several hundred Arabs there have been out marching today against federalism. So we are beginning to see this process take place, some of the pressure that people are trying to apply on the process. It's beginning to take place by using the crowd on the street.

SIMON: The three issues reportedly at the center of the deadlock are, as you mention, of course, federalism and the desire for some groups to have greater autonomy; the role of Islam, Sharia, in the new government; and the sharing of oil revenue. Any indication that progress in any one of these issues might kind of raise the tide so that all three issues could be brought together?

REEVES: Well, there's one report today suggesting that they have agreed to make the--all issues interdependent. In other words, you get an agreement on one and you have to have an agreement on all. You can't simply agree on one aspect and then renegotiate the others. So they'll all be tied together. But, you know, I think it's almost too soon to kind of enter into speculation about what that process is actually going to be about in terms of making this progress because the voices we're hearing from Sunni Arabs are pretty bleak about this. I mean, one told us a story--we've only heard it from one person, but it was quite revealing--about how meetings were planned yesterday. And one of the meetings held in the evening--the leaders didn't even turn up. Instead, they sent their deputies along. And the same thing happened this morning, he claimed.

SIMON: NPR's Philip Reeves speaking with us from Baghdad. Thank you very much, Philip.

REEVES: You're welcome.

SIMON: And the time is 18 minutes past the hour.

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