Iraq Expected to Approve Draft Constitution
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
Iraq's rival political groups have until midnight tonight, local time, to meet a deadline. They're supposed to agree on a draft constitution and present it to the National Assembly there. This deadline has already been extended by a week, much to the irritation of the United States, which wants the Iraqis to press on with the political timetable. Once again, intense negotiations are going on, right up to the last minute. And we're going now to NPR's Philip Reeves, who's in the Green Zone in Baghdad, the fortified zone, where the National Assembly meets.
And, Philip, what have you learned?
PHILIP REEVES reporting:
Well, not for the first time, Steve, we're hearing completely conflicting reports about whether there has or has not been progress here. These range from the optimistic to the deeply skeptical. Some people are saying that there is an agreement, and it will be done by the deadline tonight, midnight. Others are arguing, saying that there's still arguments over, for example, Islam and whether--the terms of Kurdish autonomy, and that the deadline will be extended again.
The other possibility is that the National Assembly will be dissolved and there will be new elections and, therefore, a new shot after that parliament's in place at writing this draft constitution.
The most important issue, I think, though, from--emerging from this very opaque picture, is the position of the Sunni Arabs, who still object to turning Iraq into a federation. They fear that that will break up the country, and that the oil-rich Shiite south would become a federal state and deprive the center of the country from the benefits of the southern oil fields.
INSKEEP: Well, now we should mention that the Sunnis are a very small minority in the National Assembly. What would happen if the other two big groups, the Shia and the Kurds, just went ahead without the Sunnis and approved a constitution that they liked?
REEVES: Well, this is a real issue. I mean, yesterday the Sunni Arab camp issued a statement appealing to the US and the United Nations to prevent the Shia and Kurds from doing just that. It presents several intriguing options, which is why this is a very precarious moment in this political process. Option one is that the constitution does pass, as you say, and it goes to a public referendum in October. The constitution can be rejected if two-thirds of the electorate in three provinces votes it down. Now the Sunni Arabs, who have large populations in four provinces, then mobilize the vote, reject the constitution. And analysts say that that would give them the feeling that they're enfranchised, and draw them into the political process, offering the prospect that the communal support for the largely Sunni Arab-driven insurgency would then wither away.
INSKEEP: So this disaster could actually end up improving things, at least under one possible scenario, as we look down the road, beyond the point where we are now. Now is there another option here?
REEVES: Yes, and this is the one that frightens US officials. What happens if the Sunni Arabs vote no in large numbers in the referendum, but fail to muster enough votes and the constitution goes through anyway? Victory is not guaranteed. The demographics are not absolutely clear that they hold the two-thirds majority. There's a substantial risk that the Sunni population, which already feels deeply marginalized, would then conclude that Democratic politics has nothing to offer it and, worse still, the vote was rigged, even if it wasn't. That would likely further alienate them, widening support for the insurgents and, some people believe, even turning part of the insurgency into a kind of popular protest movement itself.
INSKEEP: Philip, as you play out the possible scenarios over the coming weeks and months here, is anyone asking if it might be better to just dissolve the National Assembly, which is something they can do, and just start all over again, try to draft a new constitution after new elections?
REEVES: There are some who believe that, because of the risks that I've outlined, the best solution today would actually be to do that, to dissolve the National Assembly, then Iraq would have new elections and they'd have another go at writing a constitution. But if the Sunni Arab vote came out in the new election, and it acquired a larger political representation in the future new parliament, they might that way be drawn into the political process and acquire more influence, of course, over the drafting of the constitution when the politicians get round to that again.
INSKEEP: NPR's Philip Reeves is in Baghdad following the latest maneuvering over the negotiations for an Iraqi constitution. The deadline is midnight Baghdad time. Philip, thanks.
REEVES: You're welcome.
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