Uncertain Political Future for Iraq's Sunni Muslims

Madeleine Brand talks with Hatem Mukhlis, a Sunni Muslim politician, about Iraq's constitutional process. A draft constitution was completed by Monday night's deadline, but without Sunni support. Iraqi leaders decided to delay a vote on the document for three days to allow for more discussions with Sunni representatives.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And now we hear from a Sunni leader about his objections to that and other provisions in the new constitution. The Sunnis have yet to approve it. I spoke earlier today with Hatem Mukhlis. He's a former member of the Iraqi parliament.

Mr. HATEM MUKHLIS (Former Iraqi Parliament Member): As I hear from our colleagues who have been introduced into the process of writing the constitution, they feel that they have been neglected in the final decision-making, and that the constitution is being written away from their approval or their opinions, so it seems like even the draft that has been put forward for voting, it seems like there's a lot of problems with it as far as the Sunni delegations go, and the problem, as I see it, is there is no Sunni approval. That means that this will put us back into square one, where we're not going to be able to calm things down and stabilize it and prepare the masses, especially the Sunni masses, the Sunni populous, toward a real inclusive and conclusive and decent and honest election that will bring the stability back to Iraq and put us on the right track after these two and a half years of turmoil that we have seen in Iraq.

BRAND: Well, specifically, what in the constitution do you object to?

Mr. MUKHLIS: Well, the problems, as I see it, you know, there has been about 20 points, but I think there are some major ones. One of the major problems that we see is agreement on federalism. Number two is the part of religion as Islam, and also there's a very important point, which is the de-Baathification or the de-rooting process of Baathis. This is not something to be included in the constitution itself.

BRAND: Well, to be fair, a majority of the Sunnis sat out the elections last January. So did they get the constitution that they deserve?

Mr. MUKHLIS: Well, I think, you know, if--it depends on how the election is going to go. Because if we have an election where all Sunni, all Iraqis are included in it, then obviously, there will be better representation of all Iraqis in that constitution. So our idea is that there are some problems, some problematic points that we should really get over right now and maybe postpone it for the next stage, and if we all look at Iraq as a whole and Iraq being all for Iraqis, I think we will have a better chance of acceptance and a better chance of stability for Iraq, which we really badly need right now in Iraq, where everything has been going downhill. There is no services. There's no security. Really, that constitution is going to be much worse than even no constitution or a transitional constitution.

BRAND: There has been a suggestion put forward by some Shiite leaders that they might just push this constitution through and take care of your concerns later. How does that strike you?

Mr. MUKHLIS: I really--I don't like that notion at all because that means there's going to be a lot of disgruntled Iraqis that are going to increase and escalate the turmoil and the violence that we've been seeing. And then I think it will be just like, you know, pacifying somebody, say, `OK, you know, we'll deal with your problem later, but let's get a constitution out.' The goal is really to have a good constitution, not to pacify the rest or to solve their problems. And I think we should look at it from a different perspective of a good constitution, not a constitution that's going to cater for a certain group or a certain ethnicity and ignore a lot of the disgruntled--or the disgruntled Iraqis.

BRAND: There is one statement here in the constitution I'd like you to comment on. It says, `Iraq is part of the Islamic world, and the Arabs are part of the Arab nation.' What does that mean to you?

Mr. MUKHLIS: Well, this is another point of difference. You see, the thing that the Sunnis agreed on is the fact that Iraq is part of the Arab and the Islamic world, and the problem here is then again going back to the issue of democracy. The majority of Iraqis are Arab, so why should we really--and this is the objection on the Sunni part--why should we cater to a minority by excluding the majority? And I think the term `dictatorship of the majority' does not--it really contradicts democracy. So this is the objection. I mean, this is like putting a state inside another state. Iraq, you know, is comprised of Arabs, Kurds, Turkoman and other ethnicities, but the majority is Arabs, and we cannot really alienate Iraq from being part of the Arab world.

BRAND: Hatem Mukhlis is a Sunni Arab and former member of the Iraqi parliament. He spoke to us from Baghdad.

Mr. Mukhlis, thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. MUKHLIS: Thank you very much for having me.

BRAND: Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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