Iraq Update: Another Constitution Deadline Looms

Alex Chadwick speaks with New York Times correspondent Dexter Filkins about the status of negotiations in Iraq's National Assembly as the Thursday deadline for submitting a new constitution nears. Minority Sunni Muslims are protesting the draft document, saying it strips them of power and money in the new nation.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

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

Coming up, is Pat Robertson's call to assassinate Hugo Chavez just the sort of political boost that Venezuela's president needs?

First, the lead, Iraq. It was a major theme today when President Bush spoke to military personnel and their families at the Idaho Center in Nampa, Idaho. In his speech, the president reiterated his determination to stay the course in Iraq.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: So long as I'm the president, we will stay, we will fight and we will win the war on terror.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

CHADWICK: And for the latest developments in Iraq, we turn to New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins in Baghdad. We spoke earlier.

The news wires are reporting a series of daylight raids on police checkpoints in Baghdad. It sounds bizarre to me.

Mr. DEXTER FILKINS (The New York Times): Well, unfortunately, it's not really really bizarre or all that uncommon for a group of insurgents, you know, in the daylight to attack a police checkpoint in a fairly sophisticated way. This was in western Baghdad. A lot of sympathy for the insurgency there, and so police are more than likely not locals. They're probably Shiites and Kurds and that sort of thing. It is pretty terrifying, but it's not, unfortunately, all that uncommon.

CHADWICK: These were more than one raid, so it looks like coordinated activity. And you say this is a Sunni neighborhood, yes?

Mr. FILKINS: Western Baghdad is predominantly Sunni, yes, and eastern Baghdad is mostly Shiite. The city is kind of split down the middle that way.

CHADWICK: OK, what about the status of the constitutional talks? There's another supposed deadline coming tomorrow. How do things look?

Mr. FILKINS: Well, this will be the third deadline that they've set for themselves. There's some sense that they'll make it, but there's a lot of people already talking about the possibility of having to extend it again. At the moment, most of the document is done. And I have to say, it seems like a triumph of language to get these people who really--many of them really don't have much to talk about--to get them to agree on, you know, a long document about the future of the country. It's pretty remarkable.

But there's a couple of issues and there's a--the central problem at the moment is a group of Sunni leaders who were more or less chosen by the Americans and the Iraqi government to come into the process. And these people were not elected; they weren't members of the National Assembly. And so, you know, they've been--I don't want to say they've been difficult, but they've been pretty--they're very fixed in their views and they don't want to come off of them. And so it's--it is causing a lot of frustration, I know, on the part of the Shiites and the Americans.

Although, I have to say, some of the things that the Sunni leaders are asking for--it's not that they're necessarily unreasonable, it's just, you know, the other end of the spectrum from what the Shiites and the Kurds want. You know, that's kind of the larger story here is that there's just some very, very different visions about what this country's about, and it's hard to draw up a document to reflect the consensus when there really isn't that much.

CHADWICK: From what I read about the constitution, it does look as though Islamic law is going to be what's governing most of what happens in the country. That is, there's a--there are Islamic clerics who will be overseeing the supreme court. Yes?

Mr. FILKINS: I wouldn't put it that starkly. I'd say Islam will be the official religion; it will be regarded as a source of legislation. And on the supreme court, there will be some clerics or some experts in Islamic law on the supreme court. I think what you're going to see is a pretty fierce political battle that unfolds over the next several months over just how Islamic the government's going to be, just how Islamic the law will be. There's a large secular component in the society, and they're going to fight. So I think what you're going to see after the constitution is drawn up, you're going to see a battle unfold--a political battling unfolding over the next several months.

CHADWICK: Dexter Filkins reporting from Baghdad for The New York Times. Dexter, thank you again.

Mr. FILKINS: Thank you so much.

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