Bush Presses Shiite Leaders to Work with Sunnis

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Iraqi lawmakers continue to seek agreement on a final draft of a constitution. James Glanz, a reporter for The New York Times, discusses reports that President Bush is pressing Shiite leaders to win Sunni approval of the document.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

Iraqi lawmakers today are continuing their efforts to finalize a draft of a constitution. Negotiators yesterday missed a third deadline and some senior Shiite leaders say they may simply bypass the Iraqi parliament and send the constitution directly to the Iraqi people for approval. The New York Times reports today that President Bush put in personal calls to Shiite leaders to press for a compromise that would bring Sunnis back on board. James Glanz is a reporter for The New York Times. He joins me on the line from Baghdad.

And how unusual is it for President Bush to become personally involved like this?

Mr. JAMES GLANZ (The New York Times): Well, I think, so far he's let his ambassador, Mr. Khalizad, carry the ball here in Baghdad. Yeah, it's extraordinary for him to make a personal appeal, especially when we're not talking about the prime minister or the president here--he called some of the Shiite political leaders, including Mr. Hakim, who's a senior Shiite cleric. So I'd say, you know, on a scale of one to 10, it's up there around eight or nine as far as an extraordinary event goes.

MONTAGNE: If the Shiite leaders do indeed end up putting this document directly to the voters, what sort of problems will result from that?

Mr. GLANZ: Well, then you're talking about electoral politics. The charter would have to pass by a majority of voters, but it could be stopped if three or more provinces, two-thirds of the voters, reject it. And remember, there are 18 provinces. At least two to three of those provinces have majority Sunni population, so it could cause a problem when it comes time to try to get it passed.

MONTAGNE: The whole question of federalism is really the big, big issue. Is it the only big issue? Is it the biggest hitch?

Mr. GLANZ: There are two to three top issues. Federalism is clearly number one; that's the revolution of power, if you will, from the central government to the provinces that's favored by the Shiites and the Kurds. It's opposed by the Sunnis who, remember, ran the country from Baghdad as a ruling elite really under Saddam Hussein and before that, for decades in this country. And then there are lingering questions about the role of Islam in creating laws for the state--there's language governing that in the constitution. And religious law and its role in determining matters of family law like divorce and marriage, birth, death, inheritance, and so on.

MONTAGNE: Just what would, though, be the fallout, simply put, if the Sunnis end up not signing on, if they are sidelined?

Mr. GLANZ: Well, yeah, I think, it's a disaster for the Bush administration because it wants to be able to say that there was unanimity in Iraq, that there was a consensus on this constitution. If that doesn't happen, it's bad politically for Mr. Bush. It's also raising questions about whether what's basically a Sunni-led insurgency will take that as a cue to launch new attacks. That's another concern. And in the long run, you really have to look at whether this is a further sign that the country is sort of partitioning itself into ethnic blocks and moving in a direction of sort of separate autonomous regions rather than, you know, creating this new nation that the United States came in here to knit together.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much for talking with us.

Mr. GLANZ: A pleasure, Renee.

MONTAGNE: James Glanz is a reporter for The New York Times speaking from Baghdad. Today, Iraqi negotiators are continuing their efforts to reach agreement on a constitution.

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