Sunnis Reject Newly Signed Iraq Constitution

Shiite and Kurdish negotiators formally sign a new constitution for Iraq 13 days after the original deadline, but Sunni representatives have been vocal critics of the final draft.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

In a few moments, the mother of all feminists. But, first, we want to update you on a story we're following. Early today in Iraq negotiators finished drafting a new constitution without the endorsement of Sunni leaders, who represent one-fifth of the country's population. The main sticking points are federalism and the role of former Baath Party members from Saddam Hussein's regime. NPR's Eric Niiler reports that President Bush dismissed the Sunni objections and said it's now up to the Iraqi people to approve the new document.

ERIC NIILER reporting:

For weeks the Bush administration has pressured Iraqi negotiators to come up with a constitution that all three groups--Sunni, Kurd and Shia--can agree on. But after all the effort, Sunni representatives rejected the document. Speaking from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, President Bush tried to put a good face on the failed negotiations.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Some Sunnis have expressed reservations about various provisions of the constitution, and that's their right as free individuals living in a free society. There are strong beliefs among other Sunnis that this constitution is good for all Iraqis and that it adequately reflects compromises suitable to all groups.

NIILER: The administration has a lot at stake with this constitution. Here is Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld speaking earlier this month.

(Soundbite of August 2005 address)

Secretary DONALD RUMSFELD (Department of Defense): Indeed, their new constitution, a piece of paper, could well turn out to be one of the most powerful weapons to be deployed against the terrorists.

NIILER: But Sunni leaders are unhappy with the document and will meet soon to plot their next move. They want more concessions, including greater power for the central government. Democratic Senator Joseph Biden, speaking on ABC's "This Week," warned of future trouble if the Sunnis can't be brought on board.

(Soundbite of "This Week")

Senator JOSEPH BIDEN (Democrat, Delaware): If the Sunnis and that entire portion of the country opts out of this process, that's a formula for civil war.

NIILER: At the same time Biden said it's too soon to tell whether the process has completely fallen apart.

(Soundbite of "This Week")

Sen. BIDEN: The hard part from across the sea here is determining how much of this is gamesmanship, how much of it is deep, how much of it relates to trying to further negotiate at the last minute here, even though it's going to be presented.

NIILER: Even President Bush, who praised the Iraqi people today for drawing up the constitution, lowered expectations about the short-term security situation in Iraq.

Pres. BUSH: As democracy in Iraq takes root, the enemies of freedom, the terrorists, will become more desperate, more despicable and more vicious.

NIILER: Already today Iraqi police found nine bodies in Mosul, and the government's top Sunni cleric said 36 bodies found last week near the Iranian border were believed to be Sunni Arabs. Eric Niiler, NPR News, Washington.

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