Iraq Seeks Sunni Support for Constitution

Hajim al Hasani, speaker of the Iraqi National Assembly, talks to host Melissa Block about selling Iraq's draft constitution to the Sunni minority of Iraq, as well as other issues.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Violence in Iraq has escalated this past week with hundreds killed in a series of bombings. On Saturday a Kurdish member of parliament was assassinated as he returned to Baghdad for a session of the National Assembly to finalize the Iraqi constitution. The Iraqi parliament did finally sign off on the last changes to that document. In less than a month, on October 15th, Iraqis will hold a referendum on its approval, and some Sunni leaders have vowed to work for the defeat of the constitution. Hajim Al-Hasani is speaker of the Iraqi parliament. He's a Sunni and he's here in Washington for meetings at the State Department and with members of Congress. I asked him how confident he is that the constitution will pass.

Dr. HAJIM AL-HASANI (Speaker, Iraqi Parliament): It's very difficult to say whether this constitution is going to be passed or not. I would say it's a 50-50 game right now because I don't think it's just only Sunnis who are not very happy with this constitution. There are part of the Shia constituency also are not very happy with this constitution. I hope it will pass, you know, because I think no matter what we say about this constitution, there are a lot of things good in this constitution. And the things that we are unhappy with, I think, there is a possibility to work on them in the future and amend them.

BLOCK: You have said in the past that there are points in this constitution on which you have reservations. What are those reservations?

Dr. AL-HASANI: My reservations are, you know, first of all, I think there's too much religion in this constitution.

BLOCK: Too much religion?

Dr. AL-HASANI: Yes. And also I'm concerned about the right of womans--women in this constitution. These are the two major issues that I have reservation on them. I have--also when it comes to federalism, I have concern that, you know, the way we are approaching federalism, especially in the rest of Iraq other than Kurdistan, it's a little bit, you know, hasty. We are--we need to go through a probably transitional period in federalism rather than jumping in and, you know, establishing a region without having, you know, any criteria to establish these regions.

BLOCK: This constitution was largely pushed through over the objections of the Sunnis. What's in it for them? What would be the best case you could make for why Sunnis should support this document?

Dr. AL-HASANI: Well, the best thing you could make, you know, that we have very good things, especially in the section that has to do with the individual rights, OK, individual freedom and also civil organizations that are very well protected in this constitution. Other than that, I would say, you know, Sunnis didn't get much in this constitution.

But that's not the end of the world. I think if the Sunnis participate in the political process, whether, you know, in the referendum or election and they come out very forcefully then, you know, there's a chance that they could amend some of the articles in this constitution. The reason, you know, they didn't have much--I think the winner wrote this constitution. Sunnis, because they didn't have seats in the National Assembly...

BLOCK: Because they boycotted the last elections.

Dr. AL-HASANI: They boycotted the last election or for other reasons they couldn't elect--go to election, so they didn't have a voice in the National Assembly.

BLOCK: I'm curious. With the news over the weekend of your colleague, the Kurdish member of parliament, being assassinated, I'm sure that just brings to the fore the fears that you must have every day in the job that you do.

Dr. AL-HASANI: I think every member of the government, every day, I think, when they leave their home they don't know whether they going to come back or not. It's like a war zone, you know, to us, but there is no other way to do it, you know. That's the only way you can, you know, do some work that will help the Iraqi people. The change in Iraq was a tremendous change. It was a very huge change. So I wouldn't expect that by a few months we'll have a very, you know, democratic Iraq and a very nice country to live in, a secure country. It's going to take some time.

BLOCK: Mr. Hasani, thanks very much.

Dr. AL-HASANI: Thank you very much.

BLOCK: Hajim Al-Hasani is speaker of the Iraqi National Assembly.

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