Average Iraqi Hasn't Read Proposed Constitution

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A talk with Jonathan Morrow, constitutional adviser for the U.S. Institute for Peace, who helped Iraqis work on their new constitution. About half of those voting on the constitution haven't been given the opportunity to read the document, says Morrow.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up, George Clooney cross-examines Dan Schorr.

But first, Iraqis are voting today across the country on whether to accept or reject a new constitution. Joined now by John Morrow, who worked with the--forgive me, Jonathan Morrow, yes, who worked with the constitution commission and other Iraqi participants in the drafting process. He's a legal adviser with the United States Institute of Peace.

Mr. Morrow, welcome back to our show.

Mr. JONATHAN MORROW (US Institute of Peace): Thanks, Scott. Pleasure to be here.

SIMON: And there's one question they're being asked today, yea or nay to the new constitution. You've been in Baghdad a lot. How well do you think Iraqi voters know what's in this document?

Mr. MORROW: Well, that's a very good question. That's, in fact, `the' question that's been exercising many in my institution, you know, through our work in Baghdad. I think frankly there is relatively little knowledge of the constitutional text--not enough, I would say. Maybe as many as half, perhaps a majority of Iraqis who are voting in this will not have read the constitutional text. A lot of people have worked very hard to take that text to them, but the process has been very rushed, and I think it's good that the people were voting on a constitution, they have the opportunity to do this. Of course this is a democratic moment and Iraqis are right to feel excited about this opportunity. But unfortunately, there have been corners cut and that has--there's been a price paid for that and we see that with the Sunni Arab opposition to the constitutional text.

SIMON: I want to ask you about--we should note that in the United States there are these periodic polls in which people are asked about sections of the US Constitution, whether they agree or not, and they say, `Oh, my gosh, I'd never be in favor of a thing like that,' `What do you mean, unfettered freedom of speech,' and of course, it turns out to be in the Constitution.

There certainly have been efforts with last-minute concessions to put Sunnis in a position to support the constitution. What do you see in the document that might enlist some of their support?

Mr. MORROW: Well, I mean, we've seen already that the Iraqi Islamic Party, one of the Sunni Arab parties, has come on board, or apparently come on board behind this draft, encouraging its supporters to vote in favor today of the constitutional text. Why have they done that? Well, it's as a result of a last-minute change to the text, a last-minute agreement between the negotiators to make a number of concessions to a Sunni Arab position, including, I think most importantly, and I was just listening to Dr. Hajim Al-Hassani, the speaker of the assembly, speak on your station this morning, saying that the number one concession that made him change his mind was an agreement that the constitution could be amended down the trek after the next election.

Now whether that's enough to bring wholesale Sunni Arab support on board for this text and more generally for Sunni Arab participation in the constitutional process in the political life in Iraq, I don't think enough. I'm not sure that this agreement to amend the constitution later on or to provide a mechanism to amend the constitution later on provides any major concession, frankly, to Sunni Arab interests. They could have--there were processes to amend the constitution in any event, even had this last-minute deal not been reached, and frankly, I'm not convinced that the Kurdish and Shia negotiators, those politicians, will be prepared now or anytime in the future to make major concessions to Sunni Arab positions. But it's an agreement that has brought on one Sunni Arab political party, and I think we should be grateful for the small mercies.

SIMON: Well, Jonathan Morrow, constitutional attorney and adviser for the United States Institute of Peace. Thanks very much for being with us this morning, Mr. Morrow.

Mr. MORROW: Thank you.

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