Global Policy Forum

Iraq Sunnis Reject Compromise on Constitution


By Omar Anwar

June 10, 2005

Political leaders of Iraq's Sunni minority rejected a compromise offer on giving them more say in the drafting of a constitution on Friday. Scattered violence, including the discovery of 16 victims of execution-style killings and a gun attack on a Shi'ite mosque in Baghdad, highlighted the dangers if growing friction among Iraq's religious and ethnic communities.

The identities of the dead found at two spots near the Syrian border were unclear. But there were fears for the lives of 20 or more soldiers from the mainly Shi'ite south who were kidnapped nearby, apparently by Sunni al Qaeda fighters.

It was not clear how the Shi'ite-dominated National Assembly and government would react to the rejection by the main Sunni political group of an offer of more seats on the parliamentary committee charged with drafting a constitution by Aug. 15. Further wrangling could jeopardize that deadline. A spokesman for the Gathering of the Sunni People said they would hold out for 25 seats against the 15 on offer. He said they would boycott negotiations if arbitration by a three-person panel consisting of a Sunni, a parliamentary representative and a United Nations official failed to settle the matter.

"We will not agree and will not concede any seat," spokesman Adnan al-Dulaimi said. "If they refuse our demand we will resort to arbitration. If they insist then we will suspend our participation." Calls for a boycott and insurgent violence in Sunni areas meant few of the formerly dominant 20-percent minority took part in the Jan. 30 election. Only 17 Sunnis sit in parliament and only two are now on the 55-seat constitutional committee.

Shi'ite Offer

Shi'ite leaders, whose majority community voted them to power after U.S. forces toppled Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime, have offered to expand the body to 69 seats, bringing in non-legislators to give Sunnis 15 places, the same as the Kurds. The offer was made by the committee chairman Humam Hammoudi and endorsed by Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari.

The case for 25 seats has, Dulaimi noted, been bolstered by support from Iraq's Kurdish president, Jalal Talabani -- even though the roughly similar Kurdish minority has only 15 seats. It is not clear that the precise number of seats on the committee matters a great deal as the aim is to reach a consensus rather than push through a constitution by the kind of narrow majority the Shi'ites can normally muster on their own.

Washington, whose soldiers still broadly control the country, also says it wants Sunnis to feel included. Without them, the constitution would lack legitimacy and might fail at a referendum due by October if Sunni regions vote against it. Engaging Sunnis in politics is seen as a way to curb violence. Jaafari, whose government's formation was met with a wave of bombings in April and May, said when asked on Thursday about possible negotiations with Sunni insurgents that those who renounced violence were welcome to join the political process.

That view was echoed on Friday by a U.S. embassy spokesman, commenting on remarks by U.S. officials that contacts with Sunni leaders have been an opportunity to pass on appeals to insurgent groups to abandon the armed struggle for politics. "We've always believed that an inclusive political process is critical for Iraq's future prosperity and we talk to Iraqis from many different groups about participating in the political process. We encourage them to engage their government," he said.

Massacre Sites

A lull in major violence in the past few days -- possibly partly due to U.S. and Iraqi military activity around Baghdad -- belies continued smaller attacks, some with a sectarian tinge. Police in the western town of Ramadi said it was too dangerous for them to go to the sites near the Syrian border where journalists filmed corpses in civilian clothes, many of them blindfolded and with their hands tied behind their backs. Two of the men had been beheaded.

The desert region is a stronghold of the Sunni insurgency but it was not clear if the victims were among 22 soldiers from the Shi'ite south who police said were kidnapped on Tuesday after heading out on home leave from their base at Qaim. The Al Qaeda Organization in Iraq, a guerrilla group with a history of killing hostages and led by Osama bin Laden ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, said in an Internet posting it was holding 36 soldiers and demanded all women prisoners in Iraq be freed.

Two worshippers were wounded after Friday prayers at a Shi'ite mosque in Baghdad's troubled Dora district when gunmen opened fire on the building: "In jihad (holy war), you do not attack the house of God," local cleric Mohammed al-Assadi said. In the northern city of Kirkuk, where Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen are vying for control of vast oil resources, the head of the anti-terrorist police -- a Kurd -- was shot dead in his car. Near the northern oil refining town of Baiji, a suicide car bomber wounded four soldiers in a U.S. military convoy on Thursday, the military said.

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