Iraq starts battle over constitution
Secretary of State Rice visited Iraq Sunday, urging political alternatives to the violence.
Choosing a moment crucial to the future of Iraq, and amid weeks of explosive violence, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a surprise visit to Iraq Sunday, encouraging Iraq's fledgling government to cope with the insurgency and to swiftly draft a new, inclusive constitution.Skip to next paragraph
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Ms. Rice arrived as a 55-member Iraqi committee began deliberating on the document that will shape more than any other Iraq's future. The new constitution will codify the role of Islam, the degree of self-rule for ethnic Kurds, and the rights of women.
But depending on the results of those and other fault-line issues, the new constitution could also sow the seeds for future conflict among Iraq's Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish groups.
"The insurgency is very violent, but you defeat insurgencies not just militarily - you defeat them by having a political alternative that is strong," Rice said. "The Iraqis are now going to have to intensify their efforts to demonstrate that, in fact, the political process is the answer for the Iraqi people."
A draft constitution is meant to be ready by Aug. 15 - a date that most Iraqis expect to slip, given that it took three months of political bickering to form the new government after landmark elections. The constitution is then to be put to a referendum in mid-October, followed by new elections at the end of the year.
The process is being overshadowed by a wave of insurgent attacks that have left more than 430 Iraqis dead since the government was announced little more than two weeks ago. Sunday Iraqi police found 34 bodies - many showing signs of torture and then execution - in three cities; five more were killed by a car bomb that targeted the governor of one province.
In talks with senior Iraqi officials, including Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafaari, Rice emphasized the importance of sticking to the constitution timeline and ensuring a role in the process for Iraq's Sunni minority, which has been disenfranchised since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
The insurgency draws most of its support from extremist Sunnis and former regime elements, working together with foreign militants. Sunnis widely boycotted the Jan. 30 vote, and so are underrepresented in the new National Assembly.
In fact, only 2 of the 55 members of the constitutional committee are Sunnis, though advisory panels give them a non-voting voice. According to the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), which was approved last year under the auspices of US authorities here, any three provinces (a number which could be mustered by disgruntled Sunnis) can veto the constitution.
"We will find a balance that all Iraqis can support," says Sheikh Homam Baqr Hamoudi, a deputy from the party of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), who could be appointed chairman of the constitutional committee. "The TAL mentions that Islam is the basic resource, and we will find a middle solution acceptable to all Iraqis," Sheikh Hamoudi said in an interview.