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Iraq Constitution Body in Turmoil
Published on Wednesday, July 20, 2005 by Reuters
Iraq Constitution Body in Turmoil
by Luke Baker
 

BAGHDAD - Four Sunni Arabs on the team charged with writing Iraq's constitution suspended their membership on Wednesday after the killing of three colleagues, a move that could delay the drafting of the landmark charter.

Tuesday's assassinations struck a blow to the constitution-writing body, seen as providing a chance for a political end to the insurgency, and Wednesday's move is likely to further hinder its work.

A draft constitution is due by mid-August.

"The environment in Iraq isn't right for anyone to get work done," said Salih al-Mutlaq, a spokesman for the Iraqi National Dialogue, a Sunni Arab organization, in explaining why the group's representatives had suspended their membership.

In the latest violence, a bomber strapped with explosives blew himself up among a group of Iraqi army recruits at a Baghdad airfield on Wednesday, killing six people and wounding 25, police and hospital workers said.

Another official on the constitutional body said all Sunni Arabs -- 15 in all -- had suspended their membership, but there was no confirmation of that. The committee was due to hold a news conference later on Wednesday.

Drawing Sunni Arabs onto the body was the cornerstone of the U.S.-backed strategy to persuade members of the restive minority to move from the streets into peaceful politics.

Hours before Tuesday's killings, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, said he hoped the draft constitution could be ready early -- by the end of this month -- if Sunni concerns could be addressed quickly.

Extra Sunni members joined the committee last month, making it the first nationwide political body to include significant Sunni Arab representation since the new government, led by Shi'ites and Kurds, took office in April.

There had been hope the committee could produce a document to be pitched to the public in a national referendum in October.

If the document is drafted on time and approved by voters, it will be used to determine what sort of government emerges from elections due in December.

ROLE OF ISLAM

On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that one draft of the constitution would give added prominence to Islamic law, restricting the rights of women when it comes to issues such as inheritance and divorce.

Members of the committee said, however, there were many different drafts in circulation and no wording was finalized.

One of the key debates over the charter concerns the role of religion. Many devout Iraqis want to see Islam described as the source for law in the country, while others argue it should be referred to as just one of several sources.

Other contentious issues that have divided Iraqis along sectarian and ethnic lines include the distribution of power to the regions and how to divide revenue from oil resources.

The pressure of coming up with an acceptable document by the deadline has only been heightened by relentless violence.

A three-day onslaught of suicide attacks at the weekend, ordered by al Qaeda in Iraq, a group headed by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed around 150 lives.

On Wednesday, Iraqi leaders held three minutes of silence at midday to honor those killed in two of the worst recent blasts -- nearly two dozen children killed in a suicide car bomb attack as they collected sweets from U.S. troops a week ago, and 98 people killed on Saturday when a suicide bomber blew himself up next to a fuel truck south of Baghdad.

A report compiled by a U.S.-British non-government group and released on Tuesday showed that 25,000 Iraqi civilians, including police, army recruits, doctors and lawyers, were killed in the first two years after the March 2003 invasion.

While nearly a third of those were killed in the first six weeks of the conflict, largely by U.S.-led bombings, according to the group, Iraq Body Count, the bulk have died at the hands of insurgents and criminals in the two years since.

Among those targeted by insurgents have been diplomats, particularly those from Arab countries.

An Egyptian envoy was captured and reportedly killed by men allied to Zarqawi earlier this month. But Egypt's foreign minister said there was a slim chance that he was still alive.

(Additional reporting by Waleed Ibrahim and Hiba Moussa in Baghdad)

© 2005 Reuters Ltd.

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