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
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
© 2005 Reuters Ltd.