Constitutional Process “On Track”

With wrangling over its membership resolved, Iraq’s constitutional committee is forging ahead with drafting a new basic law.

Constitutional Process “On Track”

With wrangling over its membership resolved, Iraq’s constitutional committee is forging ahead with drafting a new basic law.

Friday, 18 November, 2005

Although Iraqi lawmakers acknowledge that drafting a permanent constitution is one of the biggest challenges facing the country, the team charged with producing the document are cautiously optimistic that they will complete the job on time.

Lawmakers are up against an August 15 deadline to finish writing the constitution, a daunting task considering the disputes that have taken place so far even over who should sit on then 55-member drafting committee.

The drafting team now has to grapple with the controversial issues of federalism, the role of Islam in governance and the status of oil-rich Kirkuk.

“We hope that, God willing, things will go well and we’ll finish our work on time, particularly if we deal with the thorny issues in a way that satisfies all parties,” said Humam Hammoodi, head of the Constitutional Drafting Committee and a member of the ruling United Iraqi Alliance.

The committee, which was formed in mid-May, now meets every week and has divided into five groups each dealing with a different topic: the basic principles of the constitution, rights and liberties, laws and the formation of the state, federalism, and final principles.

“There are differing viewpoints among committee members, but this doesn’t mean there is no agreement at all among them,” said Sadi al-Barzinji, a committee member from the Kurdish Alliance. “Whatever the differences, they can be solved through democratic dialogue.”

Disputes over the number of slots given to Sunni Arabs on the committee delayed the start of the drafting process. After weeks of negotiations, it was finally agreed they should have 25 places, of which 15 would be actual members of the constitution committee and 10 would be advisers.

But the National Assembly rejected the 25 names nominated by Sunni groups, causing further acrimony.

“The Sunni list was rejected because it didn’t correctly represent Sunni personalities, parties and regions,” said Baha al-Araji, a member of the Constitutional Drafting Committee who belongs to the Independent National Bloc party “So we are going to hold a meeting with the Sunni side to discuss this issue.”

On June 26, agreement was reached about the Sunni names and they are expected to be ratified this week by the National Assembly. With the 15 extra Sunnis, the constitutional committee will expanded to a membership of 70.

Two Sunni parliamentarians, Abdul-Rahman al-Niemi from the Iraqi List and Adnan al-Janabi from the United Iraqi Alliance, declined to comment on the issue when IWPR approached them.

Differences between committee members such as secular Kurds and religious Shias may also pose problems in drafting the constitution, especially when they debate what role Islam will play in Iraq.

The Transitional Administrative Law, TAL – effectively an interim constitution - says that Islam is “a source of legislation”, but some are pushing for stronger wording that would name Islam as the principal or even the only source.

“Islam is the official religion of the state and it is a basic source of legislation,” said Azbar al-Hashimi, a committee member and a member of the Islamic Virtue Party.

Whether Iraq will be structured as a federal state is also up for debate. Committee member Abbas al-Bayati, of the Iraq Islamic Turkoman Party, insists that there is no “disagreement among the parties over the principle of federalism” and that some form of it would certainly be established.

But he added, “the disagreement is about defining the powers of the regions and the central government, and about the number of regions that will be established in an Iraqi federal state”.

Kurds have been pushing for a federal set-up so as to maintain their semi-autonomous status in the three northern provinces that make up the Kurdish region, while Shias in the south are also pushing for federalism because they want more independence from Baghdad.

As for the status of Kirkuk, which is claimed by the Kurds, Arabs and Turkoman who live there, al-Bayati said it is an issue for all of Iraq, and should be resolved by the National Assembly after the constitution has been drafted.

He added that the administrative status of Kirkuk would ultimately be decided by residents of the city through a referendum, as is outlined in Article 58 of the TAL.

But Massoud Barzani, the new president of Iraqi Kurdistan, is pressing for the Kirkuk’s status to be resolved and made explicit in the constitution.

Other contentious issues that will be dealt with by the committee include women’s rights, the design of the Iraqi flag, and the status of militias that are not part of the regular Iraqi military.

Committee members said they will look to the TAL as one of the models for drafting the constitution, but that it will not be their only source.

“We will look at the constitutions of Arab and foreign countries and take that which is beneficial to Iraq’s realities,” said al-Hashimi.

Lawmaker Ridha Taqi, who is not a member of the constitution committee, said Iraq might benefit from studying the Turkish experience.

“Turkey is a Muslim and democratic state that has good relations with the West,” Taqi said. “We too want to be a democratic state and to have good relations with the West.”

Zaineb Naji is an IWPR trainee in Iraq.

Iraqi Kurdistan, Iraq
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