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Kurds Place Hopes in Constitution

In the Kurdish north, people want to see their rights and interests safeguarded in the final document.
By Ferhad Murasil

Kurds are hoping that the constitution now being drafted by the Iraqi parliament will put the oppression of the Saddam Hussein years firmly in the past, and create a stable country in which their rights are observed.

Iraqi president Jalal Talabani said on July 19 that progress had been made on drafting the constitution, and he believed it could be ready by the end of the month, ahead of the August 15 deadline.

But Talabani, who is a Kurd, noted that some “Arab brothers” still have reservations about a few of the ideas that have come up, a reference to Sunni Arab objections to a federal structure for Iraq, which is supported by Kurds and Shias.

As well as federalism, the constitution has to deal with such contentious issues as the role of Islam in the state.

More immediate obstacles to the constitutional process include the high risk for those involved in drafting the document.

Mijbil Issa, one of 15 Sunnis recently nominated to the parliamentary drafting committee, was killed in a drive-by shooting in Baghdad on July 19, along with two bodyguards.

Although the Kurdish Alliance list came second in January’s National Assembly election, many ordinary Kurds interviewed by IWPR still harbour suspicions that the Arabs want to dominate in Iraq.

“We hope that the constitution will safeguard the rights of all spectrums of Iraqi society,” said Sabah Rafiq, who runs a travel agency in the northern city of Kirkuk. “We don’t want the tragedies we witnessed - which the Arabs and Turkoman say we exaggerated - to be repeated.”

Mohammed Rashid Mohammed, a teacher from Khanaqeen, 200 kilometres northeast of Baghdad, said the constitution should put the Kurds on a par with the Arabs in terms of rights.

“It should be clearly declared that Arabs and Kurds together make up Iraq,” he said. “The Kurdish language should be one of the official languages of the country.”

Many Kurds believe the best framework in which their rights can be guaranteed is a federal Iraq. The structure they would like to see would grant formal powers to Iraqi Kurdistan, the region that now includes three northern provinces and has its own elected assembly.

Professor Kawan Othman of Sulaimaniyah university says federalism would make Iraqi Kurdistan more stable and thus prompt economic growth there.”

But some want to go further than federalism, hoping that Kurdistan will one day become fully independent. “Whatever the constitution is like, it will be rejected by the Kurds since they are taking steps toward building an independent state,” said Kawe Abdul-Rahman, a barber in Sulaimaniyah.

For others in this part of Iraq, the concern is that the constitution will reflect calls by some Shia politicians for Islam to become the foundation for Iraqi legislation.

Nadir Ali, who is imam or prayer leader at a Sulaimaniyah mosques, told IWPR, “I’d support a secular state that guarantees my rights rather than an Islamic state that practices censorship.”

Some Kurds were pessimistic about whether the new document would mean anything at all to them.

“I don’t expect the constitution to achieve anything,” said a traffic policeman. “This is Iraq you’re talking about.”

Ferhad Murasil is an IWPR trainee coordinator.

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