Thursday, May 17, 2007


Constitutional reform committee agrees to pass draft to parliament on Tuesday

(Reuters) - An Iraqi committee agreed on Tuesday to send to parliament a plan to reform the constitution, an important step towards implementing national reconciliation laws that Washington says are critical to ending violence.
Once-dominant Sunni Arabs, who make up the backbone of the insurgency, have long demanded changes to a constitution they say concedes too much power to majority Shi'ites and ethnic Kurds, who were persecuted under Saddam Hussein. Such laws, which include sharing Iraq's vast oil wealth and ending a ban on former members of Saddam's party from public office, are particularly aimed at assuaging Sunnis Arabs and bringing them firmly into the U.S.-backed political process.
Saleem al-Jubouri, from the Sunni Accordance Front, said the constitutional reform committee had agreed to pass its draft to parliament next Tuesday -- albeit with some passages unresolved. He said this would allow it technically to meet a May 15 deadline set by the constitution. "There is a preliminary report that has been approved by committee members," he told Reuters. "Members now have to consult their political parties on the proposals."
But he said some thorny issues had been left open, for parliament to resolve. These included a Shi'ite-backed law that allows provinces to form federal regions, and wording on the Arab identity of Iraq, opposed by Kurds. In another sign of political progress, Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi said the presidential council would soon send to parliament a draft proposal to allow thousands of ex-Baath party members to return to public jobs, another Sunni demand. The council comprises Hashemi, President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and Shi'ite Vice President Adel Abdul al-Mahdi.
The bills are likely to face fierce debate in parliament. Some lawmakers from the ruling Shi'ite community, who were oppressed during Saddam's rule, have expressed virulent opposition to seeing former Baathists take up government jobs. Non-Arab Kurds, also persecuted under Saddam's pan-Arab policies, resist wording on the Arab identity of Iraq.
Sunni Arabs, meanwhile, fear federalism will allow Kurds in the north and Shi'ites in the south, where Iraq's oil reserves lie, to break away into their own states. Sunni Arabs live mostly in central and western Iraq, which is poor in oil.

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