Iraqi Constitution Draft Worries Minorities

Article excerpt

Iraqis will vote October 15 on a proposal for a permanent constitution that many Sunni Muslim leaders, other religious minorities and secularists find deeply troubling.

The drafting committee, made up mainly of Sunni and Shi'ite Muslim Arabs and Kurdish representatives, presented the document to the interim Iraqi National Assembly August 28. The move came just a day after negotiations between Shi'ites and the Kurds and Sunnis who objected to certain parts of the document broke off.

By the next day, news reports said, Sunni leaders in many parts of the nation were vowing to defeat the proposed charter at the polls. If two-thirds majorities in three of the nation's 18 provinces vote to reject the proposal, it will rail.

The presentation of the draft marks the end of months of contentious debates between members of the drafting committee over the roles of Islam and federalism in the nation's governing document. Many Arab Shi'a and Kurds want strong guarantees of autonomy for the regions in which they are majorities. Many Sunnis--who are a minority, but enjoyed much of the nation's power under deposed dictator Saddam Hussein--fear that those guarantees will further marginalize them.

"We have reached a point where this constitution contains the seeds of the division of Iraq," said Mahmoud al-Mashadani, a Sunni member of the drafting committee, according to the New York Times.

According to an English translation of the proposed constitution, it cites Islam as a "basic source of legislation. …