Iraq cancels Parliament vote on charter

Posted in Iraq | 26-Aug-05 | Source: The Daily Star (Lebanon Edition)

Political haggling over constitution continues as violence rocks country

Iraq indefinitely delayed a crucial Parliament session that was to be held Thursday to approve the country's draft constitution, saying certain issues remained unresolved. "The Parliament session has been postponed without setting a new date ... until meetings are finished and [leaders] reach an agreement on pending issues," an official with the National Assembly's media department said.

"As the draft constitution has already been submitted to the National Assembly, there is no legal problem [in delaying] as far as the interim law is concerned."

The political haggling took place against a backdrop of violence, with clashes erupting between rival Shiite groups while the bodies of 37 tortured and executed men were found in a stream south of Baghdad. The men appeared to be Shiite soldiers from the south, a police officer said, adding that military uniforms were found in suitcases next to the bodies.

The drafting of the constitution, which was initially due to have been submitted to Parliament on August 15, has been dogged by disputes over a number of key issues including federalism, the role of Islam and sharing of oil wealth.

Shiite and Kurdish politicians, who have a majority in Parliament, reached a deal on an incomplete constitution that was submitted to the assembly on Monday but they have so far failed to bring the Sunni Arabs on board.

"No constitution has been accomplished in such circumstances and in record time like this," Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari said, adding that he did not consider the charter had been "severely delayed."

"Even if there has been a delay, it is compatible with the efforts exerted to convince our Sunni Arab brothers."

Iraqi leaders had been battling to win Sunni Arab agreement on the constitution and to restore calm after deadly fighting erupted between Shiite rivals that threatened to derail the political process.

"We still have no compromise with the Sunnis," Kurdish constitution committee member Mahmud Othman said.

Seven people have been killed and dozens wounded since late Wednesday when supporters of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr clashed with the rival Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a powerful Shiite party led by Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, in the holy city of Najaf.

"We need to unite and maintain peace as this incident can divert Iraq from the constitution to violence," President Jalal Talabani told Sadr, according to a statement from his office.

Sadr, who launched two uprisings last year against U.S. forces which left hundreds of his own militants dead and is now a critic of the draft constitution, appealed for calm.

"I call upon the people of Iraq ... the believers ... to preserve Muslim blood and go back home. I call upon them to maintain calm," he told reporters.

The fight in Najaf, which houses the revered Imam Ali shrine, broke out after some traders demonstrated against Sadr supporters reopening their local office which was shut down after last year's uprising. The office was gutted in the clashes.

Within hours, violence spread to Baghdad and southern cities, including Nasiriyah and Diwaniyah where two men were killed and many wounded overnight.

But Sadr later Thursday cleared the Badr Brigade of any involvement in the violence.

"Peace upon you my brothers in the Badr Brigade. You should know that I do not hold you responsible. You are not guilty, in front of God and in front of me. You are the supporting force for the Sadr movement," he said in a statement.

Sadr demanded that Hakim condemn what he called an attack on his Najaf office by SCIRI members. Hakim said his supporters were not involved.

Elsewhere, insurgent attacks killed 14 people, including two bodyguards of Talabani who were attacked by gunmen near

Al-Ordhaim, a restive northern Sunni bastion.

Meanwhile, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa expressed concern over one of the articles in the constitution which states that "Iraq is part of the Muslim world and its Arab people are part of the Arab nation."

"Does this text question the whole of Iraq's belonging to the Arab world?" asked Moussa, who said that Iraq's Kurds were also part of the Arab world.

On visit to Italy, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari met with Pope Benedict XVI to discuss the new constitution.

"It was underlined how the reconstruction of institutions must occur in a climate of dialogue that sees all religious groups and various components of society involved," said a statement from the Vatican. - Agencies