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Archive for Thursday, October 13, 2005

Compromise on constitution OK’d

October 13, 2005

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— Iraqi lawmakers approved a set of last-minute amendments to the constitution without a vote on Wednesday, sealing a compromise designed to win Sunni support and boost chances for the charter's approval in a referendum just three days away.

The deal came as insurgents pressed their campaign to wreck the vote. A suicide bomber killed 30 Iraqis at an army recruitment center in a northern town that was struck by another bomber just a day earlier.

The amendments made some key concessions to Sunni Arabs, starting with the first article underlining that Iraq will be a single nation with its unity guaranteed - a nod to fears among the disaffected minority that the draft as it stands will fragment the country.

Other changes open the door to Sunni Arabs to try to make more dramatic substantive changes in the constitution later, after a new parliament is elected in December.

Sunnis want to weaken the considerable autonomous powers the Shiite and Kurdish mini-states would have under the constitution. But there's no guarantee they will succeed: They will still likely face strong opposition from majority Shiites and Kurds in the new parliament.

What's next

If the constitution is approved: Iraqis will choose new parliament in national elections to be held by Dec. 15. Parliament will then select new government, which must take office by Dec. 31. New administration will be first permanent, fully constitutional government in Iraq since collapse of Saddam Hussein's rule in 2003. Sunni Arabs have been promised they can propose constitutional amendments in first four months of new parliament. Amendments would need two-thirds approval in parliament and gain voter support in referendum.

If the constitution is defeated: Parliament dissolves, but the mid-December elections go ahead as planned. New parliament must draft another constitution within a year and present it to voters in second referendum. Interim constitution approved in March 2004 would continue as legal foundation for governing Iraq.

Iraqi leaders, including the Kurdish president, Sunni Arab vice president and Shiite prime minister, lined up on a stage before the National Assembly, lauding the deal as a show of unity between the country's often divided factions and communities.

"We have the right to be proud in saying that today was a day of national consensus," President Jalal Talabani said. "So congratulations to our people for their constitution."

The hourlong session, attended by 159 of parliament's 275 members - ended without a vote on the amendments. Parliament Speaker Hajim al-Hassani said one wasn't necessary and that the compromise was approved.

"Today with the presence of the National Assembly members, it is considered to be adopted," he told The Associated Press.

The agreement already had been accepted by the main political parties after it was reached Tuesday night after three days of marathon negotiations, shepherded by U.S. officials eager to see the constitution pass. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad attended the parliament session.

The constitution's success in Saturday's referendum is key to political progress in Iraq as it is torn by the relentless insurgency - and to prospects for the U.S. military to start pulling out troops next year.

At least one Sunni party has said it will now support the constitution in the referendum, though others rejected the deal and said they will continue their "no" campaign.

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