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IWPR report 23 August 2005

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August 23, 2005


Voting on constitution delayed again because of disputes on issues ranging from federalism to de-Baathification.

By Dhiya Rasan in Baghdad

Leading Sunni politicians warned there would be widespread demonstrations if the National Assembly approves a constitution that Sunnis have rejected.

A draft of the constitution was submitted to parliament just before a midnight deadline on August 22, but voting on the document was delayed for another three days to try to resolve remaining disagreements.

"If the constitution is passed there will be uprisings in the streets," said Salih al-Mutlak, one of the main Sunni negotiators on the parliamentary constitution committee.

Federalism is still the most contentious issue as Sunnis agree to the autonomy already established in Iraqi Kurdistan but reject any expansion of federalism, including more independence for the Shia south. They say federalism will divide Iraq along sectarian lines and strongly reject the concept.

There are also disagreements about the policy of ridding the government of members of the former Baath Party; the Arabic identity of Iraq; and the system of choosing the president, prime minister and National Assembly speaker, which currently requires a two-thirds majority.

One issue that was resolved was the role of Islam, which is named as "a main source of legislation" instead of "the main source" - wording that some religious Shias preferred. But the draft constitution also states that no law can contradict Islam.

It has been difficult for political leaders and lawmakers to find consensus on the constitution, forcing them to delay the original deadline of August 15 for one week.

Mahmood Othman, a Kurdish member of the constitution committee, said the Kurds were still in disagreement with the Shias half an hour before the latest midnight deadline.

Another Kurdish source close to the negotiations said the US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, played a major role in the negotiations and encouraged lawmakers to come to an agreement.

Al-Mutlak said they met with their Shia and Kurdish counterparts only twice during the week before the August 22 deadline. Because they largely boycotted the January elections, Sunnis have only 17 members in the 275-member National Assembly.

As a result, Shia and Kurds have the power to approve the constitution without Sunni participation. The document will then be put to a national referendum on October 15.

Members of the mainly Shia United Iraqi Alliance, which won the January elections, said they were ready, with the Kurds, to pass the constitution by themselves.

"We don't have extra time for Sunnis to realise the meaning of federalism," said Jalaladdin al-Saghir, a United Iraqi Alliance representative and a member of the constitution committee. "If they don't want this constitution, they can reject it by their vote in the referendum."

If a two-thirds majority of voters in three of Iraq's 18 governorates disapproves of the constitution, it will fail.

But al-Saghir said they are lobbying groups in Sunni provinces as well as Shia tribes in Mosul and Kurds in Salahaddin province to come out to vote in favour of the document.

Sami al-Majun, a representative of Iraq's tribes, said his group opposed the removing of provisions that gave tribes a stronger role in society.

Still, other groups said they also reject the draft constitution. Hanin Mahmood, a representative of religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq, said it does not guarantee their rights.

"We may mobilise the masses to vote against the constitution," he said.

Dhiya Rasan is an IWPR trainee in Baghdad.


Proponents of federalism say it will ensure equal rights and opportunities across Iraq, but Sunnis remain to be convinced.

By Yaseen al-Rubaie in Baghdad

Kadhim Jawad Salman, a 60-year-old pensioner from Babil, wants his hometown to enjoy the prosperity he thinks it deserves.

"Our governorate is one of the richest in Iraq for its religious tourism, architectural sites and agriculture," he said. "But its people are living in misery due to oppression and aggression by the former Saddam Hussein regime."

The way out, he said, is a federal region encompassing Babil, Najaf and Karbala, which he hopes would bring about an improvement in living and economic conditions.

As the committee drafting the constitution continues debating how the country should be administered, there have been growing calls for the creation of semi-autonomous regions similar to Iraqi Kurdistan.

Advocates of federalism say it is the best way to ensure equal rights and opportunities across Iraq. But such plans have drawn little support from Sunnis on the constitution committee, who say it will split the country into pieces.

"When I sit down in the constitution committee, it makes me sick what I hear from the members trying to divide Iraq," said Salih al-Mutlak, a Sunni member. "They suggested three regions and now it turned into 16. Each governorate is asking for a federal region."

These areas, which would share some ministries and government offices, would reduce the power of the central administration, grouping governorates along geographic and sectarian lines.

For months, the southeastern governorates of Missan, Thi-Qar and oil-rich Basra have discussed forming their own region. The Kurdish governorates of Dohuk, Irbil and Sulaimaniyah have been semi-autonomous since the Gulf War in 1991.

Some Sunnis have instead proposed a decentralisation that would give more freedom to the governorates, but would fall short of dividing the country into autonomous zones.

"Federalism will split Iraq into small states, and we refuse it in general and in detail," said Hasan Zaydan al-Lahabi, another Sunni committee member.

Al-Mutlak said those who ask for federalism want to "slay Iraq".

"Our view about refusing federalism is correct and the evidence is the demonstrations most of Iraq's areas witnessed, which denounced federalism."

Sadradin al-Qubanji, of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq's Najaf office, takes the opposite view. He said there should be no problem with federalism, because it doesn't pose any religious, legal or political threat. It has been approved by the Transitional Administrative Law and is supported by many politicians and clerics, he said.

But, al-Qubanji added, it should be applied in a way that preserves the political and cultural unity of Iraq, instead of dividing the country.

On that point at least there is some agreement.

"There are no concerns about federalism as a system, only about how it is applied," said Ayad al-SamaraI, a Sunni constitution committee member from the Iraqi Islamic Party.

Yaseen al-Rubaie is an IWPR trainee in Baghdad.


Arabs and Turkomans in Kirkuk fear  campaign of detentions and intimidation designed to drive them out.

By Dhiya Rasan in Kirkuk

Salima Hasan has been looking for her husband and son since the night two months ago when men wearing Iraqi National Guard uniforms came into her home and arrested them.

Hasan, an Arab, could find no record of the two men at either the police station or the criminal court. She doesn't know who took away her husband and son, though has her suspicions it was the Kurdish security forces.

"The whole family kept weeping," said Hasan. "We don't know where they came from. We are having a hard time."

Hasan is not alone in her beliefs. Dozens of Arab and Turkoman families here allege that Kurdish peshmerga and security forces under the authority of Kurdish political parties have been arresting and illegally detaining their relatives.

They say it is part of a wider Kurdish plan to wrest control of this ethnically diverse and increasingly tense city and make it part of the Kurdish region, rolling back Saddam Hussein's policy of emptying Kirkuk of Kurds. 

Kurds, Arabs and Turkoman all claim Kirkuk as their own. Some Kurds want the government to hold a referendum for voters to decide whether Kirkuk should be part of the autonomous Kurdish region.

Arabs and Turkoman in Kirkuk say these recent arrests and detentions have made them fearful they are being targeted by security forces, particularly since the ministry of interior issued orders that 1,500 Kurdish police officers who were fired during Saddam's Arabisation campaign should be rehired.

Seventy-five families recently filed a lawsuit in Kirkuk criminal court claiming their relatives had been arrested illegally.

Sajwa Yousif, a member of a human rights association in Kirkuk, said he spoke with a Kirkuk criminal court judge and was told that the court is taking the families' claims seriously. He said the court would issue an order banning detentions where no arrest warrant has been issued and the interior ministry has not been informed.

Several Kirkuk lawyers are also forming a committee to help these families discover the whereabouts of their relatives. They have sent letters to lawmakers in Baghdad requesting an investigation into the detentions, but have received no response, said attorney Latif Othman.

Kurdish authorities deny that their security forces have been involved in detaining or intimidating innocent people. Faraj al-Haydari, a Kurdistan Democratic Party official, said the accusations are baseless, adding that Kurds, Arabs and Turkoman have been living together in Kirkuk for hundreds of years.

"All Iraqi forces get their orders from the [central Iraqi] ministries of interior and defence, and the Kurdish parties don't interfere in arrest operations," he said.

Othman, however, said he recently visited jails in Kirkuk and found dozens of detainees who had been arrested without formal papers. Othman said he found more than 75 cases involving Arabs and Turkomen had not been sent to the attorney general for review.

Many of the arrested, he continued, are being detained outside Kirkuk because of a judicial ruling that peshmerga have no authority to make arrests in the city.

Mohammed Khalid al-Bayati, a Turkoman, has no idea where his brother is being held. He hasn't seen or heard from Ahmed, who served in Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard, since armed men came for him just after dawn on June 22.

Al-Bayati filed a complaint at the police station, claiming his brother had been kidnapped, but was told by police that they had not arrested or detained his brother.

He blames the Kurdish militia, saying, "They spoke Kurdish and wore peshmerga uniforms."

Dhiya Rasan is an IWPR trainee in Kirkuk.


Shelved legislation curbing women's rights may soon be implemented.

By Basim al-Shara'a in Baghdad

While women's rights activists worry about what role Islam will have in the new constitution, they are also keeping an eye on legislation that they say could be used to undermine their cause.

The law, Act 137, passed in December 2003, would have applied Sharia law to family issues - such as marriage, inheritance, alimony and dowries - but was never implemented because of protests from women and a change of government.

Act 137 was meant to replace the 1959 civil code governing family law, which at the time was one of the most progressive in the region.

Women would have lost out under the new legislation because, under Islamic law, in cases related to family issues, women are often considered to be worth half a man and, therefore, entitled to only half of what a man would get in the same circumstances.

Now women's rights groups worry that if conservative Shia politicians fail to make Islam the "main source of legislation" in the constitution, they will try to implement Act 137.

Shruq al-Abaichi, a women's rights activist, said that since the mainly Shia United Iraqi Alliance list won the January elections, Islamists have been trying to draw back women's rights.

"Shia Islamists want to make Iraq a second Iran," she said.

Wiqar Mohammed, an Iraqi women's rights activist who works from Sweden, said, "Women expected salvation after the oppression of the Saddam era, but the reality is that Iran's followers will make us dream of Saddam's times."

Iraq was largely a secular society under the Saddam regime, but people have become more religious since then.  Insurgents have also encouraged extreme Islamic views, and have attacked women who did not wear headscarves. 

Nagham Kadhim of the Iraqi Women's Network said the Islamists are trying to revive Act 137 to force their beliefs on Iraqi women.

"We are not servants for the Islamists to force us to stay indoors like their wives," she said.

But Sheikh Humam Hammoudi, a prominent United Iraqi Alliance member and head of the committee drafting the constitution in the National Assembly, said reports of women's rights being curbed in the constitution were just rumours
- insisting they would be protected.

Some religious women, however, believe that implementing Sharia would be good for women.

Uhood Ziyad, an Islamic women's activist in Sadr City, said Iraq is an Islamic state so Sharia should be applied, and that those protesting Act 137 were either supported by the Americans or were Saddam sympathisers.

"They are hired women - America is behind their protests," she said.

Basim al-Shara'a is an IWPR trainee in Baghdad.


Shia visitors to holy city pushing up real estate prices.

By Haider al-Moosawi in Najaf

Property prices in Najaf are being driven through the roof by the Shia visitors who have flocked to its holy sites since the invasion of Iraq by Coalition forces.

Home to the shrine of Imam Ali, a cousin of the prophet Mohammed and a revered figure in Shia Islam, Najaf is considered a top pilgrimage site by members of the denomination.

These include millions living across the border in Iran, who were unable to visit during the reign of Saddam Hussein.

The fall of his regime and accompanying thaw in relations between the two countries has brought with it an influx of pilgrims. And there are plans to spend 20 million US dollars on a new international airport near Najaf, with the help of a low-interest loan from Iran.

At the same time, local real estate agents and entrepreneurs say they are doing a roaring trade.

"Those experienced in religious tourism have started to buy land and buildings in order to turn them into hotels and tourist villages," said Hussein Abdullah, who owns a real estate agency. "They expect [that in the future] Iraq will be the focal point in the world."

Radha Mahdi, a merchant who left Iraq during Saddam's reign and now lives in Iran, has bought four homes and two plots of land close to the Imam Ali shrine for himself and his relatives.

"We miss our birthplace," he said. "After a year, we will come back home and settle in Najaf, and we will build hotels and commercial stores here."

In particular, customers are prepared to pay a premium for grave-space in the area around the Imam Ali shrine, home to one of the biggest cemeteries in the world. It is said that any Muslim buried near the site will go to paradise.

In the past, a 30-square-metres plot of land suitable for graves used to cost anywhere between 34 and 68 dollars. Nowadays, such plots can fetch a hundred times as much.

"People are paying more to be close to Imam Ali's shrine as families believe that such places are very holy," said real estate broker Abdul Hassan Khalaf.

Abdullah added that the climate in Najaf is currently such that even people who usually make their money trading in goods such as electric appliances, garments and foodstuffs are getting involved in the property business.

Ali Abbas is one such person. He turned to lucrative property deals after giving up his old job selling flour because of the poor security situation.

"I make very good money and the prices keep rising," he said. In one deal, Abbas bought several pieces of land totalling 200 square metres for around 4,800 dollars and sold it three months later for nearly three times as much.

"I know an Iraqi person who has nothing," he added, "but he buys land and houses for an Iranian person and he takes a small commission for each deal."

Talib Hussein also acts as an agent for people from Iran and other Gulf states wishing to buy land or homes in Iraq.

"I know that Iraq will recover from terrorism," he said, confident that such an improvement in the overall situation will mean better business for him.

For those Najaf residents who are unable to take advantage of the investment opportunities, however, the property boom is far from welcome.

Even though Majidah Ali's salary as a teacher has risen from two to 240 dollars a month since the invasion by Coalition forces, soaring costs mean she still can't afford to buy property.

"I would have to save my salary for 20 years before I could buy a small house," she said.

She added that the government ought to build cheap accommodation for those with low incomes.

Haider al-Moosawi is an IWPR trainee.


Psychiatric services under strain as cases of mental illness rise.

By Ismael Osman in Sulaimaniyah

Fadhil Abdullah lay in a hospital bed, pale and barely able to move or speak. The 29-year-old peshmerga, who had been living in Iran, had just been given electric shock for his depression, a condition that had left him unable to speak for long periods of time.

Abdullah had been at Sulaimaniyah Hospital for two weeks and, despite the harshness of his cure, is considered to be one of the lucky ones in a country where treatment options for the mentally ill are woefully inadequate.

In Sulaimaniyah, with a population of 640,000, the only place people can turn for mental health services is the local 32-bed hospital.

Patients pay 1,500 dinars (one US dollar) for each 24 hours they stay. Physicians decide who should be admitted, but because there are so few beds, some who need to be hospitalised must be treated outside.

Many patients and their families find it embarrassing to admit that a relation has a psychiatric problem, so many cases go unreported.

Experts, however, believe mental illness is on the rise, blaming the increasing violence, chaos and deterioration in living conditions. The breakdown of families as a result of the years of war has also contributed to the increase, as has the political situation, which has made people pessimistic about their future.

"As life gets complicated, the psychological state of human beings gets complicated, too," said Salah Hasan, a therapist at Sulaimaniyah Hospital.

Jamal Omer Tofiq, a psychiatrist and neurologist at the Sulaimaniyah administration's ministry of health, said 30 per cent of patients have a mental disorder.

"We should increase the number of physicians, therapists and social workers," he said. "And there should be dissemination of information on mental illness through the media, schools and humanitarian organisations."

Though progress is being made in increasing the services available to the mentally ill - the health ministry planning to build a treatment centre in Taslooja, west of Sulaimaniyah - conditions in existing facilities remain difficult.

Ghareeb Salih, 37, has spent a week in the psychiatric ward at Sulaimaniyah Hospital, where he claimed a medic switched the power off at night and threatened the patients when they said they would go to the media.

"He said 'write what you want, I'll shove my shoes in your mouth'," said Salih, who is being treated with tranquilisers for his nerves but has been told he may need electric shock therapy.

He blames his wife for his present condition. "She called me bad names and drove me out of my mind," he said.

Even if the services were available, not all Iraqis want to go to a doctor or therapist for treatment. A 34-year-old man decided to visit Imams and other religious figures to help him get through mental problems he thinks were brought on by his mother's refusal to allow him to marry the woman of his choice.

With their help, he said he has been improving. "My mother is the most powerful authority at home and because she was the decision maker, I could not get married to whom I wanted," he said. "After that I went mad. But now I treat people normally."

Ismael Osman is an IWPR trainee in Sulaimaniyah.

Created by keza
Last modified 2005-10-27 04:30 PM

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