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Inside the Iraqi constitution: 3 main points still in dispute

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BAGHDAD — Iraqi legislators were scheduled to vote on a draft constitution Thursday, even though Sunni Arab leaders continue to voice sharp differences with Kurdish and Shiite lawmakers. That vote has been delayed, a parliamentary spokesman said Thursday

Some key questions and answers about the state of the constitutional process and the outstanding issues:

Q: What major issues have been agreed to?

A: Representatives of Iraq's three main factions — Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds — have agreed to wording describing how Islam will influence legislation, the distribution of oil revenue and the government's structure.

Q: What issues are still being debated?

A: As of Wednesday, three main points were in dispute: federalism, or allowing semi-autonomous regions within Iraq; the mention of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party in the constitution; and the division of power among the president, parliament and Cabinet.

Q: What does the constitution say now about federalism?

A: The constitution allows for one or more of Iraq's 18 provinces to hold a referendum and form a "region" that will enjoy limited autonomy, allowing them to form a parliament, ministries and budget, says Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish legislator who is on the constitutional committee.

The provision was included as a way to acknowledge the Kurdistan region to the north, which has enjoyed de-facto autonomy since 1991, Othman says. Sunni leaders have warned it will lead to other breakaway regions and the ultimate splintering of Iraq. They want the provision narrowly applied to Kurdistan, Othman says. Shiites and Kurds want the option open to all provinces.

Q: What does the constitution say about purging Baathists from government positions?

A: The Baath Party, which ruled Iraq for nearly four decades, is prohibited from being recognized as a political entity. The De-Baathification Commission, a group created two years ago to weed out former Baath leaders from government, is allowed to continue its work.

Q:Why do Sunnis object?

A: Sunni Arabs dominated the ranks of the Baath Party, giving them a stranglehold on power despite making up about 20% of Iraq's population. Sunni representatives argue that only Baath leaders accused or convicted of crimes should be barred from government, Othman says.

Q: What has been decided about distributing oil revenue?

A: The constitution currently says the central government in Baghdad will distribute oil and gas revenue to the regions based on population. But poorer regions and those neglected under Saddam's rule will also initially get a higher cut, the draft says. Sunni leaders worry that means more money for Shiite and Kurdish areas.

Q: What does the constitution say about the role of Islam?

A: The draft identifies Islam as "a major source" of legislation and prohibits the creation of laws that contradict its teachings. It also prohibits the creation of laws that contradict democratic principles and basic human rights, a provision secular Iraqis hope bars Iraq from becoming a hard-line Islamic theocracy like Iran.

Kurds, who are Sunni Muslim and generally secular, joined Sunnis in opposing the strong Islamic state advocated by some Shiites.

One of the most contentious issues has been the placing of "experts" on sharia, or Islamic law, on the Iraqi Supreme Court. The exact number of experts and the method of choosing them will be assigned by a law enacted by a two-thirds vote in the national assembly.

Also at issue was whether to have sharia judges administrating civil cases, such as marriages, divorces and estates. On Wednesday, negotiators agreed to let individuals choose the type of judge to hear their case, Othman says.

Q: Is it unusual for Islamic law to be reflected in the constitutions of Arab states?

A: Egypt, Oman, Yemen, Kuwait, Syria and Saudi Arabia are among the Arab nations in which Islamic law plays a central role. Those countries vary, however, in how strictly Islamic law is applied.

Q. What does the constitution say about the role of women?

A. The draft constitution pledges to "pay attention to women and their rights." It also requires that no less than 25% of the seats in the assembly be reserved for women. The constitution does not mandate religious courts, which can limit the rights of women in inheritance, marriage and other issues, but it allows people to choose between civil and religious courts.

Q: Why are Kurds and Shiites so concerned about appeasing Sunnis?

A: Kurdish and Shiite political groups hold 258 seats in the 275-member National Assembly and could pass the constitution. But the referendum could be voted down if two-thirds of voters in three provinces reject it. Sunnis dominate at least three of Iraq's provinces.

Additionally, U.S. and Iraqi officials have been striving to include Sunnis into the political process as a key strategy in dismantling the mostly Sunni-driven insurgency.

Q: What happens if the constitution is rejected by voters in the Oct. 15 referendum?

A: Under Iraq's transitional law, the parliament dissolves if the referendum fails. Elections for another transitional government will be held before Dec. 15 and the political process starts over.

If it passes, general elections are held by Dec. 15 for a permanent government. Iraq's new legislators take office by Dec. 31.

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

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