Iraqi constitution almost ready

BAGHDAD (AFP) — Iraq said Wednesday its post-Saddam constitution would be ready within two weeks despite sustained rebel attacks that saw the killing of two Sunni members of the charter’s drafting committee.
Another 15 people lost their lives on Wednesday, including eight killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the gates of an army recruiting centre in Baghdad, the latest attack against the country’s security forces.

Constitution committee chairman Hamoun Hammadi said the document would be ready to go to parliament by August 1, ahead of the August 15 deadline, before going to a referendum on October 15.

“There has been an agreement about all the basic issues, including the basic principles, rights, duties and freedoms,” he told reporters. “The only point left is that of federalism which aroused some concerns and fears.”

The national assembly will then debate the draft and submit amendments in time for a final vote on August 15, marking a milestone in Iraq’s political transition following the March 2003 US-led invasion and the toppling of Saddam.

Hammadi’s announcement came despite the killing of two Sunni Arabs involved in the drafting which led to resignation of four other Sunni members of the commission and raised doubt about its ability to prepare the charter on time.

Dhamin Hussein and Aziz Ibrahim, among 15 prominent Sunni Arabs from outside parliament invited to work on the panel drafting the document, were gunned down in Baghdad Tuesday.

“The time is not right for writing the constitution and we think it is not possible for us to continue working in such an atmosphere,” said Salah Mutlaq, a spokesman for the Sunni-based National Dialogue Council, which groups a number of small Sunni parties.

The minority Sunni Arabs, who were dominant under Saddam, are underrepresented in parliament because they largely boycotted elections in January and are considered the backbone of the insurgency.

The Shiites and Kurds, who dominate parliament and the government, are pushing to safeguard their interests and incorporate into the constitution their own vision of the future Iraq.

The Shiite bloc wants to give Islam a prominent role, while Kurds want a federal system granting them the northern oil city of Kirkuk.

The New York Times said the draft of the constitution was aiming to curtail women’s rights, impose the Sharia or Koranic law in personal matters like marriage, divorce and inheritance, as well as curb their representation in parliament.

It said legal rights for women will be guaranteed, as long as they do not “violate Sharia,” meaning that Shiite women could not marry without their family’s permission and that husbands could divorce them simply by saying so out loud three times.

As Iraq remembered the dead from some of the worst bombings of a recent frenzy, rebels continued their attacks, with eight killed in the army recruiting centre bombing and another seven in attacks elsewhere.

“I was standing opposite the entrance to the base, near the park, where those wanting to join up are expected to wait as a safety measure, when a fat young man wearing a grey T-shirt called out for everyone to come forward to answer questions on how the centre worked,” said Rahim Ashuan, one of the would-be recruits.

“Just then I got scared and moved away with some of my friends. A few seconds later there was an enormous explosion and I was sent flying. I passed out and woke up here,” he said.

The blast came 10 days after another suicide bomber killed at least 21 would-be recruits waiting at the same gate.

A three-minute silence was observed to commemorate the deaths of 32 children in Baghdad last week when a suicide bomber blew himself up as US soldiers handed out chocolates and for the 83 dead when another bomber blew up a propane gas tanker in Musayyib, south of the capital.

The terrorists “feel that by killing our children we will bow down,” Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari told parliament in a televised broadcast, flanked by his Cabinet ministers.

“But the people of Iraq have faced a dictatorial regime for three decades and they will not bow down.”

US military sources said two insurgents linked to gas-tanker attack were killed and a third arrested in a Sunni village near Musayyib.

Three British soldiers were charged for prisoner abuse with one, Corporal Donald Payne, facing manslaughter charges over the death of a 26-year-old hotel receptionist Baha Mousa in the southern Iraq city of Basra in September 2003.

Turkey warned it was losing patience over the safe haven that armed Kurdish Labour Party (PKK) rebels enjoyed in northern Iraq, saying it may carry out a military incursion.

The PKK responded with a threat to turn northern Iraq into a “quagmire” for the Turkish army if it launches cross-border operations to clean up on guerrilla camps.

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