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Iraqis to Take 3 More Days to Resolve Constitutional Issues

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 22, 2005 – Iraq's National Assembly accepted a draft constitution today and will take the next three days to review the document and hammer out remaining differences before voting on it, the assembly spokesman announced today.

Hajim al-Hassani announced just minutes before today's midnight deadline that the assembly had accepted the document from the constitutional drafting committee.

The move came over the objections of Sunni Arabs, who oppose some provisions and have threatened to vote against it during the national referendum if the National Assembly approves the constitution in its current state, according to news reports.

Key sticking points involve federalism, the distribution of Iraq's oil wealth and the role of Islam in the new government, news reports said.

Hassani reflected the Iraqi National Assembly's goal of reflecting all Iraqis' interests in the new constitution. "There is a determination by all parties that there should be a consensus among all parties," he said, noting that the assembly members "will try, God willing, to reach the consensus over some of the points that are still outstanding."

Negotiators worked through the day to come up with a compromise, but as the clock ticked toward midnight, they opted to deliver the draft constitution to the National Assembly. The Iraqi Transitional Administrative Law had set an Aug. 15 deadline for the National Assembly to approve a draft constitution. However, the Iraqi parliament voted within 20 minutes of that deadline to extend it by seven days, until midnight today, or 4 p.m. Eastern time.

Once the National Assembly approves the draft constitution, it will be put to a national referendum by Oct. 15. If the Iraqi people ratify the constitution, parliamentary elections will be held by Dec. 15 to elect a permanent government.

However, if any three of Iraq's 18 provinces reject the draft constitution by two-thirds or more, the constitution will be defeated.

"Producing a constitution is a difficult process that involves debate and compromise," President Bush acknowledged during a speech earlier today at the Veterans of Foreign Wars' National Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The president noted that the 1787 U.S. Constitutional Convention "was home to political rivalries and regional disagreements," and that the document they ultimately produced "has been amended many times over."

"So Americans understand the challenges facing the framers of Iraq's new constitution," Bush said. "We admire their thoughtful deliberations. We salute their determination to lay the foundation for lasting democracy amid the ruins of a brutal dictatorship."

All Iraq's main ethnic and religious groups cooperated in the project, with all making "the courageous choice to join the political process, ...(to) produce a constitution that reflects the values and traditions of the Iraqi people," the president said.

A democratic constitution, once approved, "will be a landmark event in the history of Iraq and the history of the Middle East," he said.

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