U.S. Ambassador Details Negotiations for Iraqi Constitution
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 16, 2005 Officials working to create a draft Iraqi constitution believed "until the very end" that the draft would be finished on time, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, who has been working closely with the Iraqis, said today.
About 20 minutes before an Aug. 15 deadline to approve a draft constitution passed, Iraqi National Assembly members voted to extend the deadline by seven days.
"It was not finished because a couple of issues were not agreed to in detail," Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said in a news conference in Baghdad, Iraq.
Khalilzad said officials also had some administrative concerns about the document. As changes were submitted from various parties, there may have been confusion in what was to be in the final document, he explained.
"Given the pressure of time and the fact that everyone ... was tired, there was a concern that all the changes that were made were not, perhaps, reflected in the text and that language may not also be appropriately edited," he said.
The ambassador noted that he had found one instance of articles that had been eliminated reappearing in the final draft.
He said officials decided to take some extra time to finish the job right rather than to accept what they had and fine-tune it later.
Khalilzad listed the areas in which negotiators agreed and those in which there was still work needed to reach an agreement. Members of the committee drafting the constitution have agreed on basic rights of Iraqi citizens, the role of Islam in government, the structure of the government.
Negotiation still is needed on the level of federalism and on powers of the president and prime minister, he said.
Despite press reports, Kurdish independence is "not on the table" and is not a sticking point in negotiations, Khalilzad said. "Nobody has raised, in any meeting that I have been involved in, the issue of (Kurdish) independence or separation from Iraq," he said. "Kurdish leaders have said repeatedly they want to be a participant, a stakeholder, a shareholder in this new Iraq."
Khalilzad said he is encouraged by the level of compromise negotiators already have reached and optimistic that officials will agree on a draft constitution within the added week.
"Based on my detailed knowledge of the state of discussion among the Iraqi leaders and the agreements that have been arrived at already with regard to key issues and what remains, I believe that an agreement will be arrived at if the leaders continue with the attitude of compromising, putting oneself in the shoe of the other side ... looking at options, (and) not remaining stuck with positions that may have been appropriate for a different set of circumstances," he said.
The ambassador has been very involved in discussions over the new constitution, not directing events, but offering assistance to bridge differences, he said. He explained that even though this is an Iraqi-led process, it's in America's best interest for him to help resolve any issues he can.
"I'm not going to stand by if they need my help to say, 'Well, no, you sink or swim on your own, don't call me,' or, 'Take an aspirin and call me tomorrow,'" Khalilzad said. "No. I'm going to say, 'I'm available.'"
Khalilzad said he's "not going to be shy about" the fact that the United States "has a lot at stake" in Iraq. "We want Iraq to succeed," he said. "A lot of American treasure and blood has been spent there."