Iraqis 'Optimistic' on Drafting Constitution by Deadline
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 14, 2005 Iraqi leaders are confident about meeting the Aug. 15 deadline for completing a draft constitution, the top U.S. diplomat in Iraq said today.
Speaking from Baghdad earlier today on the "Fox News Sunday," NBC's "Meet the Press" and "CNN Late Edition" shows, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad noted he'd just discussed the progress of drafting the new constitution with Iraqi leaders.
"I have just come from meetings with the Iraqi leaders and they tell me they're very optimistic that they will meet the deadline," Khalilzad said on Fox.
The ambassador also said Iraqis working on the draft constitution "have resolved most of the issues that divided them when they started the process."
Khalilzad said on CNN that the Iraqis "have made a lot of progress" on the new constitution, adding they have "a couple of issues they will have to work out," such as how and in what proportions the religion of Islam and democratic principles will be employed as sources of Iraqi constitutional law.
After the draft constitution is finished, the Iraqi people will vote to approve or disapprove the document during an Oct. 15 referendum. National assembly elections are slated for December.
In order to become a successful country, it's paramount that Iraqi leaders produce "a good constitution" that is accepted by all Iraqis, Khalilzad said on Fox News Sunday.
The U.S. ambassador acknowledged that he has "proposed options for bridging the differences" during the drafting process.
Yet, "clearly the choice is theirs, the decision is theirs," Khalilzad emphasized, noting his role during the process has been "to help."
He said on CNN that he wants to assure the American people and the world community that "the Iraqi constitution will respect the rights of all Iraqis, men and women, and that the U.S., working with Iraqis, will work very hard to make sure that the human rights of Iraqis are respected in the constitution."
Khalilzad told "Meet the Press" viewers that the new constitution will also help isolate and erode the insurgency in Sunni Arab areas in Iraq. Most Sunnis are now eager to participate in the new Iraq's political process, Khalilzad pointed out, noting the Sunnis regret not getting involved in the previous elections.
And "the insurgents are trying to derail this process, but they will fail," the ambassador said.
Khalilzad also said he told Iraqi leaders that their new constitution should reflect "equality between men and women before the law." The absence of any type of discrimination in Iraqi social and political affairs "is vital," he maintained, to the success of the new Iraq.
"I have every expectation that the draft constitution will grant equal rights to men and women," Khalilzad said, noting, "our efforts and the efforts of many women here in Iraq and the international community will ultimately pay off on this score."
The ambassador said he thought temporary U.S. troop increases are possible in Iraq to provide extra security during the Oct. 15 referendum and the December elections. However, he pointed out that U.S. military commanders would make requests for any increases and President Bush would make the final decision.
Syria and Iran have been "unhelpful" and doing little to stop weapons and insurgents from entering Iraq from their borders, Khalilzad said on Fox.
"We need the states in this area to cooperate," the ambassador said, noting Syria and Iran "have to understand that Iraq will succeed" and it would be to their advantage to be helpful.
Meanwhile, the United States and its coalition partners are "working very hard to build up the Iraqi military" and police forces, Khalilzad pointed out on "Meet the Press," so that Iraqis can ultimately take responsibility for their nation's security.
As Iraqi military and policing capabilities improve, then "our forces can come down -- assuming that the insurgency doesn't increase and the political process that I describe succeeds," Khalilzad said. He added that he couldn't be specific at this time about possible timelines for U.S. troop departures from Iraq.