Constitutional talks to begin homestretch
The August 15 deadline is approaching fast before the final draft is ready.  Kurdish autonomy and state-religion relations still need ironing out.

Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The deadline for Iraq's constitution is August 15. The country's leading political figures met yesterday at the Baghdad residence of President Jalal Talabani, an ethnic Kurd, in the first talks designed to sort out disagreements over the country's draft constitution.

The main issues on the table that need ironing out are the status of Iraqi Kurdistan, state-religion relations, state-region oil revenue-sharing, language, the country's official name and the rights of women.

Kurds, who represent the second largest ethnic block in parliament, back federalism to maintain the autonomy they have enjoyed since the 1991's First Gulf War; hence, their demand that the country become the "Federal Republic of Iraq".

They also want the oil-rich province of Kirkuk, which was subjected to a policy of Arabisation under Saddam Hussein, be included in their own territory. Arab Sunnis and Shiites jointly oppose such inclusion.

Kurds equally demand that their language be recognised as an official language of the Iraqi state.

By contrast, Shiites are divided. Some Shiites support the federal idea but are more inclined towards an "Islamic Federal Republic of Iraq" with Arabic as its official language and Islam as the bases of its constitution.

Others, like the Supreme Council of the Islamic revolution, demand an outright Islamic republic.

Some voices like those of current Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafaari and his predecessor Iyad Allawi are more moderate.

In a meeting with PM al-Jafaari, moderate Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has recently said that Islam (but not alone) should play a role in the constitution.

Although they are second largest ethnic group in the country, Sunnis are politically divided.

They are back at the negotiating table after walking out in protest on July 19 for the murder of three of their leaders in a Baghdad restaurant.

As Sunni MP Kamal Hamdan recently suggested, Sunnis want the issue of federalism to be dealt with after US withdrawal and the constitution is approved

Christians, who are just 3 per cent of the population (1 per cent baptised Catholics) and have two representatives in 70-member commission that is drafting the constitution, are working with secular leaders to prevent the rise of a confessional state.

Mgr Rabban al-Qas, Bishop of Amadiyah and Arbil, said in a recent interview with AsiaNews that "the presence of Kurds and Sunnis will put a brake on any Islamic Republic".

President Talabani said yesterday that "we will continue the meetings until a complete resolution is found".