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Iraqi Politicians Work to Draft Constitution

JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:

We'll come back to this story in a few moments, but first an update on another approaching deadline. Tomorrow Iraq's National Assembly is supposed to receive a draft constitution laying the foundations for the new post-Saddam Iraq. NPR's Philip Reeves reports from Baghdad.

PHILIP REEVES reporting:

Time has almost run out. For weeks leaders of Iraq's Shia, Sunnis and Kurds have been negotiating over the document that will form the cornerstone of their nation. Fundamental issues are at stake: the role of Islam; the division of power between the central government and the regions; the sharing out of oil revenues; the national languages; the country's name. Yet though they are now supposed to be in the final hours of negotiations, Iraq's politicians today couldn't even decide on exactly what they'd decided. Some say critical questions are now settled; others say the opposite. Dr. Ali Adib is a Shiite member of the committee set up to draft the constitution.

Dr. ALI ADIB (Iraqi Constitutional Committee Member): (Foreign language spoken)

REEVES: He thinks that by tomorrow the arguing will be over and a draft constitution will be ready to go before the National Assembly. Mahmoud Othman, a Kurd, is much more skeptical.

Mr. MAHMOUD OTHMAN (Iraqi Constitutional Committee Member): (Foreign language spoken)

REEVES: `If you're expecting a comprehensive constitution, it won't be tomorrow,' he says. He thinks some issues will be put off and tackled at a later date.

The biggest sticking points are over whether Iraq should be a federation and whether Islam should be the main basis of law. The once-powerful Sunni Arab minority seems to accept the Kurds of the north will keep their autonomy. But they're worried the constitution could lay the ground to allow the Shia to follow the Kurdish model, carving out a federal region of their own in the south, which includes the rich oil reserves. Dr. Adnan Pachachi, a veteran Sunni politician who recently returned to Iraq, is among those who fear that federalism will lead to the breakup of the country.

Dr. ADNAN PACHACHI (Sunni Politician): It must have a clear statement that certain things have to be done by the central government and only by the central government.

REEVES: Inside the Green Zone, the sprawling fortress city within Baghdad, where the Americans and the transitional Iraqi government have their headquarters, US officials have been piling on the pressure. The US wants the deadline to be met. It believes that as insurgents continue their onslaught, it's critical to keep up the political momentum and not let the country drift even more.

The new US ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been tirelessly doing the rounds. He's pushing, for example, for a constitution where Islamic Shariah law isn't the sole basis for legislation, at the expense of women's rights. Washington is keen for certain terms to be met. It doesn't want to see an autonomous Shiite region in the south run by clerics close to Iran. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Baghdad.

LUDDEN: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.