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Iraqis Set to Meet Constitutional Deadline


And now an update on the situation in Iraq. Several members of the committee drafting a constitution for the country said today they expect that document to be ready tomorrow, a day ahead of the deadline. NPR's Philip Reeves is following the story from Baghdad.

Hi, Phil.

PHILIP REEVES reporting:


LUDDEN: So there's so many thorny issues putting together this constitution--the role of Shariah, Islamic law; semiautonomy for the Kurds in the north. Do we know, has the committee hammered these points out?

REEVES: Well, they've certainly been hammering at these points. Whether they've actually resolved them entirely is far from clear. There are many mixed messages emerging at the moment from the people involved in these negotiations. The president, Jalal Talabani, has said that he expects to have a constitution ready by tomorrow, and there are optimistic words from other members of the negotiating process too. But at the same time, we've been talking today to people who are involved who've been extremely pessimistic about whether they have an agreement, particularly Sunni Arabs who believe that there are many things yet to resolve concerning the issue of federalism in particular. And it appears that there are also some question marks as to whether the people involved in these talks have really sorted out other key issues, such as the role of Islam as a basis for making law. So I don't think this is a done deal yet.

LUDDEN: Well, Phil, do they actually have to come up with answers to these issues, or can they kind of fudge it and leave that to a future government?

REEVES: It may well be that that's exactly what they choose to do. We're hearing from people who are involved that they will put off some of the key issues until there's a permanent government elected in December. The Sunni Arabs are quite keen on that solution because they say that they expect to have a larger representation in Parliament at that stage; therefore, it's assumed by them that they may have more negotiating power over key issues such as federalism. Having said that, it does appear that they have made some progress, particularly over settling the issue of the autonomy of the Kurds, who've enjoyed autonomy since 1991 in the north, and it seems to be accepted by the Sunnis and the Shia that they will continue to have that autonomy.

LUDDEN: This week Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld spoke about the urgency of getting this constitution finished by Monday's deadline, and he said that it would persuade Iraqis they have a real stake in their country and even possibly be a tool against the terrorists there. Do you sense this same sense of urgency about this constitution among Iraqis?

REEVES: Not particularly, no. I mean, I think they are very interested in it. They're very interested particularly in the question of whether there'll be a federal Iraq or not and whether the south will devolve and become a separate federal region. That is an issue, especially in Baghdad, amongst the Sunni Arabs that really is preoccupying them. But at the same time, there is a slight disillusionment in the political process at the moment. There is a feeling, I think--and, you know, this is just what one detects by talking to Iraqis on the street in restricted circumstances in which journalists work--that the government of Ibrahim Al-Jafari is particularly ineffectual. People here are still finding life very tough with electricity power cuts and long queues for gasoline and so on. So I don't think anyone here is necessarily convinced that this is, you know, a magic solution. And at the same time, it should be said that they're not so naive after two and a half years of this to believe that the insurgency will suddenly fade away.

LUDDEN: NPR's Phil Reeves in Baghdad. Thank you.

REEVES: You're welcome. 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.

Jennifer Ludden helps edit energy and environment stories for NPR's National Desk, working with NPR staffers and a team of public radio reporters across the country. They track the shift to clean energy, state and federal policy moves, and how people and communities are coping with the mounting impacts of climate change.
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.