Shuttle Diplomacy In Najaf Efforts

Shuttle Diplomacy in Najaf

Efforts continued Saturday to iron out differences on the Interim Governing Council about two provisions of the Basic Law, says ash-Sharq al-Awsat Seven Shiite members consulted with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Najaf. The ayatollah is said to be unhappy with a provision that would allow any three provinces, by a two-thirds majority, to reject the constitution scheduled to be crafted in 2005. This provision would clearly allow Sunni Kurds or Sunni Arabs to stop implementation of any constitution they felt was too favorable to Shiite law. Sistani also objected to the current plan to have a president and two vice presidents. He wants 5 presidents, 3 of them Shiites, and one each for the Kurds and Sunnis, according to al-Hayat.

I can’t understand why Sistani wants 5 presidents, and I actually suspect that it is Shiite IGC members who came up with this formula and put it in Sistani’s mouth. As Borzou Daragahi reports, Sistani is a quietist and doesn’t believe that clerics should rule. The main beneficiaries of a 5-man presidency are people like Ahmad Chalabi, who probably could not get selected president, but who want to ensure for themselves some sort of high executive post.

al-Hayat: It was striking that the Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, affirmed that the Shiite reservations about the text of the constitution served “foreign parties.” He rejected a Shiite demand that the presidential council be expanded to five members, emphasizing that the Kurds would cling to their veto over any permanent constitution in order to prevent a “dictatorship of the majority.” AP said ‘a Kurdish official said his side would not consent to changing the clause, which was agreed to by the entire council when it approved the constitution on Monday after several days of intense debate. “We are sticking to it because it’s a legitimate demand,” Kosrat Rasul, an official in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of two main Kurdish parties on the council, said.

In contrast, Hamid Bayati of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq objected to the current provision where by any three provinces can, by a 2/3s majority vote, veto any new constitution crafted next year. He said that some of the Iraqi provinces only have a few hundred thousand inhabitants, and it wasn’t right that they could veto the constitution of 25 million persons.

March’s president of the IGC, Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum, insisted that an agreement would be signed by Monday, but many observers were skeptical.

Ash-Sharq al-Awsat quoted anonymous American sources saying that a third delay in the signing might be disastrous. In its wake, the IGC members may feel everything is now up for renegotiation.