New Iraqi Constitution Advances Democracy, U.S. Ambassador Says

Draft reflects reconciliation of Islamic traditions, democracy principles

By Howard Cincotta
Washington File Special Correspondent

Washington -- The new draft Iraqi constitution protects the principles of human rights and democracy while also recognizing the nation's Islamic traditions and heritage, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, said in televised interviews August 28 on NBC's Meet the Press and CNN's Late Edition.

Asked about the views of the Sunni population, Khalilzad predicted on CNN's Late Edition that some Sunni leaders will support it while others will have difficulties with certain aspects of the draft.

"I don't think we will know the Sunni reaction authoritatively for a few more days and weeks perhaps," Khalilzad said. "If we get Sunni buy-in to the draft, then this would become a national compact, and the draft will be very helpful in moving Iraq forward."

Constitutions such as those of the United States change and adapt over time, Khalilzad pointed out on NBC's Meet the Press, and the Iraqi constitution is no different.

The Sunnis did not get all that they wanted, but neither did other communities in Iraq, Khalilzad said on CNN. "A constitution is not a party platform; it's a common road map, a compact where points of agreement are emphasized," he added.

On Meet the Press, Khalilzad defended the draft constitution as representing "a new consensus between the universal principles of democracy and human rights, and Iraqi traditions in Islam."

For example, the draft constitution recognizes equality between men and women, prohibits domestic violence and grants a minimum of 25 percent representation for women in the National Assembly, he said.

Khalilzad acknowledged that provisions relating to family and personal law are controversial, but said that the new constitution recognizes freedom of choice, meaning that individuals can choose whether to be governed by secular or religious law -- as is the case in other nations.

Contrary to some claims, he said on Meet the Press, the current draft does not grant special authority to religious judges, but calls for expertise in both secular and Islamic law to be represented in the Supreme Court. The specifics will have to be worked out in legislation by the next parliament, according to Khalilzad.

Khalilzad noted on CNN that courts will have no right of prior review of legislation. If laws are contested as unconstitutional, they will move through the legal process to the Supreme Court in the normal manner. "That was a very vital change that took place in the last three days," he said.

"The insurgents have declared war on the constitution. They have declared war on the election," Khalilzad said on Meet the Press, adding that he was particularly sensitive to the pressures upon the Sunni community, who are facing intimidation and violence.

"But it is time for them, for the interests of their people, to join the political process," he said. "Not everyone loves every article of this document. Not everyone is totally satisfied. But there is enough in this constitution that meets the basic needs of all communities and for Iraq to move forward."

On CNN, Khalilzad said, "I urge the Sunni Arabs to take a look at the final draft, to consider the protections that this draft provides for Iraqi citizens. The checks and balances that are inherent in the constitution, that protect minorities against a government that may be dominated by one faction because of the numbers that they have."

U.S. Ambassador Congratulates Iraqi Leaders on Draft Constitution

Khalilzad says submission sets stage for "historic debate" among Iraqis

Following is the text of Khalilzad's statement:

(begin text)

[U.S. Embassy Baghdad]
August 28, 2005


The completed draft of the constitution provides a vision for the future, one based on democratic values and Iraqi traditions. It is a good document. I congratulate the Iraqi leaders who worked so hard and so long to arrive at this moment.

The submission of this complete draft sets the stage for a historic debate among Iraqis about how to institutionalize their new democracy.

-- The draft constitution protects human equality and human rights.

-- It establishes checks, balances, and the separation of powers.

-- The draft constitution protects the unity of Iraq through federalism. The Kurdish region has not been part of Iraq for many years. Kurdish leaders are bringing their region back into Iraq of their own free will. It is through the principle of federalism that this reintegration of Iraq is possible.

-- The draft constitution establishes the full equality of men and women before the law and equality of opportunity for all Iraqis.

-- Women have the right to participate fully in public affairs, and electoral laws will be designed to ensure that 25 percent of members of parliament are women.

-- The draft constitution is one of the most progressive governing documents in the Muslim world in terms of its protections of the right of religious freedom and conscience.

-- It is based on an enlightened synthesis of universal human rights and democratic values and Iraqi traditions, including Islam.

Iraqis from all communities should review the draft. As the draft has evolved through negotiations, there has been much misinformation and disinformation about its content. Iraqis should read it, debate it, and decide for themselves how to vote on October 15.

This draft constitution - like all constitutions, including the U.S. Constitution - is a living document. It is designed to address Iraq's present political circumstances and based on the present configuration of political forces, but it can and must evolve to address changing circumstances and new challenges in the future.

If the draft constitution is approved in the referendum, it will become a common vision for Iraq and a national compact for Iraqis.

(end text)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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