Iraqi Constitution Stalls

Iraq's National Assembly votes unanimously for a seven day extension for the constitution draft on the eve of the original deadline, Monday, Aug. 15, 2005, in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban/Pool)
Iraqi leaders failed to meet a key deadline Monday to finish a new constitution, stalling over the same fundamental issues of power-sharing — including federalism, oil wealth and Islam's impact on women — that have bedeviled the country since Saddam Hussein's ouster.

Just 20 minutes before midnight, parliament voted to give negotiators another seven days, until Aug. 22, to try to draft the charter. The delay was a strong rebuff of the Bush administration's insistence that the deadline be met, even if some issues were unresolved, to maintain political momentum and blunt Iraq's deadly insurgency.

"We should not be hasty regarding the issues and the constitution should not be born crippled," said Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite, after the parliament session, which lasted a bare 15 minutes. "We are keen to have an early constitution, but the constitution should be completed in all of its items."

Al-Jaafari's statement came after an apparent deal late Monday on all but two key issues fell apart, according to several Shiite politicians.

The Shiites said the unresolved issues were women's rights, which is inextricably tied to Islam's role, and the right of Kurds to eventually secede from the country. But al-Jaafari said the key stumbling blocks were distribution of oil wealth and federalism, another, broader way of stating the Kurdish autonomy issue.

The confusion over outstanding issues — as well as negotiators' seeming inability to agree even on what they disagreed on — left unclear whether they will now reopen talks on all issues or just focus on a few.

In other developments:

  • Iraqi commandos were led to a grave containing 30 bodies in the Owerij industrial district in southern Baghdad after interrogating insurgents detained in a raid earlier in the day, Col. Selam al-Maamuri of the Interior Ministry said.
  • Violence also continued during Monday's negotiations. One Iraqi soldier was killed and another injured in an insurgent ambush in west Baghdad, police Capt. Talib Thamir said.
  • In Khalis, 50 miles north of Baghdad, gunmen killed three people in separate shootings, including a municipal council member and his driver, police said. Four others were wounded.
  • In the nearby town of Buhriz, gunmen killed three Iraqi soldiers and wounded three others at a checkpoint late Sunday, police said. In Khanaqin, near the Iranian border, a roadside bomb killed one civilian on Sunday, police said.
  • In Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, the body of a government food program worker was found, police said.
  • In the capital, a senior Iraqi Central Bank official, Haseeb Kadum, was kidnapped Sunday outside his home, police 1st Lt. Thaer Mahmoud said. The beheaded body of an unidentified woman also was found in the violent southern neighborhood of Dora, Mahmoud added.

    Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took a delay in completion of an Iraqi constitution in stride Monday and said "they needed a little more time" to work out compromises.

    The process is working in an orderly fashion and "I believe they are going to finish this," Rice said.

    She told reporters at the State Department the Iraqis had made "substantial progress" and the task of emerging from years of tyranny was necessarily complicated.

    Even before Iraqi politicians extended the deadline to complete a draft constitution, the Bush administration was trying to lower expectations. Said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack: "You don't always get it right the first time around."