THE extreme pressure exerted by the United States to insist that the committee drafting Iraq's new constitution should finish its work by August 15 appears to have produced results. The chairman of the 71member committee, Sheik Human Hammudi, said yesterday that the deadline could be met although one chapter remained to be written. The Sheik has obviously listened to what US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had to say to him on his flying visit last week. He has also been under pressure from America's new ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalizad, who has used his recent experience in Afghanistan where he was the US envoy, to draw the lesson that If good faith efforts are made, with a spirit of realism, flexibility and compromise, even fundamental divides can be bridged. The United States is desperate to keep the political momentum going in Iraq; if it stalls the possibility of a civil war is very real and the prospects of an early US withdrawal slim. On the other hand, to push for a constitution which is a fudge for the sake of a pre-set timetable could just as easily lead to a later, and perhaps more profound, civil war. The time table for the constitution is now that draft will be completed by August 15 for approval by the interim assembly within two weeks; it will be put to a national referendum in midOctober and if approved full governmnet elections will follow in mid-December. Very few outside observers share Sheik Human Hammudi's optimism about the progress his committee will make in the next few days. The outstanding issues are fundamental; the role of Islam in a new Iraqi state, including the adoption of Sharia law and the rights of women, and the degree of devolution from the centre, especially to the Kurds. Crucial differences remain between Kurds, Shias and Sunnis. Ambassador Khalilzad has urged each of the main ethnic and religious groups to accept less than its maximum aspirations but there is little in Iraq's recent history to suggest that any of them are likely to adopt his suggestion.
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