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Drafters of Iraq's Constitution Consider Seeking Extension

JACKI LYDEN, host:

An Iraqi committee drafting the country's new constitution spent today discussing whether they need more time to complete the task. The US is pressing them to meet an August 15th deadline for delivering the draft to the National Assembly, a key step in the path towards establishing a permanent elected government in Iraq. NPR's Philip Reeves is in our Baghdad bureau, and he's been following today's events.

Hi, Phil.

PHILIP REEVES reporting:

Hi.

LYDEN: Did today's discussions produce any results?

REEVES: No, and they really are taking this up to the wire. If this committee's going to ask the Iraqi parliament for more time, they are required by the transitional laws to do so by tomorrow. Now today the committee was talking about asking for up to a month extra time, but there were no decisions, it seems. So they're going to meet again in the morning.

LYDEN: Now there had been reports that perhaps after consulting with the US ambassador, President Jalal al-Talabani had said, `No, no, we can meet this deadline after all.'

REEVES: That's right. And, indeed, President Talabani appeared with the US ambassador. Both the US and Talabani are pressing the committee hard on this issue, but there are fundamental differences here involved in the writing of the constitution. They are fraught with sectarian rivalries, complicated by distrust from the Saddam years. And, of course, the biggest unsettled issue of all is about separation of power and the revenues from natural resources, particularly oil, between Iraq's regions and the central government.

LYDEN: So, Phil, what happens next?

REEVES: The committee seems to be leaning towards trying to stick to the August 15th deadline. Now that'll please the US--as we said, you know, they've been piling on the pressure--on the grounds that sticking to the timetable and showing that political progress is being made will help undermine the insurgency that's as violent as ever, if not more so. But there may be an unusual twist in this saga. One senior committee member told NPR tonight that it'll meet the deadline and hand in the constitution to Parliament and, bending the rules somewhat, then ask for an extension of a few weeks. And if they don't apply for more time tomorrow and then fail to submit a constitution to Parliament by 15th of August, Iraq's transitional law states there'll have to be new elections. So there's a lot at stake.

LYDEN: NPR's Philip Reeves speaking to us from Baghdad.

Thanks very much, Phil.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.
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