Iraq’s feuding ethnic, sectarian divisions make move toward constitutional reform

An Iraqi private security guard stands guard as the sun sets over the fortified Green Zone, in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday. Manish Swarup, The Associated Press

An Iraqi private security guard stands guard as the sun sets over the fortified Green Zone, in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday. Manish Swarup, The Associated Press

By Qassim Abdul-Zahra

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraq’s feuding ethnic and sectarian groups moved ahead Monday with forming a committee to consider amending the constitution after their leaders agreed to delay any division of the country into autonomous states until 2008.

As legislators formed a 27-member committee to begin talking about amending Iraq’s constitution, official observances of Ramadan were punctuated with violence around the country.

British forces, meanwhile, reported they had killed Omar al-Farouq, a top militant leader, identified by Iraqi officials as an al-Qaida leader who had escaped from a U.S. prison in Afghanistan and returned to Iraq.

Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish political leaders in parliament formed the constitutional committee, which will take about a year to review any changes and get them approved – first by parliament and then by referendum.

A separate Shiite-sponsored federalism bill will be read to the legislature Tuesday and then debated for two days before parliament breaks for the Iraqi weekend. The legislation would be read again, with any changes made by legislators, Oct. 1.

A vote would come four days after the second reading, with the bill needing a simple majority for passage. If approved, it would be implemented 18 months later.

The deal was a victory for Sunni Arabs, who had been fighting the federalism bill proposed by Shiite cleric Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the United Iraqi Alliance. They fear that if not amended, it will splinter the country and deny them a share of Iraq’s oil, which is found in the predominantly Kurdish north and the heavily Shiite south.