June 5, 2005

Sunnis Expected to Present List of Iraqi Constitution Participants

By EDWARD WONG

New York Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq, June 5 - Sunni Arab leaders are expected to present by Thursday a list of 25 to 35 Sunni Arabs willing to help draft a permanent constitution, an official with a parliamentary committee overseeing the drafting said in an interview today.

The 55-member committee, dominated by Shiite Arabs and Kurds, the two groups that won big in the January elections, would then work with those Sunni Arabs to write the constitution, said the official, Bahaa al-Aaraji, a follower of the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr. The additional Sunnis would not have formal voting power to approve or reject the draft; still, the committee of 55 would agree to approve only a draft reached through a consensus with the Sunnis, Mr. Aaraji said.

The constitutional committee, which has only two Sunni Arabs on it, is trying to work out a way to be more inclusive during the constitution-writing process. Sunni Arabs, who ruled Iraq under Saddam Hussein and are leading the insurgency, largely boycotted the elections last January and are under-represented in the National Assembly. The White House has been urging the new Iraqi government to ensure that Sunni Arabs have a fair say in the drafting of the constitution.

Last Thursday, members of the constitutional committee met in Baghdad with about 70 Sunni leaders to discuss Sunni participation. The meeting lasted four hours, and the Sunnis agreed at the end that within a week they would come up with the list of 25 to 35 names, Mr. Aaraji said. Sunni officials at the meeting included members of the Iraqi Islamic Party, Muslim Scholars Association and the Sunni Endowment, all powerful groups that wield some influence, though no single voice speaks for all the Sunnis or even the majority of them.

A draft of the constitution is due by mid-August. The National Assembly has the option of pushing back the due date, as well as elections for a full-term government, by up to six months. But American officials say they are pressuring the Iraqi government to stick with the original timetable.

Getting Sunni Arabs involved in the political process is seen as crucial to taking the edge off the insurgency. Last month was one of the bloodiest of the war, with 80 American troops and about 800 Iraqi civilians killed.

Attacks continued across central and northern Iraq today. One man was killed in the town of Buhruz, northeast of Baghdad, when gunmen drove up to a car carrying a police officer and opened fire, an Interior Ministry official said. The officer, Maj. Muhammad Azzawi, and another man in the car were injured, while the driver was killed.

Early today, gunmen sprayed the car of a policewoman in Baghdad, killing her, a police colonel told The Associated Press. On Saturday, a suicide car bomb exploded outside the northern city of Mosul, killing two police officers and injuring four. When police went to help their colleagues, a roadside bomb went off, wounding four more officers.

South of Baghdad, in the Euphrates River Valley area known as the Triangle of Death, Iraqi and American troops made raids in insurgent-friendly towns as part of the offensive known as Operation Lightning. On Thursday, about 10,000 Iraqi and American troops sealed off towns in the area, including the insurgent stronghold of Maqmudiya. The next day, troops began going house to house looking for insurgents.

By this morning, more than 200 people had been arrested, Iraqi commanders said. Troops met virtually no resistance before then, with no deaths reported.

In Washington, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. said in a telephone interview that military commanders in Iraq privately told a congressional delegation visiting Iraq last Monday that it will take about two years before enough Iraqi security forces are sufficiently trained to allow the Pentagon to withdraw large numbers of American troops.

"No one said you can draw down significantly in less than two years," Mr. Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said after returning from the visit to Iraq with half-dozen other lawmakers. "What these guys were saying to me was, 'We've got to level with the American people.' "

Mr. Biden said military officials had told lawmakers that there are now 107 Iraqi police or military battalions in uniform, but that only three are "fully operational," meaning able to perform largely independent operations. Twenty of the battalions are "partially operational," or able to perform missions in tandem with American units. The rest, he said, are in various states of training and have varying degrees of utility.

He added that American commanders told him that the 139,000 American forces on the ground were not enough to perform all the necessary missions in Iraq, including tightening up the nation's porous borders, and that they were not expecting any sizable increases in American troop strength.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington for this article and Sabrina Tavernise contributed from Maqmudiya, Iraq.

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