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Last Updated: Sunday, 28 August 2005, 18:04 GMT 19:04 UK
Bush praises Iraq charter effort
Members of the Iraq draft constitution panel
The final draft follows weeks of wrangling and compromise
US President George W Bush has welcomed the completion of work on Iraq's draft constitution and played down the decision by Sunni leaders to reject it.

"Of course there's disagreement. We're watching a political process unfold, a process that's encouraged debate and compromise," he said.

Mr Bush was speaking after the final draft was read to the Iraq assembly.

Negotiators representing Iraq's Sunni minority have called for intervention by the UN and Arab league.

Call for support

Though the document was presented to parliament there was no vote - the Iraqi people will decide in a referendum, scheduled to take place by mid-October, whether to accept it.

But as the Sunni community effectively has a veto, there is a high chance the document will never come into force.

CONTROVERSIAL POINTS
Federalism, and forming of semi-autonomous regions
Terminology used to eradicate influence of former Baath regime
Structure of authority between presidency, parliament and government

For its ratification, the constitution needs the approval of a majority of voters across the country and not to be rejected by two-thirds of the voters in three or more governorates.

Mr Bush, who has attempted to involve the once dominant Sunnis in negotiations in the hope of undermining the Sunni-led insurgency, has urged Iraqis to accept the draft constitution.

"We recognise that there is a split amongst Sunnis in Iraq," he said. "Some Sunnis expressed reservations about provisions of the constitution. That's their right as free individuals living in a free society."

"It is important that all Iraqis engage in the constitutional process by debating the merits of this important document and making an informed decision on 15 October," he added.

Federal fears

Earlier, Iraq's President Jalal Talabani also called on all Iraqis to support the draft document.

CONSTITUTION SCHEDULE
15 August deadline extended twice
National referendum on constitution by mid-October
Full government elections by mid-December

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"We hope that this constitution will be accepted by all Iraqis and that it will be for everybody. We are optimistic...

"For sure there is no book that is perfect and cannot be amended except the holy Koran," he said.

But the team on the negotiation panel representing the Sunni minority are refusing to back it.

"We declare that we don't agree and we reject the articles that were mentioned in the draft and we did not reach consensus on them in what makes the draft illegitimate," they said in a statement read by Abdul-Nasser al-Janabi.

"We call upon the Arab League, the United Nations, and international organisations to intervene so that this document is not passed and so that the clear defect in it is corrected," he added.

Sunnis remain implacably opposed to provisions in the constitution which exclude former Baath party officials from public office and which pave the way towards federalism.

They are concerned that allowing for federalism may lead to the creation of an autonomous Shia area in southern Iraq - like the Kurdish north but under Iran's influence.

They fear greater autonomy for the Kurdish north and Shia south could divide the country, and compromise their share of revenues from those oil-rich regions.

Nonetheless the Sunni representatives vowed to not entirely disengage from the political process, saying that they would play an active role in the elections scheduled for December and calling on all Sunnis in Iraq to register to vote.




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President Bush on Iraq's controversial constitution



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