BAGHDAD, Iraq – Sunni Muslims laid out the demands Thursday that they say must be met by the Iraqi government if they are to rejoin the committee drafting a permanent national constitution, warning that it would be a dire mistake to move ahead without Sunni participation.
The 14 surviving Sunni delegates to the constitutional committee suspended their membership Wednesday, a day after one of their number and a Sunni legal adviser to the committee were gunned down in broad daylight.
“Unless you bring in all the people in the country, you can not write a constitution,” said Saleh Mutlak, one of the Sunnis on the constitutional committee.
The Sunnis asked U.S. diplomats in Baghdad to intervene on their behalf with the Shiites and Kurds who together comprise an overwhelming majority on the 71-member committee. “They should tell the others, ‘We supported you, but we are not ready to support you more unless you become reasonable,’ and only the Americans can make them reasonable,” Mutlak said.
Top officials at the U.S. Embassy here met Wednesday with the Sunnis and were holding discussions with other groups today in an effort to patch the committee back together.
Sunni demands include the appointment of an international committee to investigate the assassination this week of Sunni constitution committee member Mijbal Issa; the appointment of armed security guards for the Sunni members of the constitutional committee and the retraction of statements made Wednesday by Hamoun Hammoudi, the Shiite chairman of the committee who suggested work on the constitution was almost completed even though Sunnis have yet to agree to any of the major provisions.
There was no immediate response by the Iraqi government to their requests.
The National Assembly is to approve a constitution by Aug. 15 and then hold a nationwide referendum on the document. U.S. officials, and many in Iraq’s government, have said that participation by Sunnis is necessary to build legitimacy for the new Iraq and thus defuse the largely Sunni-run insurgency.
As is increasingly the case in Iraq these days, the political fight played out against a backdrop of violence. A suicide bomber detonated a car bomb near Iraqi National guardsmen at a checkpoint on the southern outskirts of Baghdad, killing five people.
In Baghdad, gunmen kidnapped two Algerian diplomats, including the chief of Algeria’s mission, as they were going to lunch. It is the latest in a string of cases in which insurgents have targeted diplomats from Muslim countries whose presence they fear helps give the new Iraqi government legitimacy. Earlier this month, the Egyptian ambassador was kidnapped and beheaded despite strenuous efforts by his government to free him. A Bahraini and a Pakistani diplomat were also targeted, but were able to escape.
The diplomats captured Thursday were charge d’affaires Ali Billaroussi, 60, and diplomatic attache Azzedine bin Fadi. Billaroussi is married and has children; he has lived in Baghdad for two years, according to Abdul Wahab Falah, 50, an Algerian administrative employee at the embassy. “He was such a peaceful man,” he said.
When the incident occurred, Falah was in his car and on the phone with a friend from the embassy who was in a second car traveling with Billaroussi’s in the Mansour neighborhood of Baghdad. “My friend said, ‘Come quick, bring police, people in two cars are trying to kidnap Mr. Ali Billaroussi!’ “
“By the time we arrived he had vanished like a crystal of salt that has melted,” Falah said.