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Oil revenues, Islam among sticking points for Sunni minority

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Iraq's constitution works against the country's Sunni minority in many ways. Among them:

_Revenue from oil fields developed in the future will be controlled by regions, said Jonathan Morrow, an adviser to the drafting committee from the United States Institute of Peace, a nonpartisan conflict-resolution group. Regional control helps Kurds in the oil-rich northern part of the country. Shiites who dominate southern Iraq have considerable oil too, but not Sunnis who are in the middle.

_The draft sets a 2007 deadline for settlement of the fate of Kirkuk, the oil-rich northern city that Sunnis, Kurds and Turkmen each claim.

"My guess is they'll get Kirkuk that way," Morrow said, meaning the Kurds.

_The Kurds apparently dropped demands for a clause that would permit them to secede at a later date. But the draft doesn't prohibit Kurdish independence, said Nathan Brown, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a nonprofit foreign policy analysis center.

"I think they won. They got that," Brown said.

_Shiites may benefit from a proposal that gives the biggest say in most matters to the numerical majority.

"The constitution places fairly weak checks on the majority," Brown said.

In addition, the document creates a weak presidency and requires parliament's consent before many of its provisions take effect.

_Islam will have a strong role in Iraqi government. It's the official religion of the state and no law can be passed that contradicts the "undisputed laws" of Islam, according to the constitution. And the Supreme Federal Court, which is given the job of interpreting the constitution, will include Islamic law experts.

"It there are losers, it's secularists, particularly secular and religious minorities," such as the Sunnis, Morrow said.

As for the Sunnis, "It's hard to identify anything they got," Brown said.


(Chin reports for the St. Paul Pioneer Press.)


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.