Bush hails Iraqi draft constitution as offering "far-reaching protections for human freedoms"
CRAWFORD, Texas – President Bush on Sunday promoted a proposed Iraqi constitution that goes to voters without the Sunni backing the White House aggressively worked to secure, hailing the document for offering “far-reaching protections for human freedoms.”Mindful that a direct U.S. campaign to win over voters in Sunni-dominated provinces could do more harm than good, Bush stopped short of asking Iraqis to vote for it or predicting it would be approved. But as he urged all Iraqis to at least debate its merits, he lavishly praised the proposal that negotiators finalized on Sunday.”Their example is an inspiration to all who share the universal values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law,” Bush told reporters from a helicopter hangar at his Texas ranch. “This is a document of which the Iraqis and the rest of the world can be proud.”Bush dismissed the constitution’s rejection by 15 members of the Sunni negotiating team as the opinion of a few.”There are strong beliefs among other Sunnis that this constitution is good for all Iraqis, and that it adequately reflects compromises suitable to all groups,” he said.Democrats expressed little optimism”I hope events unfold as he suggests, but I’m not yet there. I heard the president, for example, say that some Sunnis were in support of this,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore, on CNN’s “Late Edition.” “My sense is that there is a lot of opposition among Sunnis, that this is going to be a very heavy lift to bring them on board.”Added Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: “They still have no concrete plan as to how we’re going to proceed other than hope and pray that this constitution is accepted by the Iraqi people, which seems to me like a tough bet.”Republicans took hope in signs of progress, but without much enthusiasm.”We really don’t know right now what’s going on, on the ground over there. It changes by the hour, with respect to this constitution,” Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said on ABC’s “This Week.” “I think we’re making what I believe is progress.”Bush’s top envoy in Iraq, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, was candid about what’s at stake after Sunni negotiators declared that last-minute changes aimed at easing their concerns had not worked.In the Oct. 15 referendum, the constitution will be defeated if two-thirds of voters in any three provinces reject the charter. Sunnis, though a minority in Iraq’s overall population of 27 million, have the majority in at least four provinces.Sunni support was also seen by the White House as crucial to taking the steam out of the violent Sunni-led insurgency and thus allowing a drawdown of U.S. forces there. The United States worked furiously to gain Sunni backing – even engineering Sunni presence on the constitution-writing panel and putting Bush on the phone earlier in the week – to no avail.”That is the real test, whether they will vote for it in large numbers or not,” Khalilzad said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “If the Sunnis do vote for it and approve the constitution, the constitution is not stopped, then it will be a national compact and it will help with the counterinsurgency strategy and with the development of a joint road map for the future of Iraq. And if they don’t, then it will be a problem. “The Bush administration had been quiet for several days through repeated delays in the drafting process. But Sunday, when the document was finally deemed complete and Sunni negotiators declared the final product “illegitimate,” the administration pulled out all the stops to put the best face on the developments.Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spent part of Saturday night talking by phone with lawmakers preparing to appear on the Sunday morning talk shows. The U.S. ambassador appeared on two of them to put forward the administration message and the White House hurriedly arranged a Bush appearance at his ranch.In addition to Sunni objections over issues such as federalism, Iraq’s identity and references to Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated Baath Party, some Sunnis have expressed concerns that the draft could lead to Iraq’s domination by Shiite Islamic clerics tied to Iran and that it curb’s women’s rights.Sensitive to disaffection for the United States in many Sunni areas, administration officials quietly talked up the document as one that Sunnis should support and stressed that the process is one Iraqis themselves control. Emphasizing the document’s similarity to the constitution approved in Afghanistan, officials stressed provisions that ban discrimination based on gender and call for 25 percent of the national assembly to be women.”Of course, there’s disagreement,” Bush said. “We’re watching a political process unfold, a process that has encouraged debate and compromise – a constitution that was written in a society in which people recognize that there had to be give and take.”The president predicted an increase in insurgent attacks that will be “more desperate, more despicable and more vicious” leading up to the October vote.”We are determined to see the Iraqis fully secure their democratic gains,” Bush told reporters. “We have hard work ahead of us.”As he spoke, anti-war activists who have been camped down the road for most of the month held a large demonstration. The Rev. Al Sharpton was the featured speaker as demonstrators remembered soldiers killed in the war and called upon the president to bring troops home.Vail – Colorado
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