Just minutes before a midnight deadline, Iraqi leaders announced they would push back voting on a draft constitution for three more days, saying additional time was needed to iron out discrepancies within the document.
Lawmakers finally delivered a final draft of their country's constitution to the parliament late Monday (August 22), after having missed the first deadline a week ago.
The parliament had extended the deadline for an additional seven days after missing the August 15 target date due to disputes over several key issues including the role of Islam in the country's governance, the rights of women and whether Iraq should have a strong centralized federal government (federalism) or whether distinct regions should be able to largely govern themselves.
As the second deadline approached, federalism was emerging as the key conflict in negotiations. Sunni Muslims, who largely represent oil-rich northern Iraq, strongly oppose federalism because they fear losing control of much of the country's wealth. Shiites, who make up the majority of the Iraqi population and hold more seats in the country's new government, favor having a strong centralized government, which would be able to use the resources of the north for the entire country. Despite strong Sunni opposition — some lawmakers are threatening civil war, Reuters reports — the majority Shiite members said they will try to force the draft through to parliament for a vote.
Since the initial drafts of the constitution, Shiites have softened the language pertaining to federalism. But according to Reuters, which obtained a copy of the text, the country is still deemed "federal" in the most recent draft, although it doesn't shed much light on the details.
If federalism is defined as a political system in which several states or regions defer to a central government while still maintaining a limited measure of independence, Iraq could be divided into as many as three self-governing regions.
If the Shiites are able to get the draft approved by a majority of the 275-member Iraqi National Committee, it will then be put to a referendum, where Iraqis put the charter to a vote, by October 15. If any three of Iraq's 18 provinces reject the referendum by two-thirds or more, the constitution will be denied.