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Why Iraq's Sunnis fear constitution

Parliament is likely to approve the constitution by Thursday's deadline, despite Sunni objections.

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With the clock ticking down on Iraq's constitutional negotiations, the question everyone wants answered is what, if anything, can be done to satisfy Sunni Arab demands?

Probably not much, but that's unlikely to stop Iraq's parliament from approving the constitution by Thursday's deadline, said Humam Bakr Hamoudi, a Shiite politician and chairman of the constitutional drafting committee.

Sunnis oppose changing Iraq from a strong central state to a loose federal one. But satisfying the Sunnis, a religious minority in Iraq, on this would anger ethnic Kurds and Shiite Arabs who have written the draft.

Sunnis worry that federalism will only strengthen the hands of the Shiites in the south and the Kurds in the north, while denying them a share of Iraq's oil revenue, since the two major oil centers are in the north and the south. Sunnis are clustered in the center of Iraq.

Sunni fears

But at root of the Sunni rejection of the constitutional process is fear itself. The psyche of this community, from which Saddam Hussein's most fervent supporters were drawn and who enjoyed privileged positions until his regime was toppled, has been badly damaged in the past few years.

Many fears about the new Iraq are expressed throughout Baghdad's Sunni neighborhoods. They fear that Iraq's new masters will punish them for supporting Mr. Hussein's regime; they fear they don't have leaders or social cohesion; and they fear their former status will never be regained.

It's this fear and doubt that feeds their distrust of Iraq's other communities and their desire to see the writing of the constitution delayed.

"We are all afraid. There are reasons for revenge. Anyone can call the Interior Ministry and get someone killed" by calling someone a terrorist, says Souda Mustafa Ali, a Sunni.

Ms. Ali was referring to a ministry that runs the police and is controlled by the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a Shiite political party that has its own militia that has been increasingly accused by Sunnis of assassinating members of their community.

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