AMS wants withdrawal timetable

Iraq's leading Sunni religious authority has made its participation in the upcoming constitution-drafting process conditional on the announcement of a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops.

    Ashraf Qazi (L) is welcomed by a Muslim scholars' member

    The Association of Muslim Scholars' (AMS) spokesman, Umar Raghib, was speaking on Saturday after the assocation's chairman, Harith al-Dari, met UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy in Iraq, Ashraf Qazi.

    "Qazi asked the committee to take part in drafting the constitution. We told him that we had conditions and that we would discuss them with the parties that boycotted the polls and would put forward a common stance," he said.

    "These demands focus on reaching a consensus with all political parties on a withdrawal of foreign forces," Raghib said.

    The spokesman of the organisation, which is also known as the Ulama Committee and was one of the leading forces that opposed last Sunday's general election, hinted that the influential grouping of clerics could then press fighters to end the bloodshed that has marred Iraq's reconstruction.

    Ashraf Qazi thought his meeting
    was positive

    "Then, the country's elders will tell the resistance: 'No need to spill more blood'," Raghib said.

    Qazi desribed his meeting with the AMS as very positive.

    According to many observers, much of the success of the post-election period, during which parliament will have to draft a permanent constitution for the country, will depend on the level of involvement of the Sunni community.

    Turnout in the 30 January elections was lowest in Iraq's Sunni areas, either out of fear of reprisals from resistance groups or because of calls by the AMS and other organisations for a boycott.



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