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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sunni Arabs Chase Role in Creating a New Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Sunni Arab leaders who have been the most vocal in calling for a boycott or postponement of the coming elections say they intend to get involved in politics after the vote, including taking part in writing a permanent constitution.

There is too much at stake, with the constitution to be drafted by August 2005 and full-term elections to be held by year's end, for Sunni groups to reject the political process, the leaders say, even if they are sticking to their denunciation of the elections.

This talk by prominent Sunnis is the most positive sign yet that there is still a chance they will take part in the political process, potentially bolstering the beleaguered U.S. effort to plant democracy in the Middle East.

Those saying they want to become involved in the process are not leaders of the Sunni-dominated insurgency, and there is no indication that the violence will abate after the vote. But some of these Sunni leaders, who include powerful clerics, have considerable influence with the guerrillas and could act as a bridge between the new government -- expected to be dominated by the majority Shiites -- and the insurgency.

The 275-member national assembly to be elected Sunday is to appoint a president and prime minister, draft a permanent constitution and prepare the country for full-term elections in December. There is nothing forbidding outsiders from getting involved in writing the constitution, and even the most hard-line Sunni leaders say they expect the assembly to invite them into the process.

Although Sunni participation would be good news for those who want the political process to move forward in Iraq, it is not necessarily a matter of acquiescence. In the last week, Sunni leaders have threatened to scuttle the constitution if the post-election government and U.S. officials do not bring them in. A measure in the transitional basic law approved last spring allows just three of the country's 18 provinces to nullify a draft of the constitution if two-thirds of their residents vote against it in a referendum. Sunnis are a majority in at least three provinces, and Sunni leaders are now bringing up this measure as leverage to put Shiite, Kurdish and U.S. officials on notice that the minority Sunnis expect a place in post-election politics.

"Certainly because we withdrew from the elections, that doesn't mean we won't be part of the drafting of the constitution," said Sheik Moayad Ibrahim al-Adhami, a senior member of the Muslim Scholars Association, which says it represents 3,000 mosques and is the most influential Sunni group to call for an election boycott.

"The elections are one matter; the constitution is another."