Weeks of negotiations to work out controversial issues in Iraq's new draft constitution ended Sunday, when the country's National Assembly endorsed it with only minor revisions to the text. The move has deeply angered Sunni Arabs, who believe the constitution favors Iraq's Shi'ite majority and Kurds.
Iraq's National Assembly has been under pressure to sign off on amendments made to the constitution to meet an October 15 deadline for a nationwide referendum.
On Sunday, Iraqi lawmakers gave the final text of the draft to the United Nations, which will print five million copies and distribute them to Iraqis throughout the country.
Despite the late date in receiving the document, U.N. officials expressed confidence that most Iraqis would have copies made available to them by the end of the month.
The revisions made to the charter include adding a sentence that describes Iraq as a founding member of the Arab League, holding the federal government responsible for managing water resources, and creating two deputy prime minister positions for the Cabinet.
But there were no changes made on the contentious issue of federalism, which is deeply opposed by Iraq's five million Sunni Arabs.
Shi'ite Muslims and Kurds, who dominated the committee that drew up the constitution, favor carving out permanent semi-autonomous zones in the oil-rich north and south of the country. Sunnis, who live predominantly in the middle, fear that arrangement would leave Sunni areas unable to share in oil revenues.
A leading Sunni Arab member of the draft constitution committee, Sadoun al-Zubaidi, says he is disappointed that Iraqi leaders chose to submit a constitution, which still falls far short of what would be acceptable to Iraqi Sunnis.
"When you talk about federalism in the manner, which has been presented in the text, you generate fear in certain segments of Iraqi society," he said. "We are actually placing the country on the verge of separatism and fragmentation. Why should we have a referendum on the 15 of October? Why don't we have it three months later? I'm worried about the text that is going to be voted on by the people of Iraq. And I would like to see the people of Iraq vote unanimously, rather than see them divided over a text."
Sunni Arabs, who form the core of Iraq's insurgency, are said to have been registering to vote in the referendum in large numbers. They have vowed to defeat the draft constitution, which can be done, if at least three of Iraq's 18 provinces vote against it. Sunni Arabs form a majority in at least four provinces.
A Shi'ite lawmaker, Ali al-Dabbagh, says that attempts to reach a compromise on federalism and other issues with Sunni Arabs were going nowhere, and a decision had to be made to keep Iraq's political process on track toward holding national elections in December.
"We feel the constitution is a balanced constitution, and is taking care of all the Iraqis," he said. "And for those who purposely need to collapse the political process, they have to re-think about it, because there will also be action from the other parties. They will not stay quietly without any reaction."
Sectarian tension between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims in Iraq are already high, with each side accusing the other of using intimidation tactics and committing sectarian-motivated murders.
On Sunday, a spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari warned Iraqis that Sunni extremists could further escalate violence ahead of the October referendum in a bid to ignite an all-out civil war.