Shortly before missing a second deadline in a week for finishing a draft constitution, Iraq's top political leaders executed a legal maneuver to buy more time for negotiations without explicitly calling it another delay.
At about 11:50 p.m. Hajim al-Hassani, the chairman of Iraq's parliament, told Iraqi lawmakers at a hastily convened session that a draft constitution was ready. But then he explained there were three outstanding constitutional issues that will hopefully be resolved in the next three days. No drafts were handed either to legislators or journalists.
This appeared to be an attempt to fulfill rules set last week that required a draft be submitted to parliament by midnight Monday by taking advantage of the semantic ambiguity of the word "submitted" and avoiding the embarrassment of a further official delay.
But delay - a short one to be sure - was once again the outcome of marathon negotiations, reflecting the deep divide between Iraq's Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs, and Kurds about the fundamental structure of the state, reports Christian Science Mirror.
According to Reuters it was a last, desperate pitch to build consensus after weeks of strained negotiations, and came as some Sunnis warned of civil war unless they were given more consideration.
"They are putting the ball firmly in the court of the Sunnis but at the same time they are reaching out to them to try to bring them onside," a Western diplomat closely involved in the negotiations said of the Shi'ites and Kurds.
"Everyone wants this to go to a vote in three days' time with all sides concurring, with everyone agreed on a text. Otherwise, it's going to face a big hurdle in the referendum."
The Shi'ites and Kurds feel the onus is on the Sunnis to soften their stance in the coming 72 hours. Neither side seems minded to concede an inch.