MARGARET WARNER: Dexter Filkins, welcome.
The speaker of the Iraqi parliament has been quoted just now saying the talks of the constitution are going to go on one more day, but otherwise it's really quite confusing can you explain to us what's going on?
DEXTER FILKINS: Well, I think it's actually much more serious than that. It's the talks have really reached agreement and they're really at the point where they're starting to breakdown and people are dropping out. What's happened is, you know, essentially you have had this deadlock now for several weeks over a couple of issues between mainly the Shiite majority and the Sunni, essentially, minority. They have not been able to break that deadlock and the Shiites are now saying tonight, "okay, forget it, it's over, we tried, we're going to move on without these guys; we're going to bypass the Sunnis; we're going to keep the constitution the way it is, and we're not going to get a vote at the national assembly; we're just going to take it to the Iraqi people in October."
And then you've already, you know, tonight, just an hour ago we spoke to a Sunni leader who said he already accepted that and said, "Fine, we're going to tell our people to defeat this constitution." So it's pretty dire at the moment. I mean, there are still some talks going on and people are trying to keep the ball rolling, but it's pretty bleak at the moment.
MARGARET WARNER: So, in other words, you're saying that when the speaker of the parliament said today talks are continuing for a day, that's pretty much a fig leaf, that it's really much worse than that?
DEXTER FILKINS: Yes, it is much worse; he was trying to put the best face on it. I think, you know, these things are impossible to predict and when they say they're going to extend for one more day -- you know, we could be sitting here a week from now saying the same thing. But I think what's happened is that they have been talking about the same couple of things now, you know, for more than a week and there hasn't been any progress at all. And people are exhausted and people are angry and, you know, tempers are short, and I think people are starting to give up.
MARGARET WARNER: During the last three days of talks over particularly the issue of federalism from Sunnis you have talked to, was there any formulation that they were willing to accept that address the Shiites' desire to have their own autonomous region or was that just a non-starter completely?
DEXTER FILKINS: It's hard to pin them down. They have kind of gone back and forth. I think on some days they say, yeah, we're willing to accept kind of the idea and principle and work out the right mechanism but I think what's interesting here is that you have to focus on the Sunnis that they're talking to, and this was a group of fourteen or fifteen Sunnis that were more or less put together by the Americans and some help of people in the Iraqi government.
And they're not -- there is a lot of complaints from the Sunni population that these particular guys were basically a bunch of former Baath party members that don't really represent the Sunni population and that they're being especially obstinate. And so it's very difficult to judge what's going to happen.
I mean, in the last couple of months here you've had a lot of very encouraging signs among, you know, Sunni leaders and Sunni clerics around the country that they're telling their people, you boycotted the election in January, but this time we're going to go out and vote, you know, we're going to participate.
And so it will be interesting to see if these particular group of Sunni negotiators get bypassed and cut out of the process. It's going to be interesting to see what happens on the ground. The Sunnis might just go ahead and stay involved or, you never know, negotiators could come out and denounce the whole process and then it could really set things back.
And I think that's what prospect that has -- certainly has the American officials here pretty worried.
MARGARET WARNER: And do you mean that they are afraid even in the short-term that it will increase the insurgency or that they're simply afraid that come October they'll lose the vote, they'll lose the referendum?
DEXTER FILKINS: Well, I think it's both of those things. I mean, I think the whole idea of bringing the Sunnis into the negotiations on the constitution here is the hope they can begin to marginalize the insurgents and kind of drain away some of this anger. But I think now - I mean, if you - if this particular group of Sunni negotiators really are bypassed and kind of cut out of the deal, I think there really is going to be a danger that this constitution could be defeated.
And that would be, you know -- it's not a prospect that you would want to think about at the moment. That would be very unfortunate. I mean, there would have to be new elections. I mean, it would just throw the whole sort of thing into chaos again. And so I think, you know, again, that's why I think there's this last-minute frenzy , a frenzied push to try to put something together.
MARGARET WARNER: And how strong you would say is the sentiment in the sort of Shiite-Kurd at least temporary coalition to just say, enough already, we have tried, this is it?
DEXTER FILKINS: Well, that sentiment is pretty strong, but you have to remember if you look at this historically the Sunnis are a minority that has run this country for -- I mean literally run the country for more than four centuries but it was the top group under Saddam Hussein. And so there is, you know, both the Shiites and the Kurds suffered tremendously and horribly under Saddam. And they're not really feeling all that generous to them.
And so that's one of the problems, apparently talking to some of the people today the Shias are saying look, we have kind of extended the hand to these people and we have had enough, it's time to move on.
So there's a lot of history here, you know, that goes a long way, and there is a lot of pain and I think that's behind a lot of this.
MARGARET WARNER: Finally, Dexter, the role of the American ambassador, Ambassador Khalilzad. We know he's been very involved trying to herd the parties together to an agreement. Why isn't his influence enough now to bring them together on this final sticking point?
DEXTER FILKINS: Well, I think he's taken - Ambassador Khalilzad has taken a very active role here, and the truth is, from what I can gather, he's respected and liked on all sides very much here. I think what you're seeing though is the limits of American influence. I mean, there is only so much history and enmity that a foreign country can overcome and I think that's potentially what he is running up against here.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Dexter Filkins of the New York Times, thanks so much.
DEXTER FILKINS: Thank you very much.