Monday’s vote to take another week to try to write a constitution for Iraq may actually be the most positive news to emerge so far from the frustrating process of drafting this vital document. By exercising its right to extend the deadline in the face of US impatience, Iraq’s parliament took the most responsible course: to grant quarrelling Sunni Arab, Shiite and Kurdish delegates another week to seek compromises.

Months of deliberation have barely narrowed the yawning divisions separating these three Iraqi communities on the most basic constitutional issues, including the powers of various regions. Forcing matters to a decision on Monday would have left so many groups aggrieved. Delaying may well hearten the insurgents who choose to interpret it as a sign that America’s nation-building effort in Iraq is faltering. But enshrining the already dangerous divisions among Iraqi communities in a constitution would give the insurgents’ cause far more encouragement. And while Washington is eager to tick off on the calendar the benchmarks moving toward eventual US troop withdrawals, it must accept the fact that this constitution is more important to Iraq’s future than to America’s. The challenge now is to constitute a single nation out of these fractious elements through negotiations and compromise.