- The Washington Times - Friday, April 8, 2005

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD — New Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said yesterday that lawmakers will meet a mid-August deadline for writing a constitution despite weeks of delay in forming a government.

The new constitution is meant to be ready by Aug. 15, although lawmakers are allowed to request a six-month delay. If the process becomes deadlocked, it could benefit insurgents trying to overthrow the U.S.-backed government.

“Drafting the constitution will be done on time,” Mr. Talabani told Reuters news agency in an interview yesterday.

Meanwhile, Baghdad braced for massive protests today, two years to the day since the fall of Baghdad. Shi’ite and Sunni religious leaders asked their supporters to hold demonstrations demanding that U.S.-led troops leave.

Gunmen fired on supporters of radical Shi’ite cleric Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr, killing one person and injuring two others as they made their way to the protests, the Associated Press reported.

Sheik al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia staged uprisings last year in the southern city of Najaf and Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood, has emerged from the background in recent weeks. He called on his supporters to stage a mass protest at Firdos Square, where jubilant demonstrators pulled down a statue of Saddam Hussein two years earlier, marking the beginning of the U.S.-led occupation of the country.

In the poor New Baghdad neighborhood, four children were killed yesterday when they came across an explosive device while digging through garbage for metal scraps, witnesses and police said. It was not clear what caused the blast.

A U.S. Marine was killed Wednesday in a vehicle accident during combat operations in Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, the military said yesterday.

Ten weeks after Iraq’s Jan. 30 elections, a new government has yet to be formed due to haggling among political blocs. But progress was made this week with Mr. Talabani becoming president and Shi’ite leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari named prime minister.

Once a government is formed, writing a constitution is the next key political step on the road to new elections by the end of the year.

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