- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 14, 2005

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD — A draft of Iraq’s new constitution was expected to be ready today even though some crucial issues are still unresolved, members of the panel writing the document said yesterday.

“We are still holding discussions on four points, but the draft will be finished,” said Saad Jawad Qindeel, a Shi’ite member of the committee.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who has brought Iraqi leaders together in a bid to meet an Aug. 15 deadline for presenting the charter to parliament, had earlier expressed optimism the document would be finished by today.

But other members of the panel sent mixed signals, with a top Sunni official saying his group would never accept terms that would lead to the division of the country.

“We will not be subdued and will continue to cling to our stance,” Sunni negotiator Kamal Hamdoun said. “We don’t accept federalism. … We don’t want federalism. We are confident that federalism means division, and federalism cannot be approved at this time.”

With time running out, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and U.N. envoy Ashraf Qazi met separately with Sunni leaders, but failed to persuade them to accept a federal system.

The final negotiations on the document — a key part of the political process the United States is counting on to curb a Sunni-dominated insurgency — took place against the backdrop of continuing violence.

Bombs and gunfights killed at least 12 persons, and a U.S. armored vehicle was set ablaze in eastern Baghdad. No American casualties were reported.

In his weekly radio address, President Bush said the Iraqi constitution “is a critical step on the path to Iraqi self-reliance.”

Mr. Talabani told reporters that negotiations were concentrating on the question of whether to transform Iraq into a federal system and the role of Islam. Sunnis have accepted the 14-year-old Kurdish self-ruled area in the north, but do not want to see the system repeated elsewhere.

Negotiations were thrown into a tailspin Thursday when the leader of the biggest Shi’ite party, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, called for a Shi’ite autonomous government in central and southern Iraq, including the southern oil fields.

That enraged Sunni Arab delegates, who fear federalism will lead to the disintegration of Iraq.

Mr. Hamdoun said the Sunnis did not consider themselves bound by agreements worked out between the Shi’ites and Kurds. He said Sunni Arabs were under “Iraqi and non-Iraqi pressure,” but “we are not affected by pressure.”

Voters will be asked to ratify the constitution in an Oct. 15 referendum. According to the country’s interim charter, the constitution will be void if it is rejected by two-thirds of voters in three of the 18 provinces. Sunni Arabs are a majority in four.

The document is expected to recognize Islam as the official religion.

Many secular-minded Iraqi women fear a loss of their rights if Islam is designated as the main source of law.

In yesterday’s violence, American and Iraqi forces killed one insurgent and wounded four in Mosul after they were attacked with gunfire, the U.S. military said. U.S. and Iraqi troops killed another suspected insurgent near Tarmaiya north of Baghdad.

Elsewhere:

• U.S. forces raided an insurgent facility in northern Iraq last Tuesday that may have been producing an unspecified type of chemical, the U.S. military said. It was not clear what was being produced or whether the materials were intended for weapons, the statement added.

• Four civilians died when a roadside bomb exploded near Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, police said. Two Iraqi police officers also were shot to death in Samarra.

• Police Maj. Ahmed Kamil was killed in an ambush in western Baghdad.

• An Iraqi soldier was shot to death in the Dora district of south Baghdad, police said, while a civilian was killed in a bombing there.

• An unidentified man was found dead in Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood. His hands were cuffed, and he had been shot in the head and legs, police said.

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