- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 16, 2005

BAGHDAD — Iraqi leaders expressed confidence they would overcome differences over a new constitution, including Kurdish demands for self-determination and the role of Islam, before the new deadline.

Meetings were to resume today among Iraqi leaders seeking to finish the draft by midnight Monday..

Many leaders, however, were equally sanguine about prospects for meeting the original Aug. 15 deadline. If no agreement can be reached this time, the interim constitution requires that parliament be dissolved.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Iraq’s decision to put off completion of its constitution does not help the fight against insurgents, but he expressed confidence that the delay would be short.

Speaking to reporters as he traveled to Latin America, Mr. Rumsfeld said he had “every confidence” that Iraqis would vote on a new constitution on Oct. 15 as planned.

Still, he said, “I wish that the constitution were completed rather than delayed.”

Different Iraqi groups gave conflicting information on what had been resolved and what stood in the way of a deal.

Shi’ite lawmakers cited the role of Islam — an issue that affects women’s rights — and self-determination for the Kurds, which Arabs fear would mean they eventually would secede from the country.

President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, insisted the Islam issue had been solved and “you will see in the constitution that it is not a problem.”

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shi’ite, mentioned federalism, the election law and the formula for distributing revenue from oil and other natural resources. Sunni negotiator Mohammed Abed-Rabbou said: “The most important point is federalism.”

Most also cited Kurdish demands for self-determination — a step beyond federalism because it would imply the right to break away from Iraq. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad insisted that self-determination was “not on the table.”

Mr. Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, said his fellow Kurds wanted self-determination, but brushed aside talk of secession.

“There are rumors that the Kurds want to secede, but they are for unity,” he said yesterday.

Mr. al-Jaafari said disagreements were largely over details, and he expressed confidence that Iraq’s constitution could be finished within a week.

“I hope that we will not need another extension. The pending points do not need too much time and, God willing, we will finish it on time,” he said.

The delay was an embarrassment for the Bush administration, which insisted that the original deadline be met to maintain political momentum and blunt Iraq’s deadly insurgency.

The U.S. military announced yesterday that three American soldiers were killed the night before when their vehicle overturned during combat operations in south Baghdad. At least 15 Iraqis were killed yesterday in Baghdad and central Iraq in insurgency-related violence.

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