- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 21, 2005

BAGHDAD — Sunni Arabs appealed yesterday for the United States to prevent Shi’ites and Kurds from pushing a draft constitution through parliament without their consent, warning it would only worsen the crisis in Iraq.

With a deadline looming at midnight, leaders of the Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurdish factions planned final talks on the draft this morning, said officials of the groups.

“I am not optimistic,” said Kamal Hamdoun, a negotiator for the influential Sunni minority. “We either reach unanimity or not.”

Iraqi officials have insisted they will present a final document to the National Assembly before tonight’s deadline, which had been extended by a week. But the chief government spokesman suggested another delay might be necessary.

Also yesterday, newspapers published a letter from former dictator Saddam Hussein, who faces trial on charges that he massacred fellow Muslims, in which he promised to sacrifice himself for the cause of “Palestine” and Iraq.

The letter, which was delivered by the International Committee of the Red Cross to a friend of Saddam’s in Jordan, was thought to be the first the ousted strongman has sent to a non-family member since his capture by U.S. forces in December 2003.

“My soul and my existence is to be sacrificed for our precious Palestine and our beloved, patient and suffering Iraq,” said the letter, published in two Jordanian newspapers.

In violence yesterday, an American soldier was killed by a roadside bomb near the northern city of Tikrit, the U.S. military said.

A Sunni backlash against the new constitution could complicate the U.S. strategy of using the political process to lure members of the minority away from the Sunni-dominated insurgency.

Washington hopes that a constitution, followed by general elections in December, will enable the United States and its international partners to begin removing troops next year.

The deadline for a new constitution was extended last Monday after negotiators failed to agree on issues such as federalism and the role of Islam in lawmaking.

Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a Shi’ite, predicted that the document would be forwarded to parliament on time today. But the Sunnis complained that they have been invited to only one session with the other groups since the extension was granted.

As of late yesterday, Sunni Arab negotiators said they were sticking by their opposition to federalism and other demands.

“At a time when there are few hours left to announce the draft, we still see no active coordination and seriousness to draft the constitution,” they said.

They urged the United States, the United Nations and the international community to intervene to prevent a draft that lacks unanimous agreement among the three factions, saying it “would make the current crisis more complicated.”

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