- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 21, 2005

BAGHDAD — U.S. diplomats have conceded ground to Islamists on the role of religion in Iraq, negotiators said yesterday as they raced to meet a 48-hour deadline to draft a constitution under intense American pressure.

Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish negotiators all said there was accord on a bigger role for Islamic law than Iraq had before.

But a secular Kurdish politician said Kurds opposed making Islam “the” — not “a” — main source of law and subjecting all legislation to a religious test.

“We understand the Americans have sided with the Shi’ites,” he said. “It’s shocking. It doesn’t fit American values. They have spent so much blood and money here, only to back the creation of an Islamist state. … I can’t believe that’s what the Americans really want or what the American people want.”

U.S. diplomats, who have insisted the constitution must enshrine ideals of equal rights and democracy, declined comment.

The Bush administration, with 140,000 troops still in Iraq, has insisted Iraqis are free to govern themselves. But Washington also has made clear it will not approve the kind of clerical rule seen in Shi’ite Iran.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has guided intensive meetings since the Iraqi parliament averted its own dissolution a week ago by giving constitution drafters another week to resolve crucial differences over regional autonomy and division of oil revenues.

Failing to finish by midnight tomorrow could provoke new elections and, effectively, a return to the drawing board for the entire constitutional process.

Another extension may be more likely, as Washington insists the charter is key to its strategy to undermine the Sunni revolt and leave a new Iraqi government largely to fend for itself after U.S. troops go home.

President Bush, in his weekly radio address yesterday, raised the specter of more September 11-style attacks if U.S. troops do not fight in places like Iraq.

“[U.S. troops] know that if we do not confront these evil men abroad, we will have to face them one day in our own cities and streets,” Mr. Bush said.

An official of one of the main Shi’ite Islamist parties in the interim government confirmed that some sort of deal had been reached on the status of Islam.

It was not clear what concessions the Shi’ites made, but it seemed possible their demands for Shi’ite autonomy in the oil-rich south, pressed this month by Islamist leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, was watered down in the face of Sunni opposition.

Sunni Arab negotiator Saleh al-Mutlak said a deal was struck that would mean parliament could pass no legislation that “contradicted Islamic principles.”

“The Americans agreed, but on one condition — that the principles of democracy should be respected,” Mr. al-Mutlak said.

Elsewhere in Iraq yesterday:

• Maj. Gen. Ali Hamadi, commander of the Iraqi Border Police, accused U.S. troops of shooting him, police and hospital sources said. Gen. Hamadi was treated for a gunshot wound to the abdomen at the capital’s Yarmouk hospital. A U.S. military spokesman said he would check the report.

• An American soldier was killed when his vehicle struck a roadside bomb in Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

• Tribal leader Intifadh Abbas was kidnapped in the town of Latifiyah, south of Baghdad, tribal associates said. Mr. Abbas heads the Khuza’ee tribe in the town of Samawa.

• A child was killed and 12 other civilians wounded when insurgents threw a grenade into a crowd in Fallujah, west of Baghdad, a hospital source said. Three Iraqi soldiers were wounded.

• Terrorists attacked the offices of the Kurdistan Democratic Party — one of two main Kurdish parties — in the ethnically mixed northern oil capital of Kirkuk, wounding three guards, police and hospital officials said.

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