- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 23, 2005

BAGHDAD — Sunni Arab leaders showed no sign of compromise yesterday as they prepared to resume talks in yet another bid by the Shi’ite-led government to win approval of Iraq’s new constitution.

The U.S. ambassador said every effort must be made to win Sunni agreement, but the chairman of the drafting committee doubted that differences could be resolved quickly and suggested parliament might submit the current draft to voters.

Representatives of the major factions — Shi’ites, Kurds and Sunnis — scheduled negotiations for this morning after Sunnis angrily rejected the draft presented to parliament Monday only minutes before the midnight deadline.

Sunni negotiators opposed several parts of the draft, including federalism, references to Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-led Ba’ath Party and the description of Iraq as an Islamic — but not Arab — country. Parliament put off a vote on the document for three days to try to win over Sunnis.

Yesterday, the country’s biggest Sunni political group repeated those complaints, adding that the decision by Shi’ites and Kurds to submit the draft to parliament over Sunni objections violated an agreement that no document would be considered final unless all parties agreed to it.

“The sticking points are related to the identity of Iraq, federalism, power-sharing and purifying the constitution of any mention of sectarianism,” said the Iraqi Islamic Party.

The chairman of the 71-member committee that drafted the constitution said three days were not enough to resolve Sunni objections. He said the draft might have to be approved by the Shi’ite- and Kurdish-dominated parliament as written and taken to the people in a referendum Oct. 15.

Chairman Humam Hammoudi, a Shi’ite, noted that unlike Shi’ite and Kurdish negotiators, Sunni Arabs on the committee were not elected parliament members but were appointed to the panel. Sunni Arabs won only 17 of 275 parliament seats because many Sunni voters boycotted the Jan. 30 elections.

President Bush, in Idaho and on vacation, said Sunni Arabs faced a choice: “Do they want to live in a society that’s free?”

But U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad urged Shi’ites and Kurds to reach out to Sunni Arabs, who make up about 20 percent of Iraq’s population.

“This is not the time to achieve all that one can at the expense of others,” Mr. Khalilzad told reporters, urging political leaders “to build the new Iraq on new principles.”

A U.S. soldier, an American contract worker and five Iraqis were killed yesterday by a suicide bomber in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, the U.S. military said. The blast at the Diyala Provincial Joint Coordination Center also wounded nine American soldiers, a U.S. contract worker, six Iraqi civilians and four police officers.

A U.S. Marine died Monday when a roadside bomb exploded near his vehicle near the troubled city of Fallujah, the military announced.

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