- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 30, 2005

BAGHDAD — The U.S. ambassador yesterday raised the possibility of further changes to Iraq’s draft constitution, signaling that the Bush administration has not given up its campaign to push through a charter that will be broadly accepted.

An Arab League official in Cairo, meanwhile, said Arab diplomats were urging Iraq’s drafting committee to amend the constitution to strengthen references to the country’s role in the Arab world.

Also yesterday, U.S. warplanes struck three suspected al Qaeda targets near the Syrian border, killing what the U.S. military called a “known terrorist.” Iraqi officials said 45 persons died, most in fighting between an Iraqi tribe that supports the foreign militants and another that opposes them.

The nation’s Sunni Arabs had demanded revisions in the draft, finalized this past weekend by the Shi’ite-Kurdish majority over Sunni objections. A Shi’ite leader said only minor editing would be accepted because the draft was now ready for voters in an Oct. 15 referendum.

But Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters that he thought “a final, final draft has not yet been, or the edits have not been, presented yet” — a strong hint to Shi’ites and Kurds that Washington wants another bid to accommodate the Sunnis.

Influential Shi’ite lawmaker Khaled al-Attiyah, a member of the constitution drafting committee, insisted yesterday that “no changes are allowed” to the draft “except for minor edits for the language.”

Sunnis objected primarily to the establishment of federalism, which would create Kurdish and Shi’ite ministates and threaten Sunni access to oil wealth; purges of former members of dictator Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated Ba’ath Party from government; and the description of Iraq as an Islamic but not Arab state, lumping it with Shi’ite-dominated Iran.

In Cairo, an aide to Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said officials were trying to contact Iraqi authorities “to ensure that the Arabism of Iraq is stressed in the Iraqi constitution that will be put to a referendum.”

“We think that the phrasing that had been reached earlier did not satisfy the Arab world and has caused grave worries,” said the aide, Hisham Youssef, adding that the wording “weakened [Iraq’s] belonging to the Arab world.”

Before addressing reporters, Mr. Khalilzad warmly introduced Sunni community leader Adnan al-Dulaimi and then stood by as Mr. al-Dulaimi accused security forces of the Shi’ite-led Interior Ministry of killing Sunnis.

Sunni Arabs still could scuttle the charter because of a rule that if two-thirds of the voters in any three provinces reject the draft, it would be defeated.

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