- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 11, 2005

BAGHDAD — Iraqi negotiators reached a breakthrough deal on the constitution yesterday and at least one Sunni Arab party said it would urge its followers to approve the charter in this weekend’s referendum.

Meanwhile, suicide bombings and other attacks killed more than 50 people in the insurgent campaign aimed at intimidating voters.

The agreement would allow the Sunnis to try to amend the constitution to reduce the autonomous powers that Shi’ites and Kurds would have under the federal system created by the charter, negotiators said.

It boosts the chances for a constitution that Shi’ite and Kurdish leaders support and the United States has been eager to see approved in Saturday’s vote to avert months more of political turmoil, delaying plans to start a withdrawal of U.S. forces.

The United Nations already has printed the draft constitution and millions of copies are being distributed to the public before the vote, so the new additions cannot be included. Instead, they will be announced in the press and on television because many Iraqis are watching popular holiday programming during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

U.S. officials have pushed the three days of negotiations between Shi’ite and Kurdish leaders in the government and Sunni Arab officials that concluded with marathon talks at the house of President Jalal Talabani late yesterday.

A top Sunni negotiator, Ayad al-Samarraie, of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the main Sunni political organization in Iraq, said the measure would allow it to “stop the campaign rejecting the constitution and we will call on Sunni Arabs to vote yes.”

It was not clear whether parliament would take a formal vote on the new deal. Some lawmakers said the measure may be read to the National Assembly today.

Some other major Sunni parties were not present at the negotiations and it was not clear whether they, too, would be willing to reverse their “no” campaigns.

The Sunni-led insurgents have demanded a boycott of the election and threatened violence against those who would vote.

The announcement was the first break in the ranks of Sunni Arab leaders, who have been campaigning hard to defeat the constitution at the polls.

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