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Constitution questions loom in Iraq

The deadline for a draft is today, and the Sunnis make it clear they aren't happy with what they've seen so far.

Associated Press
Published August 22, 2005

BAGHDAD - A day before the deadline for the new constitution, Sunni Arabs appealed Sunday to the United States and United Nations to prevent Shiites and Kurds from pushing a draft through parliament without their consent, warning it would only worsen the crisis in Iraq.

Leaders of the Sunni Arab, Shiite and Kurdish factions planned final talks this morning, according to officials of all three groups.

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

The initial Aug.15 deadline was pushed to today after no agreement was reached, and Iraqi officials have insisted they would meet the new deadline and present a final document to the National Assembly, dominated by Shiites and Kurds. But the chief government spokesman suggested another delay may be necessary.

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

A Sunni Arab backlash 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.

Issues holding up agreement on the draft include federalism, distribution of Iraq's oil wealth, power sharing questions among the provinces and the role of the Shiite clerical hierarchy.

Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite, said 97 percent of the draft had been finished and predicted the document would be forwarded to parliament on time today.

Government spokesman Laith Kubba said there were two options if political leaders fail to complete the draft: amend the interim constitution again and extend the deadline, or dissolve parliament.

"I think the differences have been narrowed down. I think they will be able to reach an agreement," Kubba said.

But the Sunni Arabs complained that they have been invited to only one session with the other groups since the extension was granted.

As of late Sunday, 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," the Sunni Arab negotiators said in a statement.

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

Sunni negotiator Saleh al-Mutlaq said, "We are not planning to withdraw. We don't care if it will be extended for a month. We just want a good draft."

Shiites and Kurds have enough seats in parliament to win approval for a draft without the Sunni Arabs, who form an estimated 20 percent of Iraq's population of 27-million but hold only 17 of the 275 seats in the National Assembly because so many of them boycotted the Jan.30 elections.

However, the minority could scuttle the constitution when voters decide whether to ratify it in the Oct.15 referendum. Under current rules, the constitution would be defeated if it is opposed by two-thirds of the voters in three of Iraq's 18 provinces. Sunni Arabs form the majority in at least four.

Some radical groups within the insurgency, notably al-Qaida's wing led by the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, oppose any constitution as an affront to Islam and have vowed to kill anyone who votes in the referendum. Sunni clerics, however, have urged their followers to register to vote.

Also Sunday, the Iraqi government said neighboring Jordan has allowed Saddam Hussein's family to fund a network seeking to destabilize Iraq and re-establish the banned Baath Party.

Kubba, speaking to reporters in Baghdad, cited Hussein's relatives who live in Jordan, where they have "huge amounts of money" to "support ... efforts to revive Baath Party organizations." Kubba did not specify individual family members, but Hussein's two oldest daughters live in the Jordanian capital, Amman.

Although the Iraqis frequently have complained of subversive activity generated from Syria, Kubba's remarks were the strongest yet directed against pro-Western Jordan. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have moved to Amman to escape the violence in Iraq.

During an interview Sunday on CNN's Late Edition , Kubba said Iraq wants good relations with Jordan.

But he said there were former members of Hussein's regime using Jordan as a base.

"And they have launched a campaign, they are calling back members of the Baath Party to organize meetings and to develop a strategy, and influencing events in Iraq," he added.

Kubba's statements were apparently aimed in part at deflecting criticism from Amman about the possible involvement of Iraqis in subversive operations in Jordan.

Jordanian police have detained an undetermined number of Iraqis and other foreign Arab suspects in the Friday rocket attack that barely missed a U.S. warship docked in Aqaba.

"We don't want Jordan to harm a quarter of a million Iraqis (living in Jordan) because of one Iraqi" involved in Friday's attack, which killed a Jordanian soldier, Kubba said.

The Jordanian government, which has been seeking to improve relations with its eastern neighbor - once its closest trading partner and only supplier of oil - had no immediate comment.

Also Sunday, the U.S. military said it has ordered a criminal investigation into the June death of Mohammed al-Sumaidaie, the 21-year-old cousin of Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations. Ambassador Samir al-Sumaidaie says U.S. Marines killed his unarmed relative in cold blood during a raid in western Iraq.

Following a preliminary investigation, the case has been referred to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service for further investigation, the military said in a statement.

Al-Sumaidaie was "killed during a search of his family's home near Haditha on June 25, 2005," the statement said.

And in Washington Sunday, a leading Republican senator and prospective presidential candidate said that the war in Iraq has destabilized the Middle East and is looking more like the Vietnam conflict from a generation ago.

Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, who received two Purple Hearts and other military honors for his service in Vietnam, reiterated his position that the United States needs to develop a strategy to leave Iraq.

"We should start figuring out how we get out of there," Hagel said on This Week on ABC.

"But with this understanding, we cannot leave a vacuum that further destabilizes the Middle East. I think our involvement there has destabilized the Middle East.

"And the longer we stay there, I think the further destabilization will occur."

--Information from Knight Ridder Newspapers was used in this report.

[Last modified August 22, 2005, 01:08:08]

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