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Iraqi constitution efforts down to wire

Federalism key issue for Sunnis

BAGHDAD -- With one day left to finish Iraq's constitution, Sunni Arabs asked yesterday that the divisive issue of federalism be put off until next year so that the draft can be completed on time, warning they would not accept provisions for federated states.

American officials applied pressure to resolve differences on that and other issues before today's deadline for Parliament to adopt the constitution, and US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said he was convinced the Iraqis would succeed.

Some politicians said the draft could be presented to the Shi'ite- and Kurdish-led Parliament today over Sunni Arab objections. But that would further alienate that disaffected minority, undercutting the US goal of using the political process to take the steam out of the Sunni-dominated insurgency.

''It looks like all the agreements are being made only by the Kurds and the Shi'ites without even asking our opinion," Sunni Arab official Saleh al-Mutlaq said yesterday.

''I believe the draft is going to be presented tomorrow even if it is not finished, with or without our approval."

Parliament scheduled a meeting for 6 p.m. local time today to allow as much time as possible for negotiators to agree on a draft.

The main obstacle was the argument over federalism, which the formerly dominant Sunni Arabs fear could lead to Kurdish and Shi'ite Muslim regions splitting away from Iraq. But Mutlaq said there also was no agreement on 17 other issues, including the distribution of oil wealth.

Another Sunni official voiced objections over a Shi'ite-Kurdish deal to grant special status to the clerical hierarchy of Iraq's Shi'ite Muslim majority.

In violence, five US soldiers were killed by roadside bombs over the weekend and another died in a shooting, the US military said At least 11 Iraqis were killed yesterday in attacks across the country, police said.

Sunni Arab politicians asked that federalism be left out of the constitution until a new Parliament is elected during a meeting with President Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani, leaders of the two major Kurdish parties and proponents of a federal system to protect the self-rule that Kurds have had since 1991.

''We made a proposal to transfer federalism and the process of forming federal regions to the next National Assembly," Sunni politician Kamal Hamdoun said. ''Legislation could be drafted on these two matters and a referendum could be held on them."

Hamdoun said the Sunnis received no response to their proposal, which the Kurds have rejected in the past.

He said other charter provisions to which Sunnis objected were recognition of the Kurdish language, dual citizenship, and the role of the Shi'ite religious leadership.

''If there are points that we do not agree on, we will not sign any draft," Hamdoun said, adding that he did not think Shi'ites and Kurds would push through a charter ''if they are serious about the unanimity with us."

Because Shi'ites and Kurds have agreed on most constitutional issues, Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman said the drafting committee would present the draft to Parliament today even if the Sunni Arabs objected.

Parliament could approve the draft by a simple majority, and the Shi'ites and Kurds together hold 221 of the 275 seats. However, that risks a Sunni backlash that could scuttle the constitution when it is put before voters in an Oct. 15 referendum.

If two-thirds of the voters in at least three of the 18 provinces vote no, the charter would be defeated and Sunnis form a majority in at least four provinces. Sunni clerics are urging followers to vote against any constitution that could lead to the breakup of the country.

With the Sunnis standing fast, Shi'ite legislator Jawad al-Maliki, a member of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's Dawa Party, raised the possibility that the deadline could be pushed back.

''We might amend the interim constitution and extend the deadline by a minimum of two weeks" to allow time to win over the Sunni Arabs, he said.

That would require approval of two-thirds of Parliament and the president and his two deputies. But the United States was eager to keep to the schedule and increased pressure on the Iraqis to meet today's deadline.

''The Iraqis tell me that they can finish it and they will finish it tomorrow," Khalilzad said on the ABC news show ''This Week."

Khalilzad told CNN that ''a lot of American blood and American treasure has been spent here," a point that he said he had made ''abundantly clear to my Iraqi interlocutors."

In Washington, two top lawmakers called yesterday for more American troops to be sent to Iraq, but the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said that was ''very unlikely."

Senators Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, and John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said there were not enough US forces to fend off insurgent attacks and not enough Iraqi forces are trained to take over from the 138,000 US soldiers there.

But the Foreign Relations chair, Senator Richard G. Lugar, said on CNN's ''Late Edition" that although there are not enough US troops to keep out insurgents, sending more probably would not happen.

''It's very unlikely that we're going to send more troops to Iraq," said Lugar, Republican of Indiana. ''We are going to have to train the Iraqis faster and harder."

An American soldier was killed and three others were wounded in a roadside bombing yesterday while they were on patrol east of Rutbah, 250 miles west of Baghdad, the military said.

Three soldiers assigned to Three Task Force Liberty were killed, and one was wounded in a roadside bombing late Saturday near Tuz Khormato, 100 miles north of the capital, the military said. One soldier also was killed and another wounded in a bombing in western Baghdad on Saturday, the military said.

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