Iraq constitution near completion

A Shiite negotiator said Monday a draft

constitution would be presented to Iraq's parliament, but a key
Sunni Arab delegate said talk of a deal was premature and he
doubted an agreement was possible by the midnight deadline.

The main obstacle appeared to be federalism, which the Sunni Arabs oppose.

"The American side is part of the whole process," Kurdish negotiator Mahmoud Othman said. "And they are concerned about the process - sometimes more than we."

One Shiite delegate said that the charter would be submitted to parliament Monday night even if the Sunnis don't accept it.

"After a while, the final draft that was agreed upon with the Kurdish bloc and other blocs will be brought here so that a meeting of the National Assembly can be held," Shiite negotiator Jawad al-Maliki told reporters five hours before the midnight deadline.

"This draft will be offered and read and be voted on" before the deadline.

"Thank God we have finished all the details related to the agreement," al-Maliki said. "There is still one point left and the meeting now is about it: it is the Sunni Arab brothers and their stance toward federalism."

The showdown on the constitution came as violence persisted in Iraq.

The U.S. military said two U.S. soldiers from Task Force Liberty were killed Monday by a roadside bomb during a combat patrol north of Baghdad, and two more soldiers died when their vehicle overturned during a military operation near Tal Afar. At least 1,870 U.S. troops have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Sunni Arabs were still objecting to the proposed constitution, especially provisions for transforming Iraq into a federal state.

One of the top Sunni Arab negotiators, Saleh al-Mutlaq, told Al-Arabiya television that he was "surprised by these statements" from the Shiites.

"There are still major points of disagreement," al-Mutlaq said. "I don't think we will reach a solution for them in the next few hours. We are holding talks with the Kurdish brothers and the brothers in the (Shiite) alliance and we haven't reached unanimity so far. The meetings are now taking place, and they claim that an agreement has been reached."

"We will urge all Iraqis to reject the constitution if it is presented as it is being presented now," he said.

Jalaaldin al-Saghir, a Shiite negotiator, said the constitution "has a time limit that we do not want to breach."

"We had talks with our Sunni brothers at the end some of the Arab Sunnis reached several conclusions," he said. "We cannot wait for all the time needed by those people to be convinced. We agree that the constitution, including federalism, be put before the people. If the Arab Sunnis do not want to vote in favor of federalism, then they can reject the constitution."

Shiites and Kurds have enough seats in parliament to win approval for a draft without the Sunni Arabs. But the Sunni 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.

In addition, an attempt by Shiites and Kurds to win parliamentary agreement without the Sunnis could risk a backlash within the community that is at the forefront of the insurgency and undercut U.S. hopes to begin withdrawing troops next year.

Al-Mutlaq said the Sunnis wanted more time to reach an agreement.

If the Shiites and Kurds approve a constitution without approval of the Sunni Arabs, he said it would "complicate the already complicated situation" in Iraq and "will increase everything which is increasing now in a bad situation."

"It will put us far from reconciliation and without reconciliation in this country we cannot advance," al-Mutlaq said.

"The constitution they are writing now does not lead to reconciliation."

Al-Maliki said some of the Sunnis were willing to accept federalism but with conditions that it be approved by two-thirds of the 18 provincial councils, plus two-thirds of the provinces in a referendum and a two-thirds vote in the new parliament due to be elected in December.

He said the Kurds and the Shiites had agreed to distribute Iraq's oil and other natural wealth "according to the needs" of the central government and the provinces.

The status of the city of Kirkuk, which the Kurds want, would be determined by the end of 2007, he said.

Al-Saghir said the blocs agreed that no laws would be adopted that contradict the principles of Islam. "In addition, no law shall be adopted that contradicts human rights and democratic principles," he said.

"Also it was stated that the constitution ensures the Islamic identity of the majority of Iraqi people," he added. "As for dual citizenship, any Iraqi can keep two citizenships, but there is a ban on people who are in sovereignty shing a draft through parliament without their consent, warning it would only worsen the crisis in Iraq.