No agreement on Iraqi constitution - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

No agreement on Iraqi constitution

Parliament announced it had no plans to gather Thursday night and no date for a future session, signaling Iraqi factions were failing to agree on a new constitution before a self-imposed midnight target.

The statement from National Assembly's top spokesman, Bishro Ibrahim, came as negotiators struggled for consensus on a draft by the close of a 72-hour extension announced Monday night by the parliament speaker, after Sunni Arabs refused to accept a charter approved by Shiites and Kurds.

Whether a new assembly vote on the charter was even necessary was in question, however. At the same time, a meeting was scheduled for Thursday night among Iraq's factional leaders, and it was possible that parliament could be convened afterward on short notice.

Shiite representative Khaled al-Attiyah said there was no need for an assembly vote because the constitutional committee met its legal obligations by handing in a draft by the Aug. 22 deadline.

Another Shiite, Nadim al-Jabiri, said there would be no vote Thursday because the draft will be approved or rejected in a popular referendum Oct. 15.

If voters reject the referendum, the current parliament must be dissolved, a new one elected and the drafting process restarted from the beginning.

Sunni Arabs, the country's minority, object to several parts of the draft, chief among them a plan that could lead to a giant Shiite federated state in central and southern Iraq. Though Kurds and Shiites have enough votes in parliament to approve a charter and sent it forward to a referendum, Iraqi leaders across the political spectrum have emphasized their wish for consensus.

Earlier Thursday, a radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called on his followers to end clashes with Shiite rivals, one day after his office in the holy city of Najaf was burned and four of his supporters were killed.

The internal Shiite conflict occurred amid a struggle by Shiite and Kurdish leaders to convince the Sunni Arabs to accept the draft constitution.

In calling for calm, al-Sadr urged "all believers to spare the blood of the Muslims and to return to their homes."

"I will not forget this attack on the office ... but Iraq is passing through a critical and difficult period that requires unity," he told reporters in his home in Najaf.

He demanded that Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the rival Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, condemn "what his followers have done."

"I urge the believers not to attack innocent civilians and not to fall for American plots that aim to divide us," al-Sadr said. "We are passing through a critical period and a political process."

SCIRI denied any role in the attack on al-Sadr's office and issuing a statement urging an end to the bloodshed - also calling it "a plot that targets our unity."

The Najaf crisis began Wednesday when al-Sadr's supporters tried to reopen his office across the street from the Imam Ali mosque, Iraq's most sacred Shiite shrine. Rivals tried to stop them, fights erupted and the latest deaths were due to sectarian motives.

Col. Ali al-Kuraishi said all had been shot in the head and some had their hands bound with metal cuffs.

The new violence came as the Defense Department announced it was ordering 1,500 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division to Iraq to provide security for the October constitutional referendum and December national elections.

Iraqi political figures moved quickly to contain the Shiite crisis, which flared as the country also faced a virulent insurgency led by Sunni Arabs in central, northern and western Iraq.

Talabani, a Kurd, telephoned al-Sadr to appeal for restraint.

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, a Shiite who has cultivated ties to al-Sadr, condemned the Najaf attack and promised that "the government will start an immediate investigation" into the incident.

During his news conference Thursday, al-Sadr criticized the Shiite-led government, in which SCIRI plays a major role. He also criticized portions of the draft constitution, saying it was not strong enough against Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, and spoke out against federalism, which is also opposed by the Sunni Arabs.

"We reject federalism and if America has schemes, it should not try to implement those schemes," al-Sadr said.

Al-Sadr, in his 30s, is the son of an eminent cleric believed to have been murdered by Saddam's regime. After leading two Shiite uprisings in April 2004 against U.S.-led forces - and charged in the assassination of a rival cleric - al-Sadr emerged as a key political figure. He remains among the most outspoken Shiites against the U.S. military presence.

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