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Iraq Transition

One-day extension for Iraq constitution

Shiites, Kurds again fail to reach consensus with Sunnis

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A third midnight deadline for Iraq's proposed constitution passed without agreement Thursday, with negotiators taking another day to resolve their differences before sending the charter to voters, the country's parliament speaker said.

A draft constitution was submitted to the National Assembly late Monday, a week after the original August 15 deadline, but lawmakers extended talks for three more days in order to forge a consensus that would include leaders of the country's Sunni Arab minority.

Those talks will now stretch into Friday, transitional National Assembly Speaker Hachim al-Hasani told reporters.

The assembly had been set to consider approval of the document by midnight (4 p.m. ET) Thursday. It is now scheduled to meet early next week.

Earlier Thursday, members of the constitutional committee said they remained hours away from any resolution of their outstanding points. Among them was the divisive issue of federalism, which most Kurds and Shiites support, but Sunni Arab leaders oppose.

The transitional assembly wasn't required to vote on the document, officials said, but its decision not to hold a session signaled a compromise had not been reached.

The crafting of a new constitution has been touted by the Iraqi government and its American backers as essential in establishing a democratic political system and quelling an ongoing insurgency.

The impasse has raised fears that violence -- which has wracked Iraq since a U.S.-led invasion toppled former dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003 -- could worsen.

"The sooner we get the constitution over and done with, the faster we can move at rebuilding the state," said Laith Kubba, a spokesman for interim Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. "A delay is not a good thing, but it's not a disaster."

The draft constitution is scheduled to go before voters in an October 15 referendum. If it is approved, voters would elect a new government by year's end to replace the transitional leadership.

But under Iraq's interim charter, a two-thirds vote against the charter in any three provinces will kill the document -- a provision that could give any of Iraq's three major groups a veto.

Rejection would send Iraqis back to the polls to choose a new transitional government and begin the process again.

Top U.S. officials had pressed the Iraqis to stick to the deadlines set in their transitional law, drawn up by Iraqi leaders under the American-led Coalition Provisional Authority in 2004.

But in Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Thursday the delays so far "are not that long, when you look at the kind of issues they're dealing with."

Previously, he said, the country was "held together through coercion and oppression."

"Now they have a future where they will define themselves through political bargaining, through political dialogue and, we hope, through peaceful discussion."

The Shiites and Kurds completed a draft constitution Monday, but differences remained with Sunni Arabs over federalism and de-Baathification, referring to members of Saddam's former ruling party. (Full story)

Zuhair al-Naher, a spokesman for al-Jaafari's Dawa party, told CNN that Islam will be Iraq's official religion and a "main source" for legislation. But he said the constitution will bar laws from impinging on human rights.

"Democracy will be there," he said. "Freedom of speech, freedom of worship and human rights will be there."

Rivals urge calm after clashes

Rival Shiite leaders called for calm Thursday after a string of clashes in Baghdad and four other Iraqi cities.

In the south-central city of Najaf, at least five people died and 10 were wounded in fighting Wednesday between followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and supporters of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

"I call upon all the believers to save the blood of the Muslims and to return to their homes," al-Sadr said at a news conference, calling on al-Hakim to do the same. (Full story)

"I demand that brother Abdul Aziz al-Hakim make an official announcement condemning the aggression by his representatives and some extremists."

A short time later, a spokesman for al-Hakim's party also asked for an end to the violence, saying it did not benefit Iraq.

The fighting arose over the reopening of an al-Sadr office near the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, a city south of Baghdad revered by Shiite Arabs. Al-Sadr offices have been closed since fighting last year between his Mehdi Army militia and U.S. forces.

Demonstrations and fighting then ensued between al-Sadr's followers and those who opposed the establishment of the office, many of them members of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

Al-Sadr and his backers are among a minority of Shiites who oppose federalism in the constitution. Sunni Arabs also oppose the concept.

Al-Hakim supports an autonomous region in the south for Shiite Arabs.

Other developments

  • The outgoing commissioner of the Italian Red Cross said that the agency treated four "presumed Iraqi terrorists" at its Baghdad hospital to secure the release of two kidnapped Italian aid workers, according to an Italian newspaper. (Full story)
  • Authorities on Thursday found 36 bodies in a river south of Baghdad, all slain assassination-style with a 9 mm bullet in each person's head, police said. The bodies were discovered in a small river in the Wasit province, near the Iranian border, but police said it appeared the corpses may have been there for as many as five days.
  • Five civilians died and eight were wounded Thursday in a shootout at a cafe in Miqdadiya, about 43 miles (70 kilometers) east of Baghdad, said an Iraqi security source in Diyala province. The source said a group barged into the cafe and started shooting.
  • Seven people were killed Wednesday when insurgents raided the home of a family in western Baghdad, an Iraqi police official said. The insurgents put the family into a room and planted bombs before detonating them, blowing up the house and killing all the family members.
  • CNN's Aneesh Raman, Kianne Sadeq and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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