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Iraq Transition

No agreement yet on Iraq constitution

Decision expected Sunday; federalism is a key sticking point

Iraqi government spokesman Laith Kubba: "A delay is not a good thing, but it's not a disaster."


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Saddam Hussein

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Another self-imposed deadline for resolving differences over the Iraqi constitution passed early Saturday without an agreement. But Shia and Kurd lawmakers have agreed on a "deal in principle" that would delay a decision on federalism, the Iraqi National Assembly speaker told CNN.

Sunnis now have the document to debate among themselves, said Speaker Hachim al-Hasani.

A decision on whether to move forward on the constitution -- with or without Sunni support -- is to be made Sunday. "Sunday will be a crucial day," al-Hasani said.

The agreement also addresses the key Sunni sticking point of de-Baathification, or the effort to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein's Baath party.

Under the deal agreed to by Shia and Kurds, the issue of federalism will be simplified and essentially transferred for decision by the next government, he said. The Kurds will retain autonomous powers in northern Iraq, while federalism will be sidelined as an issue for the rest of the country, he added.

The potential deal-breakers or deal-makers are the Sunnis, who have opposed language favoring regional autonomous governments.

In Washington, a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, pointed out that progress was being made. "What you are seeing is the beginning of the end of the process to a final draft constitution," the official said.

This official also sought to downplay the rift between Shiite and Sunnis over constitutional language.

"In any given group, whether Shiites, Kurds, or Sunnis, you're going to find all groups having disagreements. This process is heading in a positive direction," the official said, adding that U.S. diplomats will continue to aid the process this weekend.

Negotiators had given themselves a midnight (4 p.m. ET) Friday deadline to bridge the gap over the disputes.

The political wrangling among the groups prompted President Bush on Wednesday to call Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, to encourage him to keep the political process moving, a spokesman for al-Hakim said Friday.

The spokesman, Haitham al-Husseini, said Bush wanted to talk about developments in the constitutional process and to make sure no sides were left out of the negotiations.

A draft constitution was submitted to the National Assembly late Monday, a week after the original August 15 deadline. The draft is complete and ready to be submitted to the people for a vote, even without the political compromises. But lawmakers hope to forge a consensus on a government that would include leaders of the country's Sunni Arab minority and not alienate the public.

The goal of Iraqi leaders and their allies is to create a constitution that will be widely backed by all sectors of society in a referendum to be held by October 15. Each of the three main groupings in the society -- Kurds, Shiite Arabs and Sunni Arabs -- has the power to generate support to soundly defeat the document.

U.S. and Iraqi officials say the constitutional process, part of a plan to establish a democratic government in Iraq, will help douse the violent insurgency that has been plaguing the country.

Other developments

  • The group al Qaeda in Iraq -- which has been behind many of the worst attacks, beheadings, and kidnappings in Iraq -- has laid out its ideology in a manifesto. The group vows to "destroy the American empire" and says the insurgency is in better shape than Washington acknowledges. No date was given for the document, which surfaced on an Islamic Web site this week.(Full story)
  • The outgoing commissioner of the Italian Red Cross said 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 Wasit province, near the Iranian border, but police said it appeared the corpses may have been there for as long 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, according to an Iraqi security source in Diyala province. The source said a group stormed into the cafe and started shooting.
  • CNN's Aneesh Raman, Suzanne Malveaux, Kianne Sadeq and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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