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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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.
CNN's Aneesh Raman, Suzanne Malveaux, Kianne Sadeq and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.
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