Sunnis complain of being cut out of talks as deadline for constitution approaches
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Sunni Arabs complained Saturday they were being sidelined in talks on the new constitution only two days before the deadline and warned that their community will reject the document if it is submitted to parliament without Sunni consent.”They will surprise us in the final hour,” Saleh al-Mutlaq, one of four main Sunni negotiators, told The Associated Press. “We will reject it and the people will be angry, the street will be angry and as a result we will be back to square one.”But a Shiite politician, Khaled al-Attiyah, was upbeat and said the negotiations were in the final stage. He said the Shiites submitted a new proposal on the distribution of Iraq’s oil wealth, one of the remaining obstacles to a deal by the Monday night deadline.Sunni Arabs also object to demands by Kurds and the largest Shiite party for a federal state, and oppose a major role for Shiite clergy in Najaf.On Saturday, it appeared that only Kurds and Shiites were negotiating. Sunni Arabs were not present at the deliberations and al-Mutlaq said “things are not good.”Another principal Sunni negotiator, Ayad al-Samarai, said Sunnis agreed with the Kurds and Shiites on some unspecified points.He added: “Concerning federalism, we are still holding to our position, which is that it be postponed until after the general elections, and we refused to accept it in the constitution at this time.”Al-Samarai said the Sunnis accepted the existence of the Kurdish self-ruled region, established in 1991, but did not want the system duplicated elsewhere as long as U.S. and other foreign troops remain in Iraq.Al-Mutlaq alleged that the Americans, Shiites and Kurds were cutting deals and “we have no idea what is going on.” He complained that Sunni negotiators were being sidelined “after we convinced the (Sunni) people to take part in the political process through mosque preachers, who used to condemn such participation.”A U.S. soldier assigned to the 42nd Military Police Brigade was killed Saturday in a roadside bombing, the U.S. military said. At least 1,865 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.Also Saturday, about 5,000 people gathered outside the main mosque in the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi to condemn the constitutional process. And in the northern oil city of Kirkuk several hundred Sunni Arabs demonstrated against the charter, chanting “Yes to unity, no to federalism.”On Friday, three members of the largest Sunni Arab political party were abducted by gunmen in Mosul as they were hanging posters urging Sunnis to register to vote. The gunmen drove them to a mosque, forced them against a wall and shot them dead in front of horrified witnesses.Police said one of the cars used in the kidnapping was confiscated Saturday after a shootout in which three insurgents were killed. It was unclear if those three insurgents were part of the assassination team, police said.Shiites and Kurds have enough seats in the 275-member parliament to push through a constitution without Sunni approval, but doing so would risk a backlash from the community at the forefront of the insurgency. One of the main U.S. goals was to have the Iraqis produce a constitution to satisfy everyone involved and that would, in time, lure Sunnis away from the insurgency.Once the constitution is approved by parliament, it will go to the voters in a national referendum Oct. 15. However, if two-thirds of the voters in three of the 18 provinces reject the constitution, it will be defeated.Sunni Arabs comprise about 20 percent of the national population but are in the majority in at least four provinces.U.S. officials have expressed hope that a new constitution will allow for a reduction in the American force there – it now numbers about 138,000 troops. But Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army’s top general, said Saturday the Army is planning for the possibility of keeping the current number of soldiers in Iraq for four more years.”We are now into ’07-’09 in our planning,” Schoomaker said, having completed work on the set of combat and support units that will be rotated into Iraq over the coming year for 12-month tours of duty.As the haggling dragged into its final hours, violence continued.Twenty civilians were injured in Fallujah on Saturday after attackers tossed two hand grenades into a crowded marketplace, the U.S. military said. The U.S. military said there were no Iraqi security forces killed or wounded and all casualties were civilians.Elsewhere, two Iraqi policemen were killed in a gunfight in western Baghdad.The U.S. military said Saturday that U.S. troops raided an insurgent hideout in central Baghdad, rescued a hostage and arrested three kidnappers. The military did not give the nationality of the hostage freed in the Thursday night raid.—Associated Press writers Sameer Yacoub and Bassem Mroue contributed to this report from Baghdad, and AP military writer Robert Burns contributed from Washington.Vail, Colorado
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